Grit Blogs > A Lakeside View

The 2010 Garden Forecast: Sunny Colors and Hot Plants

By Cindy Murphy

Tags: flowers, hosta, cone flowers, hydrangea,

CindyMurphyBlog.jpgWalter’s Garden in Zeeland, Michigan – the country’s largest wholesale field grower of perennials, says yellow is the official color of the year, not only in fashion and home décor – but in the garden as well. Yellow is the color of “hope, warmth, radiant optimism, and positive energy,” and as we start to see improvement in the economy, yellow has become fashionable again. I’m glad! For years, I’ve heard the phrase “anything but yellow” when helping people plan their gardens. But it’s such a sunny, cheerful color! Is there anything that heralds the coming of spring so much as the yellow trumpets of daffodils. Or anything that signals autumn is approaching more than a field of goldenrod, dotted with purple asters? Yellow brightens dark corners in the garden, combines well with both cool and warm colors, and as an added benefit, is an attractant to pollinating bees.

A bee pollinating a yellow squash flower. 

From the first breath of spring through autumn’s first frost, yellow flowers are a welcoming sight in any garden.

(As a side note, if you’re ever in Zeeland, stop in and take a walk through Walter’s Garden trial gardens – absolutely gorgeous!)

The first frost might be hitting many gardens much earlier than normal next year. ‘First Frost’ has been named The American Hosta Growers Hosta of the Year for 2010. This medium-sized hosta is aptly named; it leaves hold up well until the first frost. A sport of the ever-popular ‘Halcyon,’ ‘First Frost’ has the same vibrant blue-green leaves, but each one comes with a gold margin that changes to white as summer progresses.

Baptisia australis, false blue indigoThe 2010 Perennial Plant Association Plant of the Year is a native plant and an old-fashioned garden favorite. Baptisia australis (Blue False Indigo, left) is long-lived and easy to grow. From mid-to-late spring, bright indigo-blue flowers bloom above a dense mound of bluish-green foliage. After the flowers fade, long, black seed pods develop, providing interest through autumn and into winter.

Breeders continue to develop new varieties of Echinacea in shades of red, orange, and yellow. I love coneflowers, but I have to admit I’ve been disappointed with most of the newer varieties for the past few years. Coneflowers are supposed to be vigorous and easy to grow in most any type of soil, right? But unlike the those garden stalwarts – the sturdy, indestructible, Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’ and its white-colored cousin, Echinacea purpurea ‘White Swan’ – the red and orange varieties seem to always look weak and scraggly. The yellows seem to be a bit more vigorous, but not nearly as much and the purple and white. Though I’ve heard some positive feedback from some of my customers, most have been as disappointed as I am, so I stopped carrying them at the nursery a couple of years ago, and one of my largest perennials suppliers stopped growing them for the same reason.

During the Independent Garden Center Conference and Trade Show in Chicago this August, I had the opportunity to speak with a representative from Terra Nova, which developed many of these Echinacea hybrids. I asked him why they don’t seem to thrive, and often fail. They are hybrids developed from Echinacea purpurea (purple coneflower) and Echinacea paradoxa (Ozark coneflower), he explained. In order to develop a more vigorous plant, the flower buds should be cut off just as they start to develop for the first one or even two years. Do not allow the plants to grow very tall either; pinch them back as you would mums. The problem with vigor may lie with the traits Echinacea paradoxa brings to the hybrids. This yellow coneflower, though very hardy in zones 3 to 9, has a very deep taproot. In its native habitat, this species may not reach its full size or may not flower for the first few years until that taproot develops. Cutting off the flower buds and keeping the plant from getting leggy will aid in developing a larger root system quicker.

Placing my perennials orders for the nursery this fall, I could not resist ordering at least one of the red coneflowers. Echinacea ‘Hot Papaya’ has flaming red-orange pom-pom type flowers. Though a hybrid, it’s touted to have the sturdy stems, foliage and habit of Echinacea purpurea.

We’ll see more of pom-pom type coneflowers in garden centers next year. The good news (in my book) is the majority of them are Echinacea purpurea varieties, both in the purple tones and in white. ‘Coconut Lime’ was a nice white-flowered variety this year; additions to the white pom-poms are ‘Meringue,’ a double-white with a green cone, and ‘Milkshake,’ a shorter variety.

Green coneflowers are becoming popular, and there’ll be a few more varieties available for 2010. One of my favorites is Echinacea purpurea ‘Green Jewel.’ It’s fragrant, fairly short at 2 feet tall, with a large light green petals centered around a darker green cone.

It’s not just the Echinacea, of course, that have plant breeders busy. In the shrub department, Lo & BeholdTM ‘Blue Chip’ butterfly bush (Buddleia x ‘Blue Chip’) is the first in a series of new miniature butterfly bushes that bloom continuously without dead-heading. BloomerangTM Purple (Syringa x ‘Penda’) is a new reblooming lilac, with fragrant flowers in spring, mid-summer and into fall.

Spring Meadows in Grand Haven, Michigan, has bred what I consider the most exciting recent breakthrough in hydrangeas. Nearly everyone is familiar with the ‘Annabelle’ hydrangea. It’s world’s most recognizable and most popular hydrangea. “Foolproof,” “ironclad,” “indestructible” – whatever you want to call it, it’s a cultivar of our native Hydrangea arborescens, and it’s extremely hardy.

Hydrangea arborescens, annabelle

But it only comes in white – that is, until now. Spring Meadows introduces us to the first ever pink ‘Annabelle’ – InvincibelleTM Spirit (Hydrangea arborescens ‘NCHA1’). With a USDA hardiness rating of zones 3 to 9, ‘Invincibelle’ promises to be just as hardy as the species. The blooms begin a dark pink, maturing to a clear pink, flowering from summer through first frost.

As this year’s garden season draws to a close, we take stock of what worked in our gardens, and what didn’t. Already, we start to plan what changes we’ll make, and look forward to the coming season with optimism. These plants are just a few of the offerings that may be waiting for you at garden centers in 2010. Hope to see you there!

Note: Hybridized plants listed in this article, excluding Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus,’ Echinacea purpurea ‘White Swan’ and Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’ are trademarked, patented, or patent-pending and must be listed as such at the point of purchase. Asexual propagation of these perennials is prohibited. Propagation of and/or the sale of listed shrubs is prohibited without a license.

cindy murphy
11/13/2009 11:09:08 AM

"Does anybody out there bury their tools?" Yes! I lost my favorite pair pruners...the orange-handled ones. You know - BRIGHT orange so if I dropped them they'd be easy to spot. I lost them somewhere in the garden in spring. Still haven't found them. I believe tools in the garden are sometimes like socks in the washing machine: not all that goes in, comes out.
11/13/2009 8:57:51 AM

After canning 80 qts of tomato sauce and 36 pts of salsa, I am pooped from the summer. I look out on the garden, empty as it is, and wonder what happened to my yellow back garden spider that protected my heirloom tomato plants from the bad bugs. Hope to see her and her family next year. And, I don't even like spiders............ Northern Nevada has presented some unusual weather this year, so cleaning up around the yard has been slow (not counting our rototiller pooped out on us). And, believe it or not, I am finding all my garden tools I buried during harvest time in the squash patch. Does anybody out there bury their tools? Good excuse to buy the updated tools from the catalogs. :) Here's to next spring, summer and fall! Already looking forward to the first spring flower for I am not a winter person. Happy planting to everyone!

cindy murphy
10/26/2009 9:59:15 AM

Hi, Dave. I'm like you; I like to get the bulk of the yard work done in fall. In spring, we're just sooo busy at the nursery, I'm usually too drop-dead tired when I get home from work to do much more than putter around the yard. I spent much of this weekend dealing with the leaves. I had mulched them with the mower a few times over the last weeks, but now they're just too thick on the ground. Yesterday, I dug big heaps of them into the vegetable garden, mulched the asparagus crowns in a thick blanket of them, and piled them high on the compost pile. The remainder, I raked to the curb for the leaf-sucker truck to vacuum when it makes its next pass. Oh, and then there's the huge pile that Shannon and I made strictly for playing in. There's still more to come - I haven't even touched the ravine yet, the maples are still loaded with leaves, and this morning it doesn't even look as if I'd put my hands on a rake yet this season. Ah, well - raking leaves is one of those autumn rituals that makes this season my favorite! I'm glad your success in the garden this year spurred you to continue with it next year! I can tell even from here, that your black thumb has turned green!

nebraska dave
10/26/2009 8:02:34 AM

Cindy, Fall is always a busy time for me. Mostly yard work. The falling leaves are gorgeous this year but are a lot of work to get up off the yard. It does make for good compost fodder. My two compost bins will be full by Thanksgiving time. I still have a tree stump to remove from the back yard and to clean up the in ground flower beds. Fall is much different than Spring. In the Spring I usually put out plants a little at a time as I get them but in the fall everything needs to be done at once. The poor man’s patio is back to bare bones with no plants. I consider it a clean slate for next year. It was a real hit with the neighborhood. Imagine that from a black thumb flower gardener. I do have some plans for next year. The success with this year’s flower gardening has given me inspiration to expand the gardening for both flowers and vegetables for next year. I’ve already expanded the in ground garden to three times its size with one bed having a vertical support system. I’ve been reading about this vertical growing stuff for vegetables and thought I’d give it a try. We’ve already had 4 inches of snow on October 10th and it’s hard frost time every night. This is just a little early to be that consistently cold for this part of the country. It sure does look like the Farmer’s Almanac is right on for its predictions of a cold winter for the Midwest.

cindy murphy
10/22/2009 7:01:12 AM

Hi Michelle and Vickie. The season may be coming to a close, but I've still got a ton of gardening work to do - it's a race against the weather to get fall clean-up done in my yard. I got about half of the gardens done the other day, but there are some things I couldn't bare to chop back yet because they still look good. The roses were one of them; we haven't had a hard frost yet, and they're still full of buds. I keep hoping they'll have a chance to open before they freeze. It's nice your roses didn't get hit yet, Michelle - I hope you get to enjoy them a while longer. You definitely have to give 'Invincibelle' a try, Vickie - not just for its beauty, but also because if it's anything like 'Annabelle', it should be so easy to grow. This is a huge bonus on your side of the state, where typically, the big-leaved pink or blue mophead hydrangeas don't bloom very well. 'Invincibelle' will give you the look without the fuss.

michelle house
10/21/2009 5:45:01 PM

Yellow flowers are pretty. My pitiful garden is gone, due to the snow we have gotten, a plus is my mini rose bushes seem ok. Wonderful article as always Cindy. Michelle:)

10/21/2009 4:27:56 AM

Cindy, It's sad that the garden season is over- looking at all the new plants on this post makes me want spring already. I especially would love to try out the pink hydrangea, that would be so pretty to have in the garden. vickie