2012 plant introductions: New kids on the plot
New plants can bring some spark to gardens (and help us dream of spring)
Under the Sea Langostino coleus (Coleus "Langostino")
Many a plant trumpeted as "new" is not significantly different or better than older varieties. Often what is new again is old: Heirloom varieties return from obscurity with interesting stories, or native species scorned for centuries get new respect. A plant doesn't need to be a new variety to be new to you; no gardener's life is long enough to try all the species and varieties the world already has to offer. But sometimes innovative hybrids do bring something new to the table.
Here is just a sampling of the plants that offer something new or interesting for your garden this year. It is not possible in January to know where you will be able to buy them all, but many will be widely available in garden centers. For others, there is a single source. All plants listed are appropriate for the Chicago-area growing region.
Prince Charming Solomon's seal (Polygonatum "Prince Charming"): Less than a foot tall, with soft, silvery blue-green foliage and arching stems of white spring flowers that become deep blue berries, this naturally occurring hybrid of the native species is an excellent perennial ground cover for shade and part shade. Selected by Brent Horvath of Intrinsic Perennial Gardens in Hebron, and introduced by the Chicagoland Grows program in select garden centers and catalogs this spring. chicagolandgrows.org
Double Take Orange Storm quince (Chaenomeles speciosa "Orange Storm"): Extravagantly ruffled flame-orange flowers on a new cultivar of an old-fashioned shrub are a spectacular contrast to the cool pastels of spring bulbs. Comes in pink- and red-blooming versions too. Should be widely available from Proven Winners Color Choice Flowering Shrubs. provenwinners.com or colorchoiceplants.com
Sunshine Daydream rose (Rosa "Meikanaro"): This butter-yellow grandiflora rose — with tall, sturdy stems and abundant blooms — was honored by All-America Rose Selections (rose.org) in part because, unlike most roses in the traditional classes, it proved relatively disease resistant without spraying. It will need winter protection in the Chicago region. Full sun. Should be widely available from Conard-Pyle Co./Star Roses. conard-pyle.com
Fringed prairie crab apple (Malus ioensis forma fimbriata): Roselike scalloped double pink flowers cover this 1931 A.D. Slavin selection of an Illinois native small tree. Roy Klehm of Song Sparrow Farm in Avalon, Wis., retrieved the variety by propagating cuttings from a single specimen in his yard. It's resistant to apple scab, but susceptible to cedar apple rust, so don't plant it near junipers. songsparrow.com
"Faerie" watermelon: The 8-inch-long, 4- to 6-pound fruits may have startling yellow skin, but the flesh is pink and sweet with few seeds. Bred by Known-You Seed Co. and chosen for 2012 by All-America Selections, this is a relatively compact plant, for a watermelon — meaning that the vines spread only about 11 feet. Should be widely available. aaswinners.com
"Emmy" heirloom tomato: This kind of back story gives heirlooms so much of their appeal: The seeds of a Transylvanian variety were saved by a Hungarian refugee from post-World War II Romania, who gave them to an American couple then living in Germany, who took them home to Oregon and grew the tomatoes for years before donating seeds to Seed Savers Exchange in Iowa. Bright yellow flesh with intense flavor; indeterminate. seedsavers.org
Wheee! hosta (Hosta "Wheee!"): It's the giddy ripples in the leaves that make this white-edged hosta so much fun. Grows to about 18 inches wide; lavender flowers in midsummer. Shade to part shade. Should be widely available from Proven Winners.
Under the Sea Langostino coleus (Coleus "Langostino"): Squint and it's a shrimp. Just one of the remarkably amusing Under the Sea collection of coleus, including other cultivars with names like Bone Fish, Hermit Crab and Lime Shrimp — whose wildly colored, even more wildly indented leaves really do evoke creatures that might swim by if you were snorkeling on a coral reef. From Raker & Sons' Hort Couture line, available at many independent garden centers. hortcoutureplants.com
Wasabi coleus (Coleus "Wasabi"): Plant this annual for its electric-green leaves in part sun to shade and stand back: It's amazingly vigorous. Pinch frequently to keep it in bounds. A Simply Beautiful plant from Ball Floraplant that should be widely available. simplybeautifulgardens.com
New line of natives
They're not new plants — far from it, but rather, a new-from-old brand: Wholesale grower Midwest Groundcovers has taken over The Natural Garden in St. Charles, a site of pilgrimage early in the native-plant movement.
The nursery no longer sells retail, but its local-genotype native species, such as jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum), have been preserved and are now being marketed as Natural Garden Natives through Chicago-area garden centers, beginning with The Growing Place in Aurora and Naperville (thegrowingplace.com).