JUST WHEN you think hellebores couldn’t get any more desirable, along comes ‘Windcliff Slaty Blue,’ grown from seed by plant adventurer Dan Hinkley and collected in his own garden.
‘Slaty Blue’ is one of many tantalizing perennials introduced this spring. It’s hardy and deer-proof. The silky petals are the color of pewter, centered with fake-eyelash-length fluffy anthers. If these dependable winter-bloomers have become a little ho-hum, I predict ‘Slaty Blue’ to be the Robin Penn (“House of Cards”) comeback queen of hellebores.
Three more fresh-to-market perennials bred here in the Northwest are exclusive to Joy Creek Nursery in Scappoose, Ore. Owner Maurice Horn has spent years trialing his new introductions and building up stock for their spring 2014 debut.
Lobelia ‘Firewalker’ is a clumping perennial with upright, scarlet flowers and distinctively dark stems and foliage. The leaves come on smoky purple-green, the perfect color to show off the brilliant flowers. ‘Firewalker’ blooms summer into fall, grows nearly 3 feet tall, and you’ll be lucky to even see those flashy flowers they’ll be so covered in butterflies and hummingbirds.
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One of the earliest bloomers in the garden, lungwort, with its soft spotted leaves is a nostalgia plant. And the folks at Joy Creek have discovered a particularly early-blooming variety, aptly named Pulmonaria ‘Early Bird.’ The leaves are splashed with silver; flower buds start out rosy pink and open to purple-blue flowers that turn bright cobalt as they mature. And the best reason to grow this little beauty? ‘Early Bird’ opens its flowers in March and continues to bloom into May. One more: Hosta ‘Gold Shimmers,’ which Horn describes as “chartreuse with gold highlights.” It’s a medium-sized hosta with thickly puckered leaves so warmly colored they seem to draw sunshine right down into the garden.
How I love a good, long-blooming geum; it’s one of the few perennials I still let into my garden because they’re worth the maintenance. Geums are easy to grow, with sweet-faced flowers held aloft on wiry stems. They’re so pretty in a vase, long-lasting and adaptable to any style of bouquet. Geum ‘Cocktails Cosmopolitan’ is a semidouble, with ruffled, cream-colored petals flushed with rosy pink.
The most unusual new perennial must be Digiplexis ‘Illumination Flame,’ called “foxglove with lipstick’ for its tarted-up flash. But you’ll want to grow it because it blooms all summer long. Recent winner of the plant of the year award at the Chelsea Garden Show, it’s an inspired cross between digitalis and isoplexiis, a foxglove relative native to the Canary Islands. The plants are 3 feet tall and bushy, with spikes of rose-colored flowers flushed in orange. With that Canary Island parentage it’s hardy only to zone 8, so plant it in a warm, sheltered spot.
A couple of new lavenders round out the list. Lavandula angustifolia ‘Platinum Blonde’ will be a hit for its showy foliage. This English lavender has won awards around Europe for its leaves, which look as if they’ve been splashed with sunshine. The flower spikes are a soft, ethereal blue well shown off by leaves brightly margined in creamy yellow. This isn’t one of your leggy lavenders. Its shape is compact enough for containers or to edge sunny garden beds. Lavandula x intermedia ‘Phenomenal’ is said to be the hardiest lavender ever bred. It doesn’t die back in winter, and is resistant to root and foliar diseases. The foliage is silvery, the habit mounding, the flowers dark purple and exceptionally fragrant.
Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer. Check out her blog at www.valeaston.com.