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Chicago Urban Gardening

The day to day experiences of a University of Illinois Extension Urban Horticulture Educator in Chicago, Illinois

A Peek Over the Fence

Posted by Ron Wolford -

When horticulturists go on vacation not only do they go to relax and have a good time, but they also seem to find, or make time, to wander into nurseries, botanic gardens or other places, in order to get their "plant fix," said a University of Illinois horticulture educator.

"Such is the case with this horticulturist who happened to visit several growers and suppliers to nurseries and garden centers," said Greg Stack. "While there, full advantage was taken to "peek over the fence" to see what was new and exciting.

"Here are a few things of note to look for in 2009. You may want to make room for these new introductions as they bring new colors, forms and performance to the garden."

Stack started with zinnias. New for 2009 will be a series of zinnias called 'Zahara'. They come in white and pink but also for the first time a scarlet and yellow. These are outstanding garden performers with very high disease tolerance to mildew. They grow to a neat mound 12 to 18 inches high and as wide. They are outstanding performers for the full sun landscape and once established are very drought tolerant with very low water needs. The single flowers are about two-and-a-half inches in diameter. 'Zahara' zinnias were chosen for use in gardens at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

"Just when you thought you had enough petunias to choose from along comes the 'Littletunia' series," he said. "This petunia is so unique it deserves to be put into the garden. It is an extremely low grower and very compact. It grows to about three to four inches tall and spreads to about 12 inches. It produces a profusion of very small flowers about the size of a dime. It comes in red, pink, red/white, and plum. It makes a great edging plant and works well in smaller containers where you don't want a petunia that may overpower other plants in the pot."

And what would a new garden season be without at least a few more coleus?

"Be on the lookout for 'Chocolate Mint' and 'Indian Summer,'" he noted. "Both of these varieties do best with a little light shade but will also tolerate bright light in which case the colors get more intense. 'Chocolate Mint' is a vigorous plant growing to about two feet tall. The leaves are a chocolate brown color edged with a soothing mint green. 'Indian Summer' grows to two feet tall and is a rich mixture of earth tones such as greens, reds, and browns. It is a very striking plant that is even richer in color when given a little bit of light. Both are great as bedding plants or in containers."

For those who like basil, Stack recommended a new basil that is great for use in the kitchen but also highly ornamental. 'Boxwood' Basil is very compact (12 to 18 inches tall), uniform and dwarf small-leaved basil that looks like a boxwood hedge. It almost tends to look rectangular and would make a great 'culinary hedge' in the garden.

"What about new shrub vines and roses?" he asked. "In the vine world, look for a breakthrough in the bittersweet world.

"Remember when you had to plant a male and female bittersweet plant in order to ensure berry production? Well, that is no longer the case with 'Autumn Revolution' Bittersweet. This plant produces flowers with both male and female parts, meaning all you need to plant is one plant for berry production. And what a berry production you will get. 'Autumn Revolution' is a vigorous vine growing to about 25 feet with large glossy green foliage. It will need a substantial support in the garden. As for berry production, extraordinary comes to mind. The berries are orange to red in large clusters with individual berries almost the size of small grapes. It has a very attractive and impressive fall display, quite an improvement for this native vine."

Two new roses are also worth looking at for 2009. 'High Voltage' is a shrub rose with double yellow flowers three to four inches in diameter. The plant is highly disease tolerant to black spot and hardy to zone 4. Blooms are held high on sturdy canes and are very fragrant. It has a vase-shape habit so it is good for back of the border. 'Kashmir' is another shrub rose new on the scene that resembles a hybrid tea rose with blooms that are velvety red. It has a rounded habit growing to about two feet tall, making it a good plant for a low hedge.

The serviceberry is a great three-season plant," he said. "However, most are rather large and may not fit into small space gardens. With the introduction of 'Obelisk,' gardeners with smaller space can now include this great plant."

'Obelisk' grows to about 15 feet tall but is only four feet wide. This narrow habit is perfect for small space gardens. It will offer stems that are covered with white flowers in the spring followed by small orange/red berries in June and dark green circular leaves that change to red/orange in the fall. Birds love the berries.

"That's a little peek over the fence at what is headed your way next season," he said. "As with most gardeners, I'm sure you'll find room for your favorite."

Source: Greg Stack, Extension Educator, Horticulture,

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