Jennifer Schultz Nelson
Extension Educator, Horticulture
Just like it seems that local stores decorate for Christmas earlier and earlier every year, my mailbox fills with garden seed and plant catalogs earlier each year. I used to expect my first catalogs to show up around January 1st, but this year my first catalogs arrived before Thanksgiving. The number of new plant offerings is quite overwhelming. One catalog I received this week is advertising over 250 new plants. So bear with me as I try and pick out a few of my favorites. To cover them all would surely take more than the entire Sunday paper, let alone my column!
Annuals are a plant category that expands by leaps and bounds each year. A few of my catalogs resemble phone books rather than catalogs largely in part to the sheer number of annuals represented in the pages.
Consumers are always looking for something new and different in their gardens, and annuals are one way to have something unique each year in the garden without the long-term commitment of a perennial.
Many of the annuals we plant only vaguely resemble their wild ancestors. Impatiens are a great example. They are originally from Africa, and the wild plants have considerably smaller flowers than what we typically grow in our gardens, and the flower shape is very orchid-like. Some of the "new" impatiens cultivars seen in recent years, such as 'African Orchids', 'Blondie', and 'Jungle Jewels' resemble their wild cousins more than typical cultivars. A new cultivar this year, 'Fusion Peach Frost', has orchid-like blooms and variegated foliage that will surely have people asking about its identity.
Since 1995, consumers have known the Wave® petunia. What a marketing success, to have people ask for a particular type of petunia, rather than the color. They command a premium price in most garden centers, and in my opinion their superior performance justifies the price. I can fill a bed with half as many Wave® petunias as other cultivars. Several new additions to the Wave® line have been introduced, like Double- Wave®, and Tidal Wave®. This year's introduction is Shock Wave®, which has a smaller bloom, much like Calibrochoa (also known as Million Bells) and the vigorous spreading habit typical of the Wave® petunias.
I was lucky enough to try a Shock Wave® plant last year as a preview, and it grew very well in its container, filling it rapidly, filled with blooms most of the summer. I've been so convinced of the Wave® petunia's superiority in the garden, I've been reluctant to plant anything else–until I saw the Supertunia®.
One of our Master Gardeners won a Supertunia® at a conference we both attended. He also received a trial plant of the Shock Wave® as I had. He planted each in its own container, both plants and containers were the same size. Within a month, the Supertunia® had filled the container and was full of blooms. It was hard to believe only one plant was in the container, judging by how full it was. The Shock Wave® plant was not much bigger than it had been when planted, and only had a few flowers. It never did catch up to the Supertunia®.
This year I'm going to break my tradition of planting solely Wave® petunias and plant some different cultivars. There may even be something out there better than the Supertunia®. One that caught my eye in a catalog is called 'Tie Dye' and has large ruffled pink flowers in varying streaks of dark and light shades, just like a tie dyed t-shirt.
Knock Out™ roses have received lots of attention in recent years, praised for their almost endless bloom season, low maintenance, and unsurpassed hardiness. The first Knock Outs™ had only five petals and to some people didn't look like a "typical" rose. Double Knock Out™ was introduced a couple of years ago, and its cherry blooms each held up to 25 petals. Now a pink-flowered Double Knock Out™ is available, expanding the palette of this popular rose series.
Knock Outs™ seem to get all the limelight, but there are other roses out there with similar attributes. One I stumbled upon late last summer was the Oso Easy™ series. Always on the lookout for orange perennial flowers for my Illini garden, I spied a bench of gorgeous deep orange flowers at a local greenhouse. Closer inspection revealed they were roses, unlike any I had seen before. The one that caught my eye was called 'Oso Easy™ Paprika'. The tag said they would only reach a height of two feet, and spread up to five feet, much like the Flower Carpet® roses. They are also resistant to black spot and powdery mildew, common rose diseases.
I had to have one. The owner explained they were new for 2008, and let me be the first on my block to plant one. I planted it in August and by October it had tripled in size and bloomed profusely, much like a Knock Out™, just a lot shorter.
I am an avid vegetable gardener, and just like flowers, the selection of vegetables in catalogs seems to grow in leaps and bounds each year. Tomatoes, a favorite of mine, have an astounding number of hybrid and heirloom cultivars available. I like to grow cultivars that are not your "typical" red tomato. Last year I tried a number of striped, yellow, and white cultivars. This year I have my eye on an orange-yellow paste tomato called 'Tangerine Mama' and a white grape tomato called 'Italian Ice'.
No matter what your favorite plants are in the garden, I encourage you to try something new in the garden this year. Whether it's entirely new plants, the same flower but a different color, or the same plant arranged and paired differently in your garden, the New Year brings new choices in gardening. I have gotten stuck in gardening ruts from time to time, but all the catalogs clogging my mailbox are a reminder of the possibilities and opportunities waiting for all of us this Spring.