Yes you read that correctly – these are new introductions to watch out for next year.
As a garden writer I have the opportunity to test plants in my own garden and containers before they are released to the retail nurseries. I suspect passing quality control at the grower's greenhouses may actually be easier than passing my own rigorous standards! Anything which I highlight for you has had to outperform similar plants or offer significantly new colors and/or properties. I also have zero tolerance for Primadonnas so these plants have to be fabulous with minimal primping and fussing.
It's a wonder growers actually send me anything isn't it?!
I'll be writing about several more of my 2014 trial plants in the near future, but here are two perennials and two annuals to get the ball rolling.
Superbena 'Violet Ice'
Can you say delicious?! This is verbena on steroids. Each flower is about twice the size of a typical verbena and the color is an unbelievable shade of lavender with blue overtones. Like most verbenas, this did bloom in waves but we're talking monster surfing waves here, not little ripples. The whole plant was covered in these over-sized flowers while the foliage has remained healthy throughout the summer.
I tested this in full sun and partial sun and it barely bloomed at all in the latter so save your plants for lots of sunshine and you will be amply rewarded. This truly is a winner by Proven Winners
Begonia 'Surefire Rose'
I was pretty skeptical about this one, especially as it claimed to be sun tolerant. I've also never really liked wax begonias as they tend to get leggy. But here I was with a couple of surefire rose begonias to test so I planted one in my own container and gave one to my neighbor to test. In both cases they have been in full sun.
In my own garden the begonia was in a container with drip irrigation so had regular watering. My neighbors plant had to make do with a 'when I remember' blast with the hosepipe. Surprisingly they have both done exceptionally well and are still blooming their big pink socks off.
The one thing that did appeal was the bronze toned foliage and apart from a little pitting on a few leaves (not sure what caused that) it has been exceptionally healthy. I combined it with the variegated Osmanthus 'Goshiki' whose rose tinted new growth echoed the begonia flowers nicely while the yellow stamens repeated the yellow splashes. A cascading creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia 'Aurea') finished things off. (This trailer prefers part shade so did get scorched. It was a leftover from the winter planting so I thought I'd just see how it would fare).
The plant has grown to a tidy dome about 12" tall and wide with no pinching out. In fact all I have done is occasionally remove the spent flowers which turn translucent and papery. Just a cosmetic clean up, not a necessary one to help keep it blooming.
From now on my clients can expect to see this Proven Winners annual in their sunny containers.
Silver Heart Siberian bugloss (Brunnera macrophylla)
"Really?" I thought when I saw this? It looks just like Jack Frost which has been around for several years. I dug it into my trial bed in the garden anyway but wasn't expecting much. In fact I pretty much forgot about it and only watered it twice during the entire summer. Even worse I planted it in a spot where it gets direct sun from dawn until about 3pm. Yikes! This really needs afternoon shade.
Here's my surprise discovery though – and the reason why I'm including it here. It didn't get sunburned and didn't sulk from lack of water. In fact in comparison to my large clump of Jack Frost it is far superior. Where Jack Frost has proven to be drought tolerant it has scorched badly this summer yet received less sun than Silver Heart did.
So is it different from Jack Frost? For the purist silver heart does have more silver but I'd say the main reason to buy it is because it is a tough perennial for tough places (and tough-on-plants clients).
Short and Sassy sneezeweed, helenium (Helenium)
Now this perennial did pique my interest straight away. I've always liked helenium – such bright, fun daisies for the mid-late summer border and a welcome change from black eyed Susan's and coneflowers. In fact I recently highlighted the cultivar 'Mardi Gras' in an article for Houzz. However, its legs aren't very pretty; just long green stems and ordinary leaves. When designing with them I always had to make sure I added something in front to detract from that aspect of an otherwise great plant.
Short and Sassy has the same flower shape and colors as taller helenium but at 12-15" tall and 2' or so wide this is perfect at the front of the border. This is another perennial which has had to withstand tough treatment from me – in full sun and only watered twice since it was planted in May. As you can see from the above photo it is happy, healthy and still in full bloom. I haven't deadheaded it either! It just keeps right on flowering and has been covered in cheerful flowers since June.
Each flower has a chocolate colored cone surrounded by a ballerina skirt of red and yellow splashed petals. Imagine this with purple fountain grass and Abelia 'Kaleidoscope' in a container or the garden border. Wow!