Hartley Magazine

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Wish Upon Next Year’s Plant Stars

The decisions about which new plants will appear at a nursery near you next spring are happening right now. Here’s a glimpse of the behind-the-scenes process so you can jumpstart your own plant wish list. I was recently one of three judges for the 2009 New Varieties Showcase at the Farwest trade show in Portland, Oregon. We judges represented various gardening perspectives. Dave Etchepare is a manager from Dennis’ Seven Dees Landscaping & Garden Centers in Portland who appears as The Garden Doctor on KEX radio. Roger Mille, Homescaper LLC, looks at design considerations. I’m both a writer and a home gardener. Judging the 39 entrants by usefulness in landscaping, unique qualities and retail appeal, we walked around in the professionally designed display to make our separate decisions in four categories, plus one overall winner for Best in Show. Then we met to reach consensus.

The trend for colored foliage is still hot—blues and reds and chartreuse everywhere. Purple-to-blacks were shown in vine maple (Acer circinatum ‘JFS-Purple’), Crimson Sunset™ maple (Acer truncatum x A platinoides ‘JFS-KW202’). Three dark-hued Zone 8 choices—Ceanothus ‘Tuxedo’, a low-growing evergreen Hebe ‘Turkish Delight’ and a Cordyline austalis ‘Renegade’—would lend high drama to a winter greenhouse. For descriptions of all thirty-nine entries, go to www.farwestshow.com/nvs.

Surprisingly, in our first round of voting, we were unanimous in every category—except annuals. The gentlemen liked Petunia x Pretty Much Picasso™, with its magenta-purple flowers edged in lime green. I preferred Breathless™ Blush, an annual euphorbia (Euphorbia hypericifolia ‘Ballbreblus’). We chose the delicately pink-flowered euphorbia, based on its three-season sales appeal, and toughness in garden situations—its cousin, the white-flowered E. Diamond Frost™ is ignored by all critters (including voles) in my garden. We all agreed on the handsome green-and-white variegated northern sea oats (Chasmantium latifolium ‘River Mist’). Also the pink—yes, pink—blueberry (Vaccinium ‘Pink Lemonade’) for its four-season great looks and those rosy berries, and a terrific dwarf (to six feet) flowering cherry (Prunus Little Twist®). Best in Show honors went to a small (to 15 inches) orange-red variegated barberry Golden Ruby™ (Berberis thunbergii ‘Goruzam’). This shrub’s thin gold leaf margins made it appear to radiate its own light. A people-magnet—show goers couldn’t keep their hands off it—that’s quite a feat for a prickly plant. Dave thought it would be a solid sell in the nursery; Roger saw many design uses; and me? I just wanted it, with lust in my heart.