Throughout the cold months of the year, when most of us are dreaming about our gardens, plant breeders are already hard at work selecting new varieties. It’s a multi-step process involving rigorous field trials at public gardens, universities, nurseries and by individual growers, seed producers and industry representatives.
In time, many of those new varieties will make it to our garden centres – but not before going through this judging process. All-America Selections, a non-profit trialing organization, boasts 45 trial sites of its own, including nine in Canada. Founded in 1932, one of its first trial sites was Montreal’s Botanical Garden. But that’s another story.
Finding an exciting new plant is part of the pleasure of being a gardener. And so, with a view to helping prepare for the gardens of 2018, we’ve contacted All-America Selections, Landscape Ontario, the University of Guelph and other experts to ask what’s new, unusual and exciting this year. In a nutshell: more compact varieties; more edibles; and more pollinator-friendly annuals and perennials.
Here are 22 of them.
* Ornamental Pepper Onyx/Red is an eye-catching new compact variety of Capiscum. With almost-black leaves, its shiny red fruits glisten like marbles. Height: six inches. Full sun.
* South Pacific Orange is a new Canna hybrid that’s a looker. It features bright orange inflorescence set against tropical-looking foliage. No staking required. Height: up to 52 inches tall. All-season bloomer. Full sun.
* Copper Prince is this year’s ornamental millet. It has rose-bronze panicles and spiky foliage that starts as caramel-coloured and deepens to copper. Height: up to three feet tall. Full sun or part sun.
* Sunfinity sunflower (Helianthus interspecific) from Syngenta Seeds is a fabulous new sunflower that puts out bright yellow blooms all season long. Unlike traditional sunflowers that have one stem, Sunfinity is multi-branching. Height: three to four feet. Requires a minimum of six hours of sun.
* Apollo Lovesong is a sun-loving dwarf cosmos that is even harder-working than its garden-workhorse predecessors, given its size. Height: 18 to 24 inches. And its large pastel pink and white flowers will attract plenty of pollinators. Full sun.
* Asian Garden Celosia, bred in Japan, is a Celosia argentea made for Canada’s cold climes. It has stunning magenta-pink plumes and a bushy habit. A favourite of pollinators. Height: up to three feet tall.
* Gypsophila Gypsy White Improved is, as its name suggests, an improved Gypsophila. It has semi-double, white blooms so abundant it almost looks like a fluffy mound of snowy white. Height: 12 to 18 inches. Full/part sun. And Cuphea FloriGlory Diana, a new variety of Cuphea, commonly known as Mexican heather, packs a punch with new magenta-coloured flowers. Height: 10 to 12 inches. Spread: 16 to 18 inches. Both are good for borders, mass planting and containers. Full sun.
Rockin’ Deep Purple Salvia hybrid is an eye-catching new Salvia that blooms steadily all summer into fall. Height: up to 40 inches. Full and part sun.
In 1995, Petunia ‘Purple Wave’ ushered in a new era of petunias as flower powerhouses that can function as both fillers and spillers. New to that class is Supertunia Bordeaux Petunia hybrid. Its soft purple flowers are accentuated by its deep plum throat and veins. Heat- and drought-tolerant. Height: six to 12 inches. Trails up to 30 inches. Attracts butterflies and hummingbirds. Partial to full sun.
Edibles have becoming increasingly popular, especially with small space gardeners. Filling that niche is a hardy new pansy hybrid, Pansy ‘Tasty Mixed.’ Its flavoursome flowers are mildly sweet and peppery.
As well, ‘Raspberry Fool’ Nasturium is a new nasturtium that has delightful edible raspberry and pink semi-double and single flowers. A new ornamental kale, perfect for container growing is Brassica oleracea Yokohama. It has frizzy green, white and purple leaves that are both pretty and tasty.
Many new shrubs this year are compact versions of old favourites. Paeonia lactiflora‘Kiev’ is a new dwarf peony from the Patio Series. It has large, single, bright-pink blooms that soften toward a centre of creamy yellow stamens. Hardy to Zone 4. Cephalanthus Occidentalis ‘Bail Optics’ Fibre Optics is new version of a buttonbush native to Ontario and Nova Scotia.
It has creamy white, compact flowers. Zone 4. ‘Czechmark Trilogy’ weigela is a new weigela cultivar with not one, not two, but three colours of blooms on each plant: white, pink and red. Zone 4. And Hydrangea arborescens ‘Invincibelle Mini Mauvette’ is a hardy new dwarf hydrangea with mop-head mauve-violet flowers that bloom right through summer into fall. Hardy to Zone 3.
Perfect for sunny, hot, dry spots where nothing seems to grow, Schizachyrium scoparium ‘Twilight Zone’ is an exciting new little bluestem. It’s tough and boasts a nearly iridescent silvery mauve purple cast that darkens into the autumn. Height: up to five feet. Hardy to Zone 4.
A new look for Echinacea purpurea, commonly known as purple coneflower, Echinacea ‘Kismet Intense Orange’ is a pollinator magnet that will bring in bees, birds and butterflies. Height: 12 to 24 inches. Full sun. Hardy to Zone 4. Note: The flower is sterile; does not produce seed.
For something other than ferns or hostas in the shady areas of your garden, consider Heucherella ‘Onyx.’ This black foamy bells can thrive in deep shade. Hardy to Zone 5. Height: eight to 12 inches.
‘Munchkin Fire’ hosta is a miniature hosta that is ideal for small landscapes. It boasts a fountain of narrow yellow leaves and lavender flowers in mid-summer. Height: four inches. Width: nine inches. Partial to full shade. Hardy to Zone 3.
Allium ‘Millenium’ was first introduced in 2000, but we are including it here because it has been named Perennial of the Year by the Perennial Plant Association. A butterfly magnet extraordinaire, it is also deer- and rabbit-resistant. Full sun. This plant proves that once a winner, always a winner.