One of the best things about being a garden writer is receiving plants to trial. Nurseries and growers send writers and other horticultural industry types their newest plant introductions so we can try them in our own gardens, provide feedback, and—hopefully—fall in love with them and rave about them to others.
I especially like receiving these boxes of plants because of the surprise factor. Often they aren’t plants I’d seek out in a nursery, but once I find a home for them in my garden, I quickly see their value.
That was certainly the case when Proven Winners sent me six of their new introductions earlier this year. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t have a lot of experience with annual bedding plants, (usually flowering plants grown for a seasonal display of colour). Perennials and edibles make up most of my plants, and although I usually tuck a few Euphorbia Diamond Frost® into the cool-toned bed adjacent to my front patio, annual flowers are nearly absent from my garden. Receiving an unexpected box of annuals forces you to rethink all that.
Take Petunia Pretty Much Picasso™ , for example. I’ve never grown petunias before, avoiding them simply because they are so, well, common. (I know, I’m a snob. Sue me.) But Picasso, from Proven Winners, is anything but ordinary. Its pinky-purple flowers are edged in lime green—one of my favourite colours in the garden. It’s a vigorous plant, trailing down the side of the tall container I have it in (along with rosemary, purple shiso, butterhead lettuce and golden variegated sage). It hasn’t stopped blooming since I planted it a few months back, nor has it needed deadheading. A real winner.
Now, I said I don’t buy many annuals, but I do have a weakness for foliage plants, and Ipomoea batatas (sweet potato vine) is queen of foliage in the world of annual bedding plants. (Well, perhaps coleus might have something to say about that, but I’ll let them duke it out.) Proven Winners has two new sweet potato vines coming out next spring: Illusion™ Midnight Lace and Illusion™ Emerald Lace (the “lace” in the name refers to their lacey leaf-shape). Here’s Midnight Lace, above, mingling with yet another Proven Winners new release called Diascia Flirtation® Orange in a colour combo your mother warned you about. I really like this diascia hybrid. Despite its name, it isn’t really a true, bright orange. It’s more a subtle salmon colour. It would be great in containers or hanging baskets. It’s bloomed non-stop since I received it.
Both of these new sweet potato vines (here’s Ipomoea Illusion™ Emerald Lace with Alchemilla mollis [Lady's Mantle] and Heuchera Dolce® Peach Melba) have more of a mounding habit than other ipomoeas I’ve grown. In fact, they’ve been rather slow growing, just slowly expanding rather than tumbling down in the cascading habit I’ve grown accustomed to in this species. This might be just what you’re looking for: I prefer the trailing variety.
The final two trial plants, Lobularia Snow Princess™ (sweet alyssium) and Lobelia Lucia™ Dark Blue found a home in an experimental hanging basket I put together. I say experiemental because it was a type of hanging basket I’d never used before; I also tried to use all edible plants (other than these two flowering annuals). You can see it hanging above my front patio in the above photo (that’s my neighbour’s yellow-and-red combo basket although it looks like they’re attached). I don’t feel like either of these plants got a fair trial in this container, which also contained purple shiso, chives, tricolour sage, strawberries, thyme, parsley, purple bush beans, nasturtium and sorrel. Lobelia Lucia™ Dark Blue was planted in the basket’s bottom pockets, which I found did not receive their share of water. As a result, they’ve limped along, barely alive (though still flowering!). Lobularia Snow Princess™ fared much better. It’s flowered continuously, and although it struggled a bit throughout the heatwave, it’s bounced back. Like all sweet alyssium, it attracts beneficial insects.
All of these plants will be available in spring 2010 wherever Proven Winners plants are sold.