Who can resist the lure of cool, new plants?
Plant Life columnist Valerie Easton says that from Golden Crane and 'Pewter Pillar' to 'Miss Molly' and 'Baby Rita,' the choices are splendid.
Local news partner - Plant Talk
Valerie Easton writes in her blog about gardens and the people who make them.
WHAT'S NEW and cool for 2012? No matter how committed we are to making our gardens more sustainable, plant lust remains as perennial as daffodils, and as sure a sign of spring. Who can resist the lure of trying out a new, darker leaf, a crisper variegation or a compact version of a favorite shrub?
But now that plant patents bring in millions, a caution about what "new" really means when it comes to trees and shrubs. With so many breeders hard at work, plants get renamed, trademarked and marketed in ways that obscure if a plant is really new or just newly packaged.
It takes many years to bring a woody plant to market. And while I've been told that every plant on this list will be available in nurseries this year, that may be optimistic. Still, all are worth dreaming about and trying to track down.
• Monrovia has several tempting new treats from plant explorer Dan Hinkley. Drimys winteri var. chiloense 'Pewter Pillar' is a Chilean evergreen tree, hardy to zone 7 (which includes pretty much all Seattle-area gardens). It grows slowly to 20 feet in a tight, columnar shape. The leaves have silvery white undersides that lighten up its presence in the landscape. Best of all, in late winter it sports clusters of pretty white flowers.
• You can trust Hinkley to spot a special hydrangea, and H. angustipetala 'MonLongShou' Golden Crane is a stunning new lacecap. The flowers are white and chartreuse, highly fragrant (very unusual for a hydrangea) and bloom in spring, making Golden Crane the earliest of all hydrangeas to flower.
• Who can resist a tidy column of spiny gold? The sharpness and shape of Berberis thunbergii 'Maria,' aka Sunjoy Gold Pillar, make it an ideal hedging plant. Or, at a mere 3 to 4 feet tall and less than 2 feet wide, it can be slipped into a container or border. Its sunny leaves bookend the season by coming on red in spring and turning orange-red again in autumn. Remember how gloomy it was last spring and early summer? We need more of this color in our gardens — and Sunjoy is as bulletproof as a shrub can be.
• Butterfly bushes are being churned out in new colors and dwarf sizes that can turn even the smallest garden into a wildlife sanctuary. Buddleia Lo & Behold 'Purple Haze' flops over into a spreading mound only 2 to 3 feet tall and wide. Buddleia x 'Miss Molly' has hot-watermelon-pink flowers set against gray-green foliage and grows 5 feet tall. Both are sweetly fragrant butterfly and hummingbird magnets that bloom for months. Cultivars like these have proved not to be invasive.
• Dark-leafed trees are so dramatic in the garden, like deep shadows among all the green. And now a European breeder brings us the first-ever purple styrax, with fragrant, white, bell-shaped flowers set against dusky leaves. Styrax japonicus 'Evening Light' grows just 6 feet high and is reputed to be an easy, adaptable tree. Also new is a weeping redbud with Bordeaux-colored foliage. Cercis 'Ruby Falls' has the characteristic heart-shaped leaves looking even larger on this downsized version.
• Every garden needs a little hedging, and shouldn't it be brilliantly colored? Wedding ring boxwood (Buxus microphylla var. koreana) is hardy and compact (12 to 36 inches tall) with glossy foliage trimmed in lime green. It holds its color year-round, and the lime edging turns golden in the summer sun. But does it smell of cat urine like most boxwood? None of the marketing for this flashy little shrub mentions that.
• How can a cactus be so appealing? Hardy to zone 7, prickly pear cactus (Opuntia basilaris hyb. 'Baby Rita') grows only 8 inches tall, perfect for container drama. Its fleshy pads are purple, its thorns wickedly long. Give it perfect drainage and sun, and you might even get a few carmine-bright flowers in summer.
Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and author of "Petal & Twig." Check out her blog at www.valeaston.com.