Final Exam for New Introductions

pw pots1I’m one of those lucky garden writers who gets sent plants to try out about a year before the plants are introduced to the public. This is fun for me because they’re free (thank you, Proven Winners and Sakata!) and because I get a chance to see what kinds of color trends and plant styles will be on the market next year.

For the plants, this is their final exam before graduation. They’ve been tested like crazy in greenhouses and growing ranges, but always under the care of horticulturists. Now, they must undergo testing by regular gardeners — avid gardeners, of course, but ones that have other jobs, families and the usual distractions from plant maintenance. Good luck to them all!

I got my Proven Winners plants first, so this post deals largely with them. The box included a mix of annuals and perennials, and I put most of them into containers. I especially like the container pictured above with this dark purple coral bells (Dolce® ‘Blackberry Ice’), and a new pink mini-petunia (Supertunia® ‘Flamingo’). I added a side-oats grama, a Minnesota native grass that will be part of my meadow planting. I love the textures of the three plants together and think the pink and purples complement each other.

pwpots2The package also included some new begonias (Surefire™ ‘Rose’), so I combined them with a red calibrachoa (Superbells® ‘Pomegranate Punch’) in a two matching lime green pots. I’m hoping these will do well in the sunny area in my front garden. I used the same combination, along with a dainty ‘Diamond Frost’ euphorbia in another container near the front entry.

Not all the new plants went into containers, however. A diminutive sedum was planted in the front garden, where it will echo the shapes and colors of my other sedums. A couple of new bright purple verbena (Superbena® ‘Violet Ice’) were planted in my Mom’s garden, where they will probably get better care than any of my plants. That lady definitely has a green thumb!

Finally, I have two plants I’m still figuring out where to put. One is a new goji berry—Sweet Lifeberry® (Lycium barbarum) which is said to grow 12 feet tall. I think I have a good spot in back for it, but any time you have a 12-footer, you’ve got to stop to think. The last one is a plant I’ve never heard of—Creme Fraiche™ deutzia. I like its variegated foliage and hope to find a nice spot where it can complement the plants around it. The Proven Winners website recommends it be planted near yellow-flowered perennials or annuals.

As the summer goes on, I’ll report from time to time on how my trial plants are doing — including a post on my Sakata plants.  Which are your favorite of the new plants introduced this year?

Best Container Plant for 2011

Supertunia 'Bordeaux' with sweet potato vine and mixed pansies

There’s no prize with this award, just my unending admiration for a plant that bloomed, bloomed, and bloomed again throughout the cool, hot, humid, slow-to-start, slow-to-end summer of 2011. And the winner is: Supertunia® Bordeaux petunia.

I bought several of these from Eco Gardens in Northfield back in May for my front porch pots, and almost from the moment they were planted until I took them out of the pots on Saturday, they performed beautifully. They grew but did not get leggy, and their blooms were lovely both from the street and up-close. They looked especially nice with two kinds of sweet potato vine: ‘Marguerite’ and ‘Blackie’. The lime green and deep burgundy contrasted beautifully with the violet to deep-purple blooms of Bordeaux.

I’ll be buying Bordeaux again next season. What plant was the star of your containers this year?

Another Fantastic Fall Bloomer

I started these gorgeous marigolds in the vegetable garden from seed back in May. They looked so pretty that I moved them to the front garden to brighten it up this fall. They survived the move and with adequate water show no signs of stopping the bloom parade. The marigolds are from pass-along seeds I got from a gardening friend of my older brother. I plan to collect seeds from these later in the fall and use them to add some bright orange to next year’s garden, too.

Moon Flower at Morning

I took this photo last week, before our first freeze hit, so the foliage on this moon flower is a bit bedraggled now, though it is still blooming. Moon flower has always been a lust plant for me. There are plenty of plants that do not grow well in Minnesota, but for some reason, it has long irked me that moon flower resisted all my attempts to grow it.

My interest may have stemmed from its white blooms, which brighten any garden, or its climbing habit—it is said to grow 20 foot vines in some climates.  It could also be that moon flowers  seemed mysterious and a reminder of an older time. I also could not understand why a plant in the same family as morning glories, which overrun my garden like weeds, would not grow.

This year, I bought moon flower seeds from Baker’s Creek (Ipmoea alba) and started them  indoors. Then, carefully transplanted the seedlings outside later in the spring, planting a few seeds in the same area, just in case. The site is near the front door, so I could keep an eye on them when watering the pots out front. The extra care paid off and the vines have been flowering (usually just one bloom at a time) for the last few weeks.

True to their name, these plants open up overnight. They bloom a day or two, then fade — just like summer itself.

Sunflower at Sunset

I’m kicking myself for having lost the seed packet for these sunflowers growing in the meadow behind my house. I believe they are Helianthus maximiliani Heliopsis helianthoides. Whatever their name, botanical or otherwise, they have brightened up our meadow for several weeks. They’re tall — sometimes over 6 feet — with bunches of these bright yellow blooms on top.

Sneak Peek: This Calibrachoa is a Winner

Along with about 300 other garden writers, horticulturists and bloggers, I get sent sample plants from Proven Winners each year.  PW is one of the largest plant brands in the country and introduces a couple of dozen new plants each year. The sample plants are scheduled to be in garden centers and nurseries next year.

This year’s group of plant includes several that are performing well in my garden, but the one I really like is this calibrachoa, Superbells® Cherry Star. I put it in a hanging basket and it has been flowering and blooming like crazy ever since. It’s a striped plant with yellow lines on a bright pink bloom. Like other Superbells, it is self-cleaning, meaning you don’t need to deadhead it. Other versions of the same plant feature deep purple bloom (Grape Punch) and a pinky peach bloom (Sweet Tart). These dark pink ones that have simply blown me away.

I’ll let you know how it holds up through the latter part of the summer, but for now – this is one to look for next spring!

Disclaimer: I was sent the plants for free, but am under no obligation to write about them and have no financial relationship with Proven Winners.



I’m Glad I Planted Pansies

In Minnesota, pansies are a desperate gardener’s gamble. By the time spring rolls around, most of us are so hungry for color we buy as many pansies as our gardens and wallets allow. We plant them out when the weather seems too cold and — at least in my experience — the plants sit there a good long time. Then they bloom a bit, then the weather gets hot and they wilt. It’s not always the best dollar per flower investment.


Except, if we have a year like this one, where despite one or two hot days, the weather has stayed in the 60s or 70s (or even lower) for what seems like an interminable amount of time. It also rains a lot. As the TV weatherman noted the other day, “It’s been a crappy spring.”

This is the year where a gamble on pansies paid off. I have lots of annuals in my front bed — spunky zinnias, blue salvia, a few snapdragons — but guess which annual is blooming best.  Pansies.

Note: If you are concerned about the dollar per flower investment, pansies are also very easy to start from seed. Most of the ones I have out front were started from two seed packages.

I Needed a Plant Fix…

so I headed down to Donahue’s in Faribault to check out the new annuals for an article I’m writing.  In the world of clematis, Donahue’s is one of the top wholesale nurseries, but from mid-April through June, they have a lush and lovely retail store.

I came to photograph some of the new annuals, but got caught up looking at the container arrangements on display. My photos really do not do them justice, but they show some of the colors and combinations that will be everywhere this year.

Yellow is my favorite color, so this arrangement with a Nemesia called Sunstatia® Lemon, Sun Spun yellow petunia (a really pretty creamy yellow color) and the new Phantom petunia, which is black and yellow, caught my eye. It’s such a cheerful arrangement for the gloomy days we’ve been experiencing lately.

For a more sophisticated look, this combination of Charmed® Wine oxalis, Super Elfin ‘Lipstick’ impatiens, and Diamond Frost® euphorbia is a stunner. The earthy container adds a lot to this shade combination.

If you want to try one of the new coral-toned plants, this bright combination of ‘Papaya’ petunia and Juicy Fruits® Papaya nemesia would be easy to put together at home. For some reason, this combination says “Party!” to me.

This are just a few of the pots you can see at Donahue’s, and if you would like to make your own, this weekend is a good chance. Donahue’s is holding its “Potting Days,” today and tomorrow (Saturday) from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Bring in your favorite pot, pick out the plants you like, and the staff will help you pot it up. The potting soil is free as is the assistance from Donahue’s staff. The store will be closed Easter Sunday.


Just a side note: I don’t get paid by Donahue’s to write blog posts — I just like their stuff.




New Plant Introductions: How Well Did They Grow?

This past summer, I had a chance to try out several new-to-the-market plants. A few grew really well, looked great most of the year, and just generally behaved like champs. Others…well, maybe it was me. (That’s always a possibility.)

Let’s start with the champs.

Pretty Much Picasso, taken on Oct. 20 in Minnesota -- looks pretty good considering.

One of the most-hyped plants of this past year was a new petunia from Proven Winners called Supertunia® Pretty Much Picasso®. The bloom of the plant is a deep pink color with a lime green edge to it. Up close, the variegation stands out, giving the plant a bright, almost tropical look. The problem is that the coloring fades when you look at the plant from any distance. If you are more than four feet away, it’s just a nice, purplish pink petunia. However,  as our endless fall continued from September, through October into November, I was more and more impressed with Pretty Much Picasso. It bloomed and grew and bloomed and grew. By the time I emptied its pot after Halloween, it was like Rapunzel, with its long blooms hanging almost four feet from the top of the pot.

'Royal Chambray' verbena

Another new introduction that grew very well for me was this verbena, Superbena® Royal Chambray. I put it in the ground in my front bed. The flowers have a sweet color and shape, but I also liked the furry foliage on the plant. It’s not a huge plant, but fills in spaces in the garden nicely and bloomed well into the fall. It probably would have done even better in a pot.

Sutera 'Snowstorm Pink'

I also was pleasantly surprised by this bacopa  (Sutera Snowstorm Pink™). It grew very well in a part-shade location in the back garden, where I planted it as an edger. It was frequently covered with dainty pink blooms, and like the Pretty Much Picasso, just kept on blooming right through October. When I attended the Garden Bloggers Meetup in Buffalo, N.Y., this summer, this plant was much discussed. Everyone seemed to like it, but many of us noticed it’s tendency to bloom, bloom, bloom, then stop for awhile, then bloom, bloom, bloom again.

'Goldilocks Rocks' bidens
Snow Princess™ alyssum at Olbrich Botanical Garden

Several other trial plants did well, including this Bidens. The one plant I was most disappointed by, however, was the much touted Snow Princess™ alyssum. I saw several displays of this new alyssum before the growing season started — and each one was huge, fluffy, and amazing. I decided to put it in a pot on its own so it could really stand out. No such luck; it languished most of the summer–getting leggy and sparse and really not that fluffy almost no matter how much I watered or fertilized. Again, this could be me or the fact that my porch pot area is only part sun — the display I saw at the Olbrich Botanical Garden in Madison, Wis., still looked great in early October.

Which annuals were champs in your garden this year?

Marigold Surprise

Most gardeners enjoy getting cuttings or seeds from beloved plants that others grow. But what happens when things, um, don’t go as well as hoped? That was my situation this summer. I was graciously given a bag of marigold seeds from my brother’s long-time friend, Pete.

Pete and his wife, Donna, are gardeners in St. Anthony Park in St. Paul, an area known for having many wonderful home gardens. (The St. Anthony Garden Club plants and maintains the MSHS gardens at the Minnesota State Fair.) The marigolds are a special blend that have hybridized naturally in Pete’s backyard. I got the seeds in late spring, so I planted them directly in the garden, mostly near my vegetable beds. Unfortunately, the bed in question was struck with a fungus-y disease, and in August, I ripped everything out of the bed to prevent any spread of the disease. While there were marigolds, none of them had bloomed yet.

I’d forgotten that I’d also put some of the seed in one of our front beds. So, while pulling out some overgrown plants recently, I discovered this  lovely marigold — which I know must be one of Pete’s  — blooming away. It has the distinctive rich orange and red that brighten Pete’s marigolds.

Luckily, I still have a fair number of the seeds left over. Next year, I plan to start them indoors and keep better track of where I plant them! Thanks for sharing, Pete!