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Plant buying time!

Despite some snow early in the week spring seems to be here. On Saturday it was 77 and sunny. As sunny as the blooms on my Magnolia ‘Butterflies’.

On Tuesday it was 26 and snowy. Even my blue balls were covered with it.


Yup. That’s pretty much April around these parts. Wednesday morning brought upper 20s again and I think some frozen tender young foliage.

But by the end of the week we returned to pretty nice spring weather. Just as the last month or so of winter tends to take out the plants tucked away in the basement you have been trying to save, April takes out the gardeners that just don’t have the muster. Those of us that have gardened awhile know April can be kind or cruel depending on its whims. We relish when it is perfection. We steel ourselves against its hatefulness when it is less than perfect. And we are always ready to start the new season regardless of which April we are dealing with.

Of course, working at the IMA means one of my favorite parts of each new season is Perennial Premiere. It is next Saturday and Sunday, April 26 and 27. Back when it was 14 below and there was a foot of snow on the ground, I thought this celebration of spring would never appear. While the Greenhouse carries plants year round, this is when the perennials become available along with some woody plants and certainly the colorful tender plants. A list of many of them is available here.

This week, I am going to cover a few I am especially smitten with, some I have grown and some that are tempting me.


Centaurea montana ‘Amethyst Dream’

Now, everyone pretty much knows I like gaudy plants and good-gawd-almighty! plants. Those are nearly always my first choice. Go gaudy or go home. But once in awhile I Iike something a little simpler or something that actually looks like its catalogue description. Centaurea montana ‘Amethyst Dream’ is such a plant.

Regular Centaurea montana (mountain bluet) is a delightful spring bloomer with gorgeous true blue flowers. It self sows but not invasively and seedlings are easy to remove. ‘Amethyst Dream’ really is amethyst colored. I was sure it would not be. Other than color it is like the straight species, except I’ve only had one or two seedings. Amazingly they were identical to the mother plant.

And now back to the more gaudy side of the garden. Aralia ‘Sun King’ is bright and bold. The chartreuse/yellow foliage has dramatic texture as well with the leaves large and divided.


Aralia ‘Sun King’. Courtesy

Aralia ‘Sun King’

Normally it grows to about 4’ x 4’ but if you have ideal conditions it might reach 6’. There are some white flowers in summer but you are growing this for the foliage, folks. It likes a good soil that does not dry out too much. On the other hand do not leave your plant sitting in a bowl of water for a week or more because it will drown. Trust me on this one, okay? ‘Sun King’ prefers part to full shade but I think best growth will be in less dense shade. The foliage color could be an echo for some hostas (yellow or yellow variegated) while the texture would provide a nice contrast to the same hostas’ foliage. If you do not feel you have room for Aralia ‘Sun King’, then kill one of your hostas. It’s alright. I give you permission. Okay. Okay. Don’t kill it. Give it to your cousin Muffy. Just get rid of the damn thing so you can plant something new.

Heuchera villosa ‘Brioche’ Courtesy

Heuchera villosa ‘Brioche’

I love Heuchera villosa. It has proven itself time and again as not only beautiful but super tough as well. ‘Caramel’ with its gorgeous amber and copper foliage remains my favorite heuchera. We’ve used the cultivar Autumn Bride multiple times in the landscape here as well as the purple forms a couple times. ‘Bronze Wave’ can be found outside the Deer Zink Special Events Pavilion. This year, ‘Binoche’ will make its first appearance at Perennial Premiere. I am thinking seriously of adding this to my home garden. It is a seedling of the beautiful and strong ‘Frosted Violet’ which is a villosa hybrid. ‘Brioche’ is a smoky chocolate color with very nice ruffling to the leaves. I have only seen it in pictures but they are tempting enough to make me buy it.

A bit of a trend showing up in perennials is selections that are first-year flowering from seed. Meaning you can plant the seed and get flowers in the same year. Two salvias in this group are ‘New Dimension Blue’ and ‘New Dimension Rose’. To be honest, pink salvias have never gotten me too excited because they are always more lavender-pink. Not my favorite color. But really, I tend to be the minority in that. And ‘New Dimension Pink’ seems to have pretty good pink color.

‘New Dimension Blue’ is a rich blue-violet.

Salvia ‘New Dimension Pink’ (left) and ‘New Dimension Blue’ (right) Courtesy

Salvia ‘New Dimension Pink’ (left) and ‘New Dimension Blue’ (right)

The advantage both of these have is the stems and calyces are darker versions of the flower color making the flower color richer and giving color after the actual flowers fade. Plus both rebloom in fall if cut back after the first bloom. These will probably be under a foot when purchased but in their second year of growth will get to be around 15 inches.

I am a firm believer in using non-hardy plants in the garden. You may know about that as much as you know I love gaudy. They add a great deal to the landscape whether you use tons, like I do at home, or you just add a few for a touch of color. The Greenhouse is carrying two of my favorites, Canna ‘Stuttgart’ and Dahlia ‘Karma Choc’. You may choose to dig these in the fall and save or you may choose to leave them in the ground to more than likely die. Plants like these are not so expensive that you MUST DIG them. You get six months of wonder and delight for your dollars and that is a hell of a good deal. If you feel like digging them — dig them. If you do not feel like digging them — don’t.

Dahlia ‘Karma Choc’

Dahlia ‘Karma Choc’

Dahlia ‘Karma Choc’ is part of the Karma Series, all of which make excellent cut flowers in addition to being beautiful in the garden. I do not understand why they did not call this one Chocolate instead of Choc. It is a rich sultry shade of chocolate-burgundy. I love the color. ‘Karma Choc’ can go with most any color including gray and blue foliaged plants. A handful of these in a bouquet with green zinnias or gladioli would be HOT! Plants grow to around 4’ tall and the long stems do make great cuts. Flowers should come from early summer through fall. Once the plants are hit by frost you can make your decision on digging them.

I once paid $100 for a pot of Canna ‘Stuttgart’. And killed it the first winter. So obviously do not cry to me about how a tender plant costing $XX is too expensive. You’d be too beneath me on this one. Only a year or two later it was available wholesale for $14. ‘Stuttgart’ has a stunning grey-green and white color pattern. The degree of variegation is a bit different on each leaf. Do not plant it in full sun like one usually does with cannas. That white will brown and crisp like bacon in a cast iron skillet. Morning sun is fine. Excellent soil, nice and rich and moist, will allow you to push the sun exposure somewhat. I’ve had this plant happy enough to grow to close to 8’ tall with the bloom even higher. A sport of ‘Omega’, ‘Stuttgart’ has small peachy flowers that are quite lovely. I had it to survive in the ground during one of our recent zone 7/8 winters, but I dug some of it too that year. This one I potted up in some barely moist potting mix. I think its rhizomes tend to dry out over winter and I don’t want to risk losing it. It is a vigorous grower once in the ground. ‘Stuttgart’ remains one of my favorite cannas even though out first experience together wasn’t exactly positive. I wonder how many other people gave Tony Avent a hundred dollars for that plant? You want to see one? Buy one.

Take a look at plant list online but remember, NOT ALL of the plants available at this year’s Perennial Premiere are included. And perhaps most importantly, new stuff will be coming in almost weekly. But you would be a fool to miss that opening weekend. Don’t be a fool. I will point at you and say nasty things about you. Really. I will. Especially when you complain that something you wanted is out of stock.

Filed under: Greenhouse, Horticulture, IMA Staff, Oldfields

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