I've already spent weeks in feverish anticipation of spring. Now it's your turn. From a showy smoke bush to a pygmy barberry, new trees and....
Today’s column and the next couple coming up are the most perilous of the year. I’ve spent weeks researching all the new, new plants, whittling them down to the most thrilling few — which means I’ve already spent weeks in feverish anticipation of spring. Now it’s your turn.
Just remember these plants are the stylish starlets on the red carpet twirling to catch our eye. But how many have lasting charms? Will they shine as brilliantly in the ground as in our anticipation? Only time — and a little testing out in our own gardens — will tell.
Because all these plants are new on the market, they take patience to track down. You may need to ask your favorite nursery to order them or wait until later in the spring when nurseries are fully stocked. I’ll be roaming the nursery aisles and waiting right along with you! All we can do is keep telling ourselves that the quest is half the fun.
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• Monrovia in Southern California is one of the country’s biggest growers (the folks there call themselves “horticultural craftsmen”). This spring it’s introducing tempting hardy plants that will survive our Northwest winters. How about a compact new smoke bush called Magical Green Fountain (Cotinus coggygria ‘Kolcot’)? Originally bred for the cut-flower industry, you can be sure its seashell pink flowers are showy, set off by purple-tinged green leaves. It grows about 6 feet high with golden autumn color.
• Crape myrtles make great street trees, partly because they need plenty of heat to bloom well. Introduced by the National Arboretum, Arapaho crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica x faueri ‘Arapaho’) has maroon-tinged leaves, plumes of crinkly red flowers in midsummer and great fall color. It’s resistant to powdery mildew and is ideal for a tough, droughty site.
A new cascading redbud will grow only as high as you stake its trunk. Lavender Twist Redbud (Cercis canadensis ‘Covey’) has pink flowers in early spring, large, heart-shaped green leaves, and rich, golden fall color — all in a fetching weeping form.
• Fringe flower, also known as the razzle dazzle plant, is as showy as its name. It’s a small shrub that looks good year-round with tassel-like flowers and richly colored foliage that looks too delicate to be evergreen. Now there’s a new dwarf form called Ever Red (Loropetalum chinense ‘Chang Nian Hong’). Picture its vivid crimson flowers and chocolate-plum-colored leaves flowing down the sides of a pale, glossy pot.
• Flower Carpet Pink Supreme is a new, tough ground-cover rose that stays under 3 feet high. I’m ignoring its botanical name because it’s mostly a number. I’m sure the rose will be more memorable than its name, since its flowers are bubble-gum pink tinged with white, it’s disease resistant and flowers for months.
• What would summer be without new hydrangeas? H. macrophylla ‘Bailday,’ called Light-O-Day, has white-edged leaves and large, lacecap flowers with blue or pink centers (depending on your soil) ringed in bright white. Then there’s Pinky Winky (who names these things?), an old-fashioned paniculata type with huge, white, cone-shaped flowers that fade to pink as they age. H. paniculata ‘DVPpinky’ takes sun or shade, grows 6 to 8 feet high and has such strong stems those big blooms aren’t supposed to flop.
• Colored-leaf shrubs are all the rage, and there’s a new lemon-lime spirea called Firegold for its intense orange fall color. Spiraea x vanhouttei ‘Levgold’ is vase-shaped and arching with white flowers set against yellow-green foliage.
• Cabernet Barberry (Berberis thunbergii ‘Moretti Select’) is a compact form of the popular ‘Crimson Pygmy.’ Ideal for the smallest gardens, it has burgundy leaves, a dense, mounded habit, and tops out at 2 feet high and 3 feet wide. Weigela florida ‘Eyecatcher’ is another miniature that grows just 2 feet high, perfect for a container, with the cacophonous color combo of chartreuse leaves and red flowers.
Now a teaser: Expect for spring ’09 a dwarf butterfly bush with blue blooms. It looks more like a baby ceanothus than the usual gangly buddleia. It’s named ‘Blue Chip’ and rumored to be both fragrant and noninvasive.
Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and author of “A Pattern Garden.” Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.