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Hamptons Life

Feb 23, 2018 3:33 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

What's New For The 2018 Garden

Mar 5, 2018 10:29 AM

So, you want to know what’s new for the garden in 2018? Well, how about 45 or so new varieties of vegetables, 70 or so new varieties of annuals and perennials, with a few shrubs and trees thrown in for good measure?

And, if that doesn’t ring your chimes, how about buying hedges online and having them shipped right to your door and ready to plant?

But, again, my yearly caution: Just because something is new, it is not a guarantee that it is better or great. However, in all fairness, these varieties come from breeders and plant specialists that spend a good deal of time and money looking for and breeding plants that they hope will ring your bell and end up in your garden.

But how do you know they are really great? Or do you just take a chance and see for yourself? Excellent questions.

With all the new varieties showing up every year, the fact of the matter is that only a few will show up at garden centers. These are the ones that wholesale growers feel will hit the spot and end up in your garden.

Wholesalers are more interested in growing the tried and true varieties that have been great sellers in years past. But in order to keep things interesting—and us guessing—the breeders, propagators and seed suppliers often will take varieties off the market to make room for new ones that they feel show promise, because they perform better, look better or are in some way unique or unusual.

And, as I always note each year: If you really, really want plants that are new, you’ll find a handful at garden centers, but many more from mail order (internet) vendors, and even more from specialty growers that I try to mention in this column.

A few other things you can do to increase your chances of success:

Look for plants that have the AAS (All American Selections) logo on them. These have been tested in trial gardens throughout the country and evaluated by plant professionals based on a series of criteria that lead to some pretty reliable evaluations.

You’ll also find reviews in gardening magazines and from evaluations from trials that are ongoing at places like the Arnold Arboretum, the Chicago Botanical Garden and the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, all of which have great trial programs but mostly for trees, shrubs, vines and perennials.

But how did we get to the $3 to $10 annual? Yes, you can still go to a mass marketer, like the big orange box, and buy a six-pack of marigolds for a few bucks. And you can even find a geranium in a 4-inch pot for three bucks or less. These are the old favorites that fly off the shelves and do okay in the garden, but they lack the flair and pizazz of plants like Coleus Campfire ($9.95), a Blackmore and Langdon “Oliva” Begonia ($69), Geranium “Vancouver Centennial” ($10.50), Petunia “Bermuda Beach” ($9.95), and Zinnia “Zowie Yellow Flame” ($7.95).

Now, these aren’t prices for six-packs. These are prices for a single, tiny plant—an annual that will grow this summer (or not) and die at the first frost.

Ten bucks for a petunia? Eight bucks for a zinnia? Welcome to the new reality of gardening, especially if you want to have the best on the block or the ’hood.

But don’t get me wrong—I’m eagerly awaiting a hosta later in the spring that’s going to set me back $125, and I can’t tell you how many $30 to $70 hardy orchids I’ve bought, only to have them languish. And I won’t hesitate to spend $18 or so on a heuchera, tiarella or even a new variety of lupine. Ah, but these come back every year (usually) and, as they are perennials, from one can many be made. Don’t think that will work with the hybrid zinnia or the admittedly lovely “Bermuda Beach” petunia.

Ah, but there are some standouts this year that you can get your hands on and they won’t empty your bank account.

There is a new canna called “South Pacific Orange” that’s a sister of the 2013 All American Selection “South Pacific Scarlet.” It’s grown from seed, so you’ll see it offered in either pots or large cells, and you also can buy the seed from vendors like Jung and Burpee. The foliage is dark green and the flowers are a solid orange and about 4 to 5 inches. The plants grow from 15 to 52 inches tall, and they can be used in containers or as bedders.

Cuphea “FloriGlory Diana” (cuphea is also known as Mexican heather) will be available in pots, and it’s really well-suited for borders, mass plantings and in containers. It has flowers that are slightly larger than previous varieties, and the flowers are more prolific, in an intense magenta color. The plants are compact, flower for a long time and thrive in the heat. Since it’s a hybrid, it won’t need deadheading, and this is one plant that can thrive in both heat and drought. The plants will flower well into the fall, especially with a southerly exposure, and they do great in planters and baskets.

And, yes, marigold fans, there’s a new marigold for you. “Super Hero Spry” is a compact French marigold that doesn’t need deadheading. With dark maroon lower petals and golden yellow upper petals, set atop 12-inch plants with dark green foliage, the flower color is very stable, and the plants bloom early and continue well into the fall.

The plants are very easy to grow from seed and a great choice for children who might like to experience growing a flowering plant from seeds that is easy to handle and easy to germinate. Better yet, it’s the French marigolds that are said to have repellency against whitefly and possibly cabbage worms.

If you grow sweet corn, this might be the year to give “Sweet American Dream” a try. This variety comes from the same company that developed the 1988 winner “Honey N’ Pearl.” It has great germination, is very tender when ripe and has super-sweet kernels.

It matures slightly earlier than its peers and has bi-colored kernels. The plants grow 6 to 7 feet tall and mature in 77 days, yielding 7-inch-long cobs. This variety is great fresh, roasted, grilled, canned or frozen. Remember that corn needs full sun and won’t like being planted in cold, wet soil. The seed is available from most seed catalogs.

Next week, many more suggestions for new plants, and my best and newest picks for mail-order nurseries. Don’t jump the gun, though: Winter is still here, and we’re still weeks or even months away from some plantings.

But, on the positive side, only three weeks till spring.

Keep growing!

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