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With all of the new plants being introduced to the gardening marketplace each year, it's hard to know which are worthy of your time and attention. Here are four award winning plants-proven performers in gardens around the country-to keep an eye out for in 2012.
If you've never grown a Brunnera before, you're in for a real treat. These classic woodland plants are prized for their shade tolerance, as well as their handsome foliage and delicate sky blue flowers. Bred by Walters Gardens, Inc., 'Jack Frost' was first introduced to the marketplace in 2000 and has since proven itself to be a beautiful and reliable perennial plant for shade gardening. The dark green leaves are frosted with a metallic silver finish.
From mid to late spring, clusters of baby blue, forget-me-not type blossoms appear on airy stems several inches above the foliage. In the landscape, use Brunnera in groups or in mass plantings as a slow-spreading groundcover. Plants grow in clumps and perform best if grown in moist, rich soil. Brunnera also make good container plants, and once established, require very little care. Leave old foliage intact until the spring to help to protect the crown during the winter. Winter mulching is also recommended.
Common names: False Forget-Me-Not, Siberian Bugloss, and Heartleaf Brunnera
Hardiness zones: 3 to 9
Life cycle: perennial
Site: partial to full shade; moist, rich soil
Mature size: 12-20 inches high; 12-24 inches wide
Bloom period: mid-to late spring; clusters of petite, baby blue flowers
Unique to this variety: deer resistant; tolerates heat
Salvia 'Summer Jewel Pink' is a dwarf-sized, compact annual, worthy of accolades due to its early spikes of pink blooms that last throughout the entire growing season. Sister to earlier AAS winner Salvia 'Summer Jewel Red', the blooms on 'Summer Jewel Pink' appear almost two weeks earlier than the other pink salvias. Annual salvias are beautiful to look at, and well-loved for their tolerance to heat and drought. Pollinators find them irresistible, especially hummingbirds, who love their colorful, tubular flowers.
Hardiness zones: all
Life cycle: annual
Sun exposure: full sun
Time from sowing to flower: 50 days
Maximum size: 20 inches tall; 16 inches wide
Bloom period: all season; spikes of 1/2 inch, light pink blooms on green foliage
Unique to this variety: early blooms, prolific flowering throughout the season
Bred by Floranova, Ltd., 'Cayennetta' is an excellent tasting pepper that is very easy to grow, even for the novice gardener. This pepper makes an excellent container plant for the patio, because its well-branched upright structure requires no staking, and it produces a prolific amount of 3 to 4 inch fruits. Unlike some pepper varieties, 'Cayennetta' is also very tolerant of cold and heat, which makes it less prone to aborting flowers during fruit set.
Sun exposure: full sun
Plant size: 24 inches tall; 20 inches wide
Fruits: 3-4 inches long; mildly spicy
Spacing: 20 inches
Time to harvest: 69 days from transplant; 97 days from sowing
Unique characteristics: good cold and heat tolerance; dense foliage protects fruits from sun scorch.
Non-traditional in appearance, the 'Faerie' watermelon has a creamy yellow rind with thin stripes, yet it still yields a sweet, pink flesh with a high sugar content and crisp texture. With the vines that spread only to 11 feet, this melon uses less space in the garden and is ideal for gardeners with limited space. Bred by Known-You Seed Company, each 7 to 8-inch fruit weighs approximately 4 to 6 pounds-the perfect size for families.
Sun exposure: full sun
Plant size: 11 1/2 foot spread; 4 to 6 pound fruits
Spacing: 8 to 10 feet apart
Time to harvest: 72 days from sowing
Unique to this variety: early and easy fruit setting; space efficient; pink flesh with a light yellow striped rind.
Recently, The Perennial Plant Association has announced that the 2008 Perennial Plant of the Year is Geranium 'Rozanne' (Rozanne cranesbill geranium). I'm not the least bit surprised. I stumbled on 'Rozanne' only a few years ago (I'm rather a late bloomer) and found it to be a real gem. This lively geranium has large, jewel-toned violet-blue flowers set on deep green, lightly marbled foliage. With its versatility in the garden and vibrant, long-lasting blooms, it's no wonder 'Rozanne' has been labled "the geranium of the millennium."
To emphasize autumn interest, shorter grasses such as Pennisetum alopecuroides 'Little Honey' are superb companions to Geranium 'Rozanne'. You'll find that 'Rozanne' also fills in nicely between daylilies and phlox, or with the foliage of nearby blue-gray or yellowish green hostas. Massed plantings of Rozanne provide carefree, billowy-textured mounds that look beautiful in front of bushy roses, such as the free-flowering, golden 'Graham Thomas.' In my own flower garden, I enjoy pairing "Roxanne' with bright fuchsia-colored Coral Bells.
Hardiness: USDA zones 5 to 8
Flowers: The large, violet-blue flowers with purple-violet veins and small white centers offer non-stop flowering throughout the growing season-late spring to early fall.
Growth Rate/ Habits: Medium growth rate; height of 20-inches; free-flowing mounds with a 24-28-inch spread.
Exposure: Geranium 'Rozanne' thrives in full sun to partial shade. Afternoon shade is recommended in hot climates.
Soil: Rozanne prefers a site with moist, well-draining soil and has average water needs. Once established, it is both heat and drought tolerant.
Uses: The free-flowing flowers of Rozanne work well when used as a ground cover, mass planted as a front-border specimen, in hanging baskets, window boxes, or in patio containers.
Unique Characteristics: Deer and rabbit resistant. No known disease or insect problems.
Companions: Coral Bells, Ornamental Grasses, Hosta, Bearded Iris, Daylilies, Stonecrop, Bell Flowers, and Rose Bushes.
Identification Note: Occasionally in reference books, you may see the name GERWAT associated with Geranium 'Rosanne.' GERWAT is the identifier for this plant used in association with European Plant Breeders Rights: "GER" for geranium and "WAT" for the discoverer Waterer.
The Perennial Plant Association is a trade organization made up of nurseries, landscapers, and other garden industry experts, dedicated to educating gardeners on exceptional perennial plants.
When shopping for perennial bedding plants this year, you can expect to see a lot of plant labels marked 'Cheddar Pink'. That's because the Perennial Plant Association awarded Dianthus gratianopolitanus (also known as 'Feuerhexe' or 'Firewitch') the 2006 Perennial Plant of the Year.
This drought tolerant and disease resistant perennial, native to Arkansas and Oklahoma, is grown for its feathery foliage and pretty blue flowers. Birds and insects like the flower nectar and deer are repelled by the milky sap. This is a guide about growing Amsonia hubrichtii (Arkansas blue star).