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Garden Edition: What's Notable and New for 2003

by Linda Coyner

With holiday distractions behind us, we gardeners can finally settle down and concentrate on what matters — our gardens. That may be a matter of playing catch-up, in one form or another. Where it's cold and snowy, tools can be sharpened and tool sheds cleaned up. The skeletal remains of annuals and perennials can be removed to the compost, if desired. Depending on the temperature, desiccation spray or deer repellent can be applied. Here in the Southeast, we're into our temperate growing season, when we plant vegetables and cold tolerant annuals. Any chores that summer heat prevented our doing, must now get done.

Regardless of region, gardeners look forward to winter as an opportunity to recharge. One way to do this is by browsing the garden catalogs — electronic or paper — that arrive daily announcing their 2003 introductions.

Besides being good for jogging the memory (ahh, that's what that plant is called), the catalogs are great for what I call fantasy gardening. They take you to the place where space and climate are not a factor and plants grow to resemble their photographs.

Beware! Beautiful photographs tempt all who dare look. That warning should be required. The glowing descriptions make them all sound like foolproof and must-have plants. Perfect plants to complete the perfect garden. Anyone who has gardened for more than one season knows better, but still....

After scouring web sites and catalogs, I selected a few of the 2003 introductions that intrigued me most. Here they are:

Razzmatazz Echinacea from Wayside Gardens

This grabbed my attention right away despite the off-putting superlatives of the copy:

The first double-flowered echinacea the world has ever seen! Same terrific adaptability to heat, humidity, cold, and drought, from one end of the country to the other. When I first saw this plant, I called it 'the Holy Grail of the plant world' and vowed to make it available to Wayside gardeners as soon as I could! ... Possibly the rarest new perennial this season and certainly the showiest, Razzmatazz is the first-ever double Echinacea!

The native purple coneflower is a tough and dependable perennial, so if this variety is anything like it, it'll be the best thing since Kim's Knee-High,' a shorter version of E. purpurea. According to Wayside Gardens, Razzmatazz originated in Holland in the fields of a cut-flower grower. The blooms are typical of coneflowers in size, three to four inches across, but bushy with a double row of bright pink petals. The plant is 18 to 24 inches wide and 30 inches tall, a bit shorter than E. purpurea.

Gaillardia Sundance Bicolor from Burpee. All-American Selection Winner for 2003. The traditional flat daisy-face in mahogany-red and gold has been transformed into ruffled pompons. The carefree blanket flower is a Southwestern native that's a favorite for xeriscapes: Once established, it thrives in full sun, unfazed by the heat. Sundance Bicolor has frilly, petal-packed blooms that give this tried-and-true perennial a totally new look.

Splish Splash Geranium from Dutch Gardens. This is a hardy geranium that comes from Holland. Its white flower is delightfully splashed with light violet blue, hence the name. Overall plant height is 18-24 inches. Like other hardy geraniums, the foliage bursts into a vivid orange-red in Fall.

Hollywood Geranium from Dutch Gardens. This is another hardy geranium with a variegated flower that is eye-catching. Hollywood's flowers are violet blue with distinct darker veins. Dutch Gardens indicate that the plant forms a neat mound 12 to 15 inches tall.

Viola x wittrockiana Flamenco F1 Hybrid from Thompson and Morgan. Here' s a semi-double fringed pansy that's the first grown from seed. It comes in a wide range of colors on compact free flowering plants, with weather resistance and hybrid vigor.

Salvia mexicana Tula from White Flower Farm. A gorgeous specimen was on display this past summer at Wave Hill in New York City. At 6-feet tall and nearly as wide, each plant makes quite a statement. In addition to its generous size, this tender salvia steals the show not only with its size but the bright chartreuse calyxes that anchor each purple-blue blossom. According to White Flower Farm, the calyxes continue to gleam into Fall and early Winter, long after the flowers have fallen away. Bloom begins in September and continues into late Fall. Tula's size makes it a good companion to large ornamental grasses and big leaved tropicals.

Coleus 'Inky Fingers' from White Flower Farm. The endlessly colorful foliage of coleus is making a comeback and here is a new one. 'Inky Fingers' sports a duck-foot shaped leaf in electric lime green and dark purple. Leaves are only one-inch long on compact plants (two feet tall), well suited for containers.

Continus 'Young Lady' from Spring Meadow Nursery. This exciting new smoke bush from the Netherlands was developed by plantsman Henny Kolster, according to Spring Meadow. What makes it different from other smoke bushes is that it starts blooming as a young plant and blooms vigorously over a longer period. Spring Meadow says that in a container 'Young Lady' looks like a poodle in a pot with its frothy blooms covering the plant.

Gaura lindheimeri 'Pink Cloud' from High Country Gardens. This giant, pink-flowered gaura (introduced by Plant Delights of Raleigh, NC) is covered with hundreds of deep pink flowers on tall wispy stems during the Summer. A valued addition to the back of the hot, sunny border with other large growers, High Country recommends pinching it back several times in late Spring to thicken the plant and produce more blooming stems.

Perovskia atriplicifolia 'Little Spire' (Dwarf Russian Sage) from Plant Delights. Russian sage is valued for its silver foliage and dusty lavender-purple flowers in late Summer and Fall. This dwarf variety of Russian sage delivers both those aspects in addition to solving the problem of the full-sized plant, which can get floppy when mature. This selection comes from Dutch breeder Herbert Oudshoorn and originated in Pakistan. 'Little Spire' is described as a compact, sturdy 2' tall.

Pentas lanceolata 'Stars & Stripes' from Proven Winner. This is a new Pentas variety with white and green variegated foliage and scarlet red flower. It grows up to 18" tall, about the size of a dwarf penta. The continuous red blooms (that is typical of pentas) combined with variegation makes it well suited for a container.

Begonia 'Kaylen' from Terra Nova Nurseries. This looks like your run-of-the-mill semperflorens begonia — rose-red flowers and dark foliage — but looks are deceiving. It's hardy. Brush away some of the soil and you'll see a tuber. Kaylen hails from the University of Georgia where it was trialled and presented to Terra Nova by Alan Armitage. In Athens, the plant endured zero degree winters and hot sticky summers.

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