This Is Not the Year for New Plant Varieties - 27 East

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This Is Not the Year for New Plant Varieties

Number of images 3 Photos
Helleborus

Helleborus "Frostkiss Pippa’s Purple" has winter foliage that’s much more attractive than others in the group. The leaves sit several inches above the leaf litter and don’t brown and collapse like other Hellebore selections. The plant shown Is only a year old. ANDREW MESSINGER

Helleborus f.

Helleborus f. "Red Silver" is another hellebore that has attractive winter foliage. Like fingers on an outstretched han,d the palmate foliage is dark green with red stems leading to the crown. This plant is also 1 year old. ANDREW MESSINGER

As with most other Hellebores, the foliage (in this case H.

As with most other Hellebores, the foliage (in this case H. "Confetti Cake") can become a bit ratty during the winter. Some, but not all leaves can brown while others in the same cluster can remain green until replaced with new leaves in the spring and summer. If in a highly visible bed some light pruning can tidy things up a bit. ANDREW MESSINGER

Autor

Hampton Gardener®

  • Publication: Residence
  • Published on: Jan 19, 2023
  • Columnist: Andrew Messinger

January has traditionally been the month for gardeners to sit inside on a cold day (or days) and peruse the latest editions of seed and plant catalogs to find out what’s “new” and different. Sorry for those of you who depend on the newest and recently “improved” varieties, but this is not going to be your year.

To date (January 16) two catalogs are either very late or missing in action. The Burpee spring catalog has not shown up at any of my mail drops though their catalog is online, and you can place immediate orders (burpee.com). Wayside Gardens catalog is not out, and I suspect it may not come out.

For the past decade Wayside has been nothing but a disappointment. Fallen far from the days when Wayside was sought out for new introductions of roses, shrubs and perennials, the namesake is now just a fading shadow of what it used to be. Wayside is part of a group of companies owned by J&P Park Holdings. J&P (formerly Jackson and Perkins Roses), Park Seed, and Wayside are, for all intents and purposes, the same company. They share similar mailing addresses and when you call one call center you get the call center for the entire group. And if you do happen to call, don’t expect expert help.

Each of the individual parts of J&P Park Holdings once stood on their own as top vendors and innovators in the field. Each stumbled badly a decade ago as a result of poor management and a failure to respond to consumer complaints about poor quality including shipping plants that died on delivery or shortly after planting. When I called Wayside last week to inquire about their print catalog I was told to use a link — which took me to J&P. I mentioned this to my online helper who then sent me the correct link to Wayside. Unfortunately, the Wayside site was suspiciously bare of offerings.

Next, I went to Dave’s Garden (davesgarden.com) to check the Garden Watchdog section of their site. Here other gardeners post comments about their experiences, good, bad or neutral, with various plant suppliers — hundreds and hundreds of them. As in the past several years, Wayside (407 negative to 323 positive), Park (441/432) and J&P (250/193) have had falling ratings here, and that continues with each of these vendors having more negative responses than positive.

For a comparison I looked at three other vendors on the Watchdog. These were the White Flower Farm, Johnny’s Selected Seeds and Bluestone Perennials. Bluestone has 1,132 positive responses and only 93 negative. White Flower Farm is 186 positive to 134 negative and Johnny’s 300 positive to only 30 negative.

The bottom line here is that if you don’t know the vendor you are spending your money with, you should. And while the responses on Dave’s Garden Watchdog are a bit dated, the numbers still speak for themselves. Unless one of these poorly performing vendors has a plant that you just can’t find anywhere else (which would be rare), please avoid them. Also think twice about dealing with Roots & Rhizomes, which is not part of J&P but still has a history of poor reviews.

If it’s perennials you’re looking for you might want to look at Edelweiss Perennials’ offerings. They have one of the most extensive listings of plants that you’ll find, and with a Garden Watchdog score of 77 positive to 1 negative, that’s a pretty good recommendation. The downside is that they are located in Oregon and shipping can be a bit costly. Their plant list will drive you crazy and is chock full of opportunities. Careful, though, when ordering to make sure what you want is appropriate for our hardiness zone. (edelweissperennials.com)

There is some good news in these stormy clouds. The number of new Hydrangea varieties being offered has slowed. The new offerings of Heucheras is down to a trickle. We were seeing 15 to 30 new varieties of Echinacea every year, and this year just a handful. Hellebores, which were the latest darlings of the hybridizers, now seem to be down to just one or two new introductions.

This slowdown is good for us though it may not seem that way. Too many new varieties were being offered that simply weren’t standing up to the test of true garden planting, hardiness and our expectations. Many of the Heuchera varieties came from breeders at a fast and furious clip, then rotted in our gardens. Echinaceas that were touted as great pollinators and attractors of butterflies and bees simply weren’t. This often happens when the horticulture world goes bonkers over cultivars and hybrids of native species with none of the breeders taking the time to realize that with the induced changes in flower colors or the lack of pollen and seed production in the cultivars, birds and pollinators were not attracted at all. Hopefully, we and they have learned.

As for the hellebores, you and I may be at fault for not doing our research. There are some really nice offerings that have come to market in the past five years but the old literature often refers to these plants as being evergreen and winter blooming. Yes, most are somewhat evergreen but after a very cold snap or heavy snowfall these plants can look pretty ragged. And yes, some may technically bloom in winter in a southern exposure (before March 21) but most don’t. That explains why they were traditionally planted in mixed shrub beds and borders as they offered some greenery to the lower portions of these gardens and some early to mid-spring color. Their potential sloppiness can be easily overlooked in these beds, especially when the fading foliage is judiciously pruned out.

However, there are a few hellebores that have foliage characteristics that actually do make them interesting winter plants. Helleborus foetidus “Red Silver” (plantsdelights.com) has very interesting palmate foliage that has a dark green accented with red on the stems and crown and the plant stays very tidy through the winter. It grows (the flower stalks) to 30 inches with green flowers that are accented with red.

Helleborus Frostkiss “Pippa’s Purple” (White Flower Farm) is also an outstanding plant with nice winter color. I saw this in an online lecture last winter and was immediately smitten. The foliage remains just a few inches above the leaf litter in a 1-foot cluster of green leaves intricately veined with a mosaic of lighter green/white veins running through the leaves. I can’t tell you when it flowers out here because my plants are only from last spring, but there is maroon on stems 12 to 24 inches tall. There are other colors in the Frostkiss series, but I’m only familiar with this one.

It was with great sadness that I learned horticulturist and garden columnist Bob Beyfuss passed away last week. Bob was a Cornell Cooperative Extension (retired) agent upstate and was known for his work with mushrooms and ginseng. He once boasted that he’d been poisoned by mushrooms so many times that he thought he was immune to their toxins. I had the privilege of going on at least three of his mushroom forages at the Agroforestry Research Center in Acra, New York. Bob was also instrumental in bringing commercial ginseng production to the Catskills. He passed away in Florida while playing softball with friends. May his memory be a blessing to us all. Thanks for sharing, Bob. Keep growing.

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