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Some of the newest perennials for 2023 (and 2022)....my choices amongst the clamouring hoards
Go down the rabbit hole with me.
We’re still climbing the hill to Christmas and the holiday season, not yet descending the other side towards spring…but that doesn’t mean I am not thinking about it. And this time of year, enticements of new plants seem to be coming across my Facebook feed and in my inbox…so I’m filled with hope for green and colour again, especially after this unseasonable snow-less and very dull November.
When you go to the garden centre next spring (think: big box tents put up in May and taken down at the end of June, ‘cos that’s when most of the remaining plants are dead) or plant nursery (think: family owned, open all season long for the serious gardener, with plants still alive, indeed thriving, in September), you’ll likely see plants that are new to you, but also new to everyone else! This is because every year growers and breeders are chomping at the bit to showcase new varieties of the most popular plants to seduce gardeners….and of course, take their money.
One of the biggest wholesale growers and hybridizers of perennials in the United States is Walters Gardens (their partnership with the brand called ‘Proven Winners’ is likely familiar to you) and every year they introduce a selection of their newest and best performing perennials that will be hitting the shelves…in the spring of 2022, there were twenty six - let’s take a look at a few of the most charming ones (to me, anyway) on the list for spring 2023, and also those that were introduced last spring.
Amongst both lists are some plants that I say ‘meh’ to …. they are just another in a long line of same-old same-old to my eyes (I’m talking to you coneflower and heuchera), but there are others that do resonate with me and for one reason or another, would be a great addition to someone’s perennial garden, including mine!
Much to my delight, the fine folks at Denver Botanic Garden and Colorado State University have communed to bring to market a hardier strain of an ornamental grass that I adore - it is called Muhlenbergia reverchonii ‘Undaunted’ (R) ('PUND01S') - but is known commonly as Muhly Grass.
As you can clearly see, it is stunning. Ok, so they’re saying it’s hardy to USDA Zone 5, which is still sketchy for us here in Ottawa, but I don’t see any snow around here right now, do you? And the temperatures? I know, it’s scary not to feel like serious winter here yet, but maybe we can be a USDA Zone 5 from now on - just so we can grow this beauty? So, if I can find it next spring, I’m planting it somewhere…and I’ll report back.
The pinky inflorescences appear in the late season and bring a magical effect unavailable in other grasses, who normally only show straw coloured blooms - less showy but still appealing to these eyes. Although this is listed as a new introduction by Walters Gardens for 2022, it was first identified in 2013 as an outstanding strain through the keen eyes of Lauren Springer-Ogden and Scott Ogden as part of a joint program between the Denver Botanic Garden and Colorado State University, with chosen plants released under the name ‘Plant Select’ (R). Both consummate plant professionals, Springer-Ogden is well-known for her 1994 book ‘The Undaunted Garden: Planting for Weather Resilient Beauty’, one of my personal favourites, and I’m sure I must have seen less hardy versions of this Muhly grass in her book that allowed me to fall in love with it years ago.
Artemisia, also known as mugwort, wormwood and sage brush, comprises a genus of over 200 species of herbaceous perennials in the Asteracea family. They are characterized by having heavily cut leaves either fully silver or with a silvery underside like that found on the foliage of Artemisia vulgaris, a ‘weedy’ perennial that originates in temperate Europe, Asia, North Africa and Alaska (!) but has naturalized here in North America as well. I have often seen it on my walks and thought it was quite attractive with its shimmery backsides.
This new cultivar is called Artemisia 'Silver Lining' PPAF CPBRAF and it is not supposed to be the traveller in the garden that A. ludoviciana ‘Silver King’ is. This new variety can spread up to three times its height - that is, to 36” in breadth from a height of 12-16” - but does not travel aggressively by underground stolons. Like other Artemisia, it also throws up flowering scapes with discrete yellow flowers, so these can be sheared off to keep the plant looking tidy, much like you might with the standy-uppy flowering stems of lambs’ ears (Stachys byzantina). It is a good matrix plant (meaning, it can act as an interweaving groundcover) for a sunny, dry slope, making its way through other larger leaved perennials and shrubs, providing a bright foil for darker foliage like the sedums in the photo above.
We normally use Clematis as climbing plants but there are some bush varieties that can act more like shrubs if provided with some kind of support and have the added benefit of flowering through much of the summer season. Clematis 'Stand by Me Pink' PPAF CPBRAF is one of those and shows pink flowers instead of the blue from earlier ‘Stand by Me’ versions. Here it is in all its glory:
If you’re not partial to pink, you can make space for the blue version, although I’m not entirely sure whether this photo is realistic in terms of the vivid quality of the blue:
But if it is, count me in! Both of these bush clematis benefit from at least 4 hours of direct sun daily, and will grow from the ground each summer up to a height of around 38 to 42”. They will flower beginning in late spring, reaching a crescendo in early summer, and providing intermittent colour through the season. As they mature, they produce the classic hairy seedheads that provide such charm.
Agastache (commonly known as Anise hyssop) is an absolute darling to buzzing and flapping creatures, namely bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. This one is called ‘Royal Raspberry’ and has dusky tubular flowers that do their job attracting pollinators from mid-summer to early fall. The foliage is a dark green and is a super easy plant to grow in full sun and thin soil, ideally on a south facing slope. This cultivar has a 2 1/2’ height and spread, and the genus is native to North America. It is listed as Zone 5, so may need some winter protection in the way or mulch or evergreen boughs to keep the roots from heaving or being exposed to the dry winds in late winter, but it is a small price to pay to keep this plant happy. Oh, and this one is fragrant both in leaf and in flower, and should not be attractive to munching deer. Rabbits, not so sure.
I love all things dark; and by dark, I mean perennials (and shrubs, for that matter) with dark foliage. But this plant fills me with angst.
Why you say? Well, although this is a member of the Chinensis group of Astilbe (namely, Astilbe ‘Dark Side of the Moon’), and therefore better able to withstand periods of drought, I DON’T BELIEVE IT. But I can’t deny that this little gem is a stunner, with foliage that first appears yellow with dark margins (!) and then turns a dark maroon as it ages, reminding one of the darkest coral bells. It reaches 20 to 22” tall and spreads wider than that by a few inches. This astilbe creates a lovely groundcover and produces STRIKING purple branched wands in late summer. The flowers are fragrant and the foliage is highly textured, making it more visually arresting especially if paired with yellow Hakone grass or blue hostas. Oh, and again, although in my world, drought would kill it, your world might be more forgiving; moreover, deer and rabbits don’t find it terribly palatable.
The never-ending varieties of coneflower make me dizzy and honestly, I find they are not entirely reliable from year to year in the garden. I do, at this point, yearn for the species, especially Echinacea pallida, the native North American pale purple coneflower, that is mostly found in the central United States, but has made it’s way east and north. Not showy in the same way the newest cultivars are, but slender and elegant — as though they’re a different plant entirely!
But of course this beauty is not going to be a 2022-23 star, fresh off the tissue culture press, so to speak. Psst…but if you are enamoured like me, it can be purchased here.
Alternately, you can go for this newbie, an Echinacea in a sorbet version of yellow, embarrassingly called ‘One in a Melon’. < insert eye roll here >
I’m suspicious of all the millions of new coneflower on the market in every colour, shape and height under the sun, but I have to admit, these apricot ones do entice me…worth trying, I’d say.