Gardening Articles: Flowers :: Roses

Power Plants (page 2 of 4)

by Barbara Pleasant

Better Bedders

Better Bedders
'Stardust Orchid'

If you'd rather buy your annuals as bedding plants, AAS winners will be in nurseries, too. 'Stardust Orchid' vinca (Catharanthus roseus) is a true ace for any warm, sunny bed. For shade, one 1999 winner was picoteed 'Pin-Up Flame' begonia.

To discover more champion bedding plants, check to see if your state's cooperative extension service conducts field trials. Although these trials are low-key compared to the big awards programs, dozens of far-flung experiment stations grow a variety of bedding flowers, usually in partnership with university horticulturists. The trial results are passed on to growers, garden centers, and home gardeners.

Some state programs give awards to high-performing annuals. If you need cold-tolerant flowers, six out of seven Exceptional Performance winners in last year's winter field trials at North Carolina State University (USDA Hardiness Zone 7) were hybrids of Johnny-jump-up (Viola tricolor), also known as minipansies. 'Penny Azure Wings', 'Sorbet Yellow Delight', and 'Splendid Blue & Yellow' bloomed longer and stronger than other pansies when grown in the fall-to-spring season.

Like most award programs, the Georgia Gold Medal program tries to strike a balance between helping gardeners find superior plants and making sure nurseries can supply them. Field trial performance is important, but so is the likelihood that gardeners will be able to buy plenty of these high-quality plants.

One look at the list of this year's Georgia Gold Medal winners, and you know you've landed in the land of technicolor leaves. Medals went to four coleus: 'Amazon', 'Purple Ducksfoot', 'Red Ruffles' (also known as 'New Orleans Red', a 1996 Louisiana Select winner), and 'Solar Flare'.

Pocket Perennials

There is no secret to success with perennials -- simply find plants that like your soil and climate. National organizations such as the Perennial Plant Association (PPA) give awards to perennials that flourish in a wide range of soils and climates, while state programs recognize plants that show superior adaptation close to home.

One of the great things about the PPA program is that, except for rare "new" plants like 'Blue Spire' Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) honored in 1995, it gives prime perennials a well-deserved push to make sure everyone knows their value. This year, its top honors go to 'Butterfly Blue' pincushion flower (Scabiosa columbaria), a venerable variety that requires only a smidgen of extra lime where acid soil prevails to make itself at home in many climates. PPA's picks from the last three years read like a dream garden: 'Magnus' purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), Rudbeckia fulgida sullivantii 'Goldsturm', and Salvia superba 'May Night'.

The South is rich territory for state-sponsored plant prizes. Jerry Parsons, a Texas horticultural extension specialist based in San Antonio, proclaims that the Texas SuperStars program started it all 10 years ago. This year's SuperStar picks -- three huge hybrid hibiscus that represent a brilliant marriage of drought and cold tolerance with Texas-sized flowers -- are stars indeed: 'Flare Rose' is a bushy bearer of fuchsia red flowers, 'Lord Baltimore' is 5 feet tall with red flowers, and 'Moy Grande' produces deep pink blooms; flowers on the first two are 10 inches across, on the third up to a foot across. All are steady rebloomers hardy to zone 5.

This year's Georgia Gold Medal winners feature two outstanding perennial phlox (P. paniculata): white 'David' and pink 'Robert Poore'. Both have a light spicy fragrance, especially in the evening, but their greatest asset is high resistance to powdery mildew.

For dry-climate perennials, look to the Plant Select program run by Denver Botanic Gardens and Colorado State University. The 2000 Plant Select winners include 'Coral Canyon' twinspur (Diascia integerrima), a South African wildflower that responds to moderate watering by producing clouds of soft pink flowers all summer; and Penstemon grandiflorus 'Prairie Jewel', a perennial with giant flowers ranging from pure white to deep purple. This plant requires dry soil.

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