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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.