Seed catalogues firing gardener’s imagination

I can’t help it. The start of every new year gets me excited.

Raspberry Ripple is a lovely red-flowered

Raspberry Ripple is a lovely red-flowered

I can’t help it. The start of every new year gets me excited.

Especially if I were to believe my horoscope. It promises to be full of good things for me in 2011.

Well, whatever happens, happens to my way of thinking. I definitely won’t get my tail in a knot if I do not win the lottery. For me, a good year signifies health, a happy family and a good gardening year.

With this optimism front and centre, what better way to start the gardening season than by checking out the seed catalogues and latest gardening magazines to see what’s new this year?

Be forewarned, however, as some of the new plant introductions do not perform as described.

Case in point: We bought the new Coreopsis ‘Red Ruby’ when it first came out a few years ago. A truly stunning plant with its deeply rich red flowers…a shade of red that was not even on the Royal Horticultural Society’s colour wheel. Touted as a perennial and hardy to Zone 6.

Well, it did not survive its first winter in our Zone 7a. Perhaps we were remiss and had placed it in the wrong spot. OK.

Bought another one … still not cheap … and made sure it had good drainage and adequate water. Next winter, same thing … died.

Somehow, John managed to convince me that we should try one more time. (I never can say ‘no’ to that man.) This time he potted it up in a container come autumn and placed the plant in the greenhouse for the winter. Alas, no luck.

Turns out, this particular coreopsis is a cross between a perennial species and an annual one. And a classic example of inadequate field trials before releasing to the nurseries for plant-mad gardeners to drool over.

One more example and another coreopsis — Raspberry Ripple. This one is a lovely red-flowered, splashed-with-white cultivar. Unfortunately, as with some variegated plants, it reverts to solid red.

We are pretty leery now when it comes to buying some of the new introductions. But it isn’t easy. Those plant breeders really know how to hook us with stunning floral displays and luscious foliage.

My new line of defence … I look a little deeper for plants that have been recommended after being tested. In some cases, these plants are not brand new … just nearly new, and that is OK.

Here are some of the ones that have caught my eye:

Knifophia ‘Papaya Popsicle’ (red hot pokers) looks pretty cheerful. I like knifophias for the hummingbirds they lure to the garden. They are also drought tolerant once established and … wait for it … deer-resistant. ‘Papaya Popsicle’ is a shorter version, just 12 inches (30 cm) tall and 18 inches (45 cm) wide. Perfect for the smaller garden or the right-sized pot.

Also perfect for small spaces is the new butterfly bush — Buddleia Lo and Behold ‘Blue Chip.’ It is purported to have true blue-coloured fragrant flowers … a great attractor for butterflies. Drought-tolerant once established and it doesn’t need deadheading. Height is 24-30 inches (60-75 cm) and spread is 12-24 (30-60) inches wide.

Still looking for that truly pink hydrangea for our acidic soil conditions? So far, the two pinks that I have bought have turned out to be a pinky-purple. Nicely different but definitely not pink.

Hydrangea arborescens ‘Invincibelle Spirit’ is supposed to bloom a deep rose colour in early summer that fades to soft pink. Sounds promising for Zone 3.

Room to mention only one more … Sedum ‘Class Act.’ I love sedums because they are pretty much fuss-free … especially this one. It does not flop even from its 16-inch (40 cm) height.

And who could argue with intensely brilliant rose pink flowers as we are entering the down swing to summer? Hmm, this is definitely a desirable addition to my sedum collection.

Does not take me long to find something good on my horizon for 2011!

Leslie Cox co-owns Growing Concern Cottage Garden in Black Creek. Her column appears every second Friday.