Hartley Magazine

All the latest news, hints, tips and advice from our experts

Grade Your Garden—New Plants Go to the Top of the Class

Crested Japanese painted fern gets Best in Show

At this back-to-school season, it’s time to study—what gets an A in your garden and greenhouse, and what rates an F? Take notes on both the perfect and the problem areas. Then you can hunt for plants that fit into these two categories. If, say, your foxgloves were a glory, find more for next year. (Perhaps even better ones—see below.) Or maybe you notice some failed-to-thrive plants. Reserve that space for fabulous newcomers next spring.

One resource is nursery trade shows. Although trade shows are for wholesalers, they feature what will be appearing at your retail garden center next year. I’ve just returned from the Far West Show in Portland, OR, which has the New Varieties Showcase. Selections must demonstrate a notable improvement over past performers. Here are a few—of the many—that caught my eye.

Mighty 8-inch Brunnera ‘Queen of Hearts’ leaves defy chewing slugs and snails.

Athyrium niponicum ‘Crested Surf’— Ferns are often overlooked, and yet they’re a design mainstay in shade gardens and floral arrangements. Japanese painted ferns are beautiful and tough, so I was pleased to see the judges awarded this fern a Best in Show. With multi-tassels on the end of each frond, it will be a welcome addition in my garden.

Brunnera macrophylla ‘Queen of Hearts’ —Silvery brunnera foliage lights up shady areas and blue flowers in spring are a bonus. If slugs chew your hosta plants to lace work, consider substituting tough-leafed brunnera. And this winner of the People’s Choice Award has the biggest leaves I’ve ever seen—at least eight inches across. It’s on my list.

Cercis Flamethrower— A new redbud tree won Best in Show for its multi-colored foliage and graceful pendulous form. Leaves emerge burgundy, and then move through red, orange, yellow, and lime green—one plant, all colors together. At 20 feet tall and 15 wide, this show-stopper will fit in the smallest of gardens. I’ve got a serious case of plant lust.

A hardy perennial foxglove can grow in Zone 5a

Digitalis Arctic Fox Rose — Biennial foxgloves are a mainstay. But I’ve never been able to keep other perennial foxgloves alive in my Zone 7 garden. Now there’s a hardy perennial foxglove that goes down to Zone 5a. I can hardly wait to try it.

Pentas lanceolata Sunstar™ Rose — Large clusters of pink flowers bloom throughout the season and withstand heat and disease. A tender perennial (Zone 11), the Egyptian star flower could keep blossoms coming by overwintering in a greenhouse. I’ll use Sunstar Rose as a major player in next year’s mixed containers.