January has arrived and my thoughts have turned to spring. I know I’m a bit early, but to a gardener, the season is just beginning. New seed catalogues are arriving daily in my mailbox and garden blogs and websites are talking about some of the exciting new releases for 2013. As a garden writer, I do get the opportunity to test-drive some of these plants a year in advance, giving feedback to the breeding companies on whether they performed well in our corner of the North Atlantic and I thought I would share some of my favourite upcoming plants with you.
The 2013 Perennial Plant of the Year:
Each year, the Perennial Plant Association names a plant that is considered to be a standout among perennials. The winner boasts a wide range of outstanding characteristics such as hardiness, disease and insect resistance, multi-season interest and a low maintenance habit and this year, the coveted title goes to Variegated Solomon’s Seal. A shade loving perennial that is ideal for a woodland garden, this 2-foot tall plant has attractive arching branches, bi-coloured green and white leaves and pretty bell-shaped flowers in spring.
The 2013 Hosta of the Year:
It’s hard to find a plant that’s tougher than a hosta. I’ll admit that they do fall prey to our out-of-control deer population and the slugs, but they grow back quickly and when planted near our house, the deer tend to avoid them. ‘Rainforest Sunrise’ is the top pick for 2013 with unique rounded leaves that are a glow-in-the-dark neon green edged in dark green. It’s considered a small growing hosta, topping out at about 10 inches in height. It is relatively sun-tolerant, but for optimum colour, plant it in partial shade.
All-America Selections Winners:
For decades, the team at All-America Selections has evaluated hundreds of new varieties of garden plants annually, testing for their performance across North America. This year among their top picks is Echinacea ‘Cheyenne Spirit’, a gorgeous perennial coneflower that will flower the first year from seed. The colour range of the 3 inch blooms includes purple, pink, red, orange, gold, cream and white and the plants are hardy down to zone 4. Kitchen gardeners may want to try ‘Melemon’ Melon, an F1 hybrid that produces sweet-tart fruits on vigorous vines. This melon will mature in about 80 days, but for the best success, start seed indoors, moving the young plants to the garden after all risk of frost has passed in late spring.
I blog monthly for Proven Winners and therefore have the opportunity to try out many of their plants a year in advance. This past summer, I was wowed by Superbells Lemon Slice, a non-stop bloomer for containers and hanging baskets that flowered from early June through October. The small, petunia-shaped blooms are a dazzling combination of bright yellow and white stripes and were so dense, I could hardly see the foliage. Another Proven Winners 2013 pick that I loved was Frosty Knight Lobularia. I always describe it as sweet alyssum on steroids because it produces a snowstorm of tiny white blooms that are fragrant, but sterile which means they keep flowering and don’t get sidelined producing seeds. Frosty Knight also has beautiful variegated foliage, offering another layer of interest to pots, windowboxes and garden edgings.
Niki Jabbour is the author of the award-winning book, The Year Round Vegetable Gardener and the host of The Weekend Gardener radio show, which has gone dormant for the winter. Follow her adventures on twitter at @NikiJabbour or at her blog www.nikijabbour.com.