Some gardening concepts are gone. Dracaena in a pot surrounded by pink geraniums are a seriously dated idea, like icicle lights at Christmas, or the broad, monochromatic sweep of impatiens at the front of the house which has been replaced with something new.
Truth is, many of our past obsessions in the garden have been replaced with a staggering breadth of choice. Hybridizers have been busy meeting demands of Canadian consumers for perennial plants that feature longer bloom times, more intense fragrance and higher pollen and nectar counts to attract pollinators. No longer do gardeners have to invest in fresh annuals year over year to get the variety and colour they long for.
Canadian gardeners live in the most exciting of times. Ever.
Here to support our theory is a shortlist of some of the most exciting new perennial plants for 2018:
1. Pollinators: Cat mint, or nepeta, has always been a magnet for honey bees and native bees alike. It is growing outside of the kitchen door in Mark’s garden and when it is in bloom you can hear it buzzing from 10 metres away.
This year, look for the new “Cat’s Pajamas” cat mint. It grows a bit lower (80 cm) than the original species but it is dense with sky blue flowers come mid-summer. Plant in full sun.
Early summer, colour is guaranteed with many sedum varieties. They thrive on neglect, need very little water and they attract pollinators to beat the band. Look for “Rock’ N Grow” for 40 cm tall plants loaded with purple flowers and “Little Miss Sunshine,” also low growing, featuring bright yellow flowers. Thrives in full sun.
Bergenia attract a host of bumblebees, which are fun to watch. Flowering now in the garden, Bergenia features evergreen foliage and bright pink flowers about 80 cm tall. Look for the new “Flirt” Bergenia for sun to part shade.
Russian sage or perovskia is another winter hardy, long flowering perennial staple for any sunny garden. The new “Blue Jean Baby” features sky blue flowers, born on a metre-high plant. Suitable for cutting. Another pollinator magnet.
2. Coneflowers. The native echinacea has been “worked with” by the hand of humankind for a few years now. All varieties need full sun and tolerate moderate drought conditions (less watering). Let them stand over the winter so that foraging song birds can enjoy the seeds.
Look for these four new varieties for a wide selection of new colours.
Kismet Intense Orange features intense orange blooms, grows to a mere 40 cm high with a compact growing habit.
Kismet Raspberry flowers for an extended period, from early summer to frost. Raspberry red, 40 cm high. Each flower lasts for weeks. Great for cutting.
Kismet Red. 45 cm high, upright habit. Great display.
Kismet Yellow. 45 cm sunny, butter-yellow flowers. According to the breeder, trials of this variety across the country garnered high scores.
3. For Shade. Tiarella is a perennial that performs in dense shade and flowers for up to three weeks early in the summer. Look for the new “Cutting Edge” for bright, clean white blossoms on short 30 cm plants with light green leaves with dark purple veins. Very cool!
Heucherella is another great plant that thrives in the shade. Look for new ‘Fun and Games’ featuring soft pink upright panicles of flowers standing above lime-green leaves with dark purple veins. Interesting! 30 cm high.
Heuchera or Coral Bells perform well in a half day of sun. The new Primo has deep purple foliage that will stand out amongst softer, green foliage plants. Great border plant. It is the Perennial of the Year: a huge honour and one that is earned through countless trials continent wide.
Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, author, broadcaster, tree advocate and holds the Order of Canada. His son Ben is a fourth-generation urban gardener and graduate of University of Guelph and Dalhousie University in Halifax. Follow them at markcullen.com, @markcullengardening, on Facebook and bi-weekly on Global TV’s National Morning Show.