April 6, 2018

In the Garden: Spring blossoms

Garden centres are bursting with a bouquet of new plants for gardens of every size and style

By Brian Minter
Each year, many new plant varieties enter the marketplace, but the excitement is not just about what’s new—it’s about what’s distinctively different or outstanding. And there are some jewels this year.
I’m enthusiastic about a few shrubs this year, particularly a fragrant buddleia series called Pugster—yes, named after pug dogs. Even though they’re compact, growing two feet tall by two feet wide, their blooms are big, fluffy and fragrant, making them ideal for patio containers. Last year’s Pink Micro Chip is the first miniature buddleia, and it plays well in combination with other plants. Both these buddleias have perfume and will attract butterflies and pollinators to your garden and patio pots.
Purple-leaf smoke trees have been growing in popularity because of their rich colouring and the stunning contrast element they add to our gardens. This year, Proven Winners has introduced a compact variety called Winecraft Black. It grows four feet by six feet, but can be pruned smaller. Its intensely coloured foliage darkens even more as summer progresses, and its rich orange fall foliage is amazing.
When space is an issue, columnar plants play a far more dynamic role by adding a nice vertical touch to small gardens. The columnar hibiscus Purple Pillar, introduced a few years ago, has proven to be an important addition for small-space areas. Hardy to zone five, it flowers from top to bottom. This year, the first white columnar hibiscus, White Pillar, will be available. Imagine the impact an under-lit column of beautiful white flowers could make in your late-summer garden.
Speaking of white, hydrangeas are one of the most prolific additions in the plant world these days. Invincibelle Wee White is the tiniest of all hydrangeas, growing only one foot tall by just over two feet wide. A re-bloomer, it will take some sun—morning sun and afternoon shade is best. If you have only a hot spot, remember the sun lovers, the dwarf Bobo and Bombshell. They grow only three feet by three feet and thrive in the sun for a long-lasting display of lovely white blooms.
The Everlasting hydrangea series from Holland, particularly the blue and pink, top my list for container colour. Originally bred for cut flowers, they come in a wide range of hues. Best planted in semi-shade, they repeat-
flower all summer, and I love the fact that the blooms don’t get old and tired. They’re infused with green and look amazing with the younger opening blooms.

Watch for a few new and notable perennials coming out this year. The 2018 Perennial Plant of the Year is Allium Millenium. I saw it in full bloom last September in New York. Its flower heads still looked fresh and vibrant—and they were full of honeybees!
I’m a fan of bleeding hearts, and the new dicentra White Gold is spectacular with its rich golden foliage and white flowers. It’s a perfect match for D. Gold Heart and its pink flowers. Both are must-haves in a small-space garden.
For continual flowering, the new coreopsis Up Tick series is remarkable with its compact (12- to 14-inch) plants that produce delightful large blooms from April through November. It is a notable introduction.
The flowering oregano Kent Beauty has been one-upped by a new variety, the first one from seed, O. Kirigami. It looks and tastes like oregano until the stems go stiff like wire and the tips turn into beautiful flowers that look like mauve hops and last all summer. A cute novelty plant, Kirigami is ideal for patio pots and hanging baskets.
Recently, I had the good fortune of meeting John Heuger, the world’s top breeder of helleborus, particularly the Gold Collection series. He presented me with his newest stunning helleborus—Ice and Roses White and Ice and Roses Red. Both are terrific introductions with large flowers that bloom a little later, making them ideal for late-
winter and early-spring gardens. They will be widely available this coming fall, so put them on your must-have list, particularly the deep burgundy-red.
While here, Heuger commented on a helleborus variety new to this part of the world: Madame Lemonnier, a soft pinky-purple, is a great plant that was found in a private French garden and is now available in Canada.
To really show off this summer, the giant Summerific perennial hibiscus series from Proven Winners has stunning eight-inch blooms on a three- to four-foot plant. It steals the show in any garden. This series performs best in the ground and is surprisingly hardy down to zone four.
Three outstanding annuals will hit our patios this year. If you love sunflowers—and who doesn’t?—a new one called Sunfinity just keeps on flowering. It has yellow, dark-eyed blooms and is still compact, growing 36 to 48 inches tall. A multi-stemmed sunflower, its continual flowering habit from late spring through fall is of huge value, especially in small-space gardens.
Of all the new annuals, the biggest attention-getters, by far, are the white-speckled, deep blue petunias called Night Sky and their newer cousin, a white-speckled pink called Pink Sky. Both are showstoppers!
Many other great new perennials, annuals and shrubs will show up in garden stores this year from late spring through summer. Track them down and add some wonderful new additions to your garden collection.

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