A Peek at the Plants of 2012

December 08, 2011
Written by Michael Lascelle
Well, it’s that time of year again, when garden magazines are flush with flashy photos of next year’s avant-garde trees, shrubs, perennials, vines and annuals – the must-have plants of 2012. Only time will tell how well they will hold up in our sundry microclimates, but that won’t stop customers from racing to their local garden centre (with article in hand) in search of that one plant that caught their eye. Anyone who has ever worked in garden retail is familiar with the routine, which goes just one of two ways – either joy and a profound sense of accomplishment if they find what they are looking for, or a depressive “I wonder if I’m ever going to find it” comment if they don’t.

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Ficus carica ‘Ice Crystal’ (Courtesy of Kato’s Nursery Ltd.)
 
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 Rhododendron ‘Holden’s Solar Flair’ (Courtesy of Briggs Plant Propagators)  
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 Veronica ‘Hocus Pocus’ (Courtesy of Proven Winners)  
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 Phlox paniculata ‘Shockwave’ (Courtesy of Proven Winners)  
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Helleborus niger ‘Double Fashion’ (Courtesy of Valleybrook Perennials)
 
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 Ipomoea batatus ‘Illusion Garnet Lace’ (Courtesy of Proven Winners)  
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 Helleborus ‘Frilly Kitty’ (Courtesy of Heuger)  
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 Rosa ‘Royal Kate’ (Courtesy of Pan American Nursery)  
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 Helleborus ‘Mary Lou’ (Courtesy of Heuger)  
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 Rosa ‘Royal William’ (Courtesy of Pan American Nursery)  
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 Helleborus ‘Amethyst Gem’ (Courtesy of Terra Nova Nurseries)  
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Helleborus ‘Black Diamond’  (Courtesy of Northwest Garden Nursery)
 
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 Hibiscus syriacus ‘Pink Chiffon’ (Courtesy of Proven Winners)  
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 Calibrachoa ‘Double Lavender’ (Courtesy of Proven Winners)  
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 Iberis ‘Absolutely Amethyst’ (Courtesy of Proven Winners)  
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 Helleborus ‘Apricot Blush’ (Courtesy of Northwest Garden Nursery)
 
Of course, we’re the heroes when we have those much-sought-after new introductions in stock, but we can still show our disappointed customers some support by introducing them to an equally worthy plant – a subtle substitute to soothe the buying itch of the new plant enthusiast. Then, of course, there is the problem of choosing which plants to stock from the myriad of possible choices, because it is not physically possible to have them all in store. That’s where customer surveys (handed out at seminars or checkout counters) come in handy, allowing us to gauge which general departments (i.e., fruit trees, summer flowers, perennials) to focus on, or even taking note of specific plant requests. More often than not, those new introduction purchases are fuelled by the previously mentioned articles and full-page ads that usually accompany them. So for the most part, we usually have to keep an eye out at trade shows and seminars and buy into those new plant trends (which often take an extra year to come to Canada) as they emerge in the public eye.

With that said, here’s a quick overview of a few plants that I’m looking forward to selling to my customers in 2012:
Vines and Trees – Clematis ‘Patricia Ann Fretwell’ features unheard of red and pink full flowers (double blooms in May and June followed by single flowers in September) of deep carmine outer petals. The petals inside are pale pink with a prominent rose stripe, contrasted by creamy-white stamens. This introduction, made available through Pan American Nursery, grows 2.5 metres tall and is hardy to zone 4, so gardeners across Canada can enjoy it. I recently paid a visit to Specimen Trees Wholesale Nurseries Ltd. in Pitt Meadows, B.C., to see some of the new calipre trees they were introducing. Their operations manager, Sandy Howkins, was particularly impressed with the columnar oak Quercus palustris ‘Green Pillar’ (syn. ‘Pringreen’), and a newer Acer rubrum, ‘Sun Valley’ (a cross of ‘Red Sunset’ and ‘Autumn Flame’), that has the most brilliant scarlet fall tones I have ever seen on a Red Maple.

Shrubs – In celebration of the recent royal wedding, Pan American Nursery has shrewdly decided to introduce two own-root hybrid tea roses which are bound to be purchased together. ‘Royal William’ is red and an older introduction (1983), while the newer ‘Royal Kate’ features fragrant pink blooms and glossy foliage. Sheila Martin of Erica Enterprises Ltd., is looking towards the hardier (H1 or USDA zone 5) rhododendron selections coming out of Briggs Plant Propagators and will have several of these (‘Holden’s Solar Flair’, ‘Tapestry’, ‘Francesca’, ‘Pearce’s American Beauty’ and ‘Trocadero’) available for 2012, as well as the Proven Winners repeat-blooming azaleas, the Bloom-A-Thon series, which comes in red, white, lavender and a double pink. Also coming down the line from Proven Winners is Hibiscus syriacus ‘Pink Chiffon’ with unusual semi-double (anemone form) blooms of pale pink with red veining – although we probably won’t see this one until spring 2013.

Hellebores – I’m giving perennial hellebores their own space this year because they really are in a class of their own. Not only do they fill that mid-October to March sales lull (I already have 40 species/cultivars in stock), but I have customers travelling from several towns over just to peruse our stock. The new introductions also seem to keep coming, and with them increased sales. This year I’m really looking forward to the double-flowered Christmas Rose (Helleborus niger ‘Double Fashion’), which is available on a limited basis from Valleybrook Perennials, who have also brought out ‘The Lady Series’ (including ‘Blue Metallic Lady’) in lower-priced 11-centimetre pots. They are also offering the Winter Jewels Series, a collection of single Helleborus x hybridus bred by Marietta O’Byrne – the best of these are ‘Black Diamond’, ‘Apricot Blush’, ‘Golden Sunrise’, ‘Painted’ and ‘Ruby Wine’. Skagit Gardens is making two of the Heuger Hellebore Collections (Spring Promise and Gold Collection) readily available, with this year’s highlights including Helleborus x ericsmithii ‘Silvermoon’ (creamy-white fading to dusky rose), ‘Frilly Kitty’ (x hybridus double blush pink) and ‘Mary Lou’ (x hybridus single pale pink with heavy maroon spotting). Not to be outdone, Terra Nova Nurseries added two doubles to its Winter Jewels Series – ‘Amethyst Gem’ (amethyst-rose, edged in pink) and ‘Rose Quartz’ (white-edged rose picotee) – as well, their very successful Helleborus x nigercors ‘Honeyhill Joy’ continues to win over gardeners.

Perennials – Proven Winners is getting into the perennial distribution business in a big way this year, and I’m going to talk about just three of their many fine selections. Iberis ‘Absolutely Amethyst’ represents a real colour breakthrough for perennial Candytuft. The rosy-purple blooms are abundant and smother the evergreen foliage of this rock garden favourite. Phlox paniculata ‘Shockwave’ is going to be a much sought after foliage plant with its intense gold-margined leaves that fade to cream later in the season. Top that off with fragrant lavender-pink flowers and you have a real winner. Veronica ‘Hocus Pocus’ has elegant tapered violet-purple flowers that are actually twice as large as the green foliage below, making this 50cm tall perennial a real showpiece regardless of where it goes in the garden. Terra Nova Nurseries also continues its fine tradition of introducing some of the best foliage plants with its Heuchera and Heucherella line – both Heuchera ‘Pear Crisp’ (finely cut chartreuse foliage) and ‘Cajun Fire’ (changing red, purplish-black and maroon foliage), and the beautifully cascading Heucherella ‘Sunrise Falls’ (golden-yellow foliage with prominent red veins) will no doubt be well received.

Fruit Trees – While not hardy everywhere in Canada, fig trees (Ficus carica/zone 7) are incredibly popular here in coastal B.C. and are always in short supply so when Kato’s Nursery Ltd decided to introduce three new cultivars, it was big news. ‘Ice Crystal’ is grown mostly for its attractive foliage (finely cut leaves that resemble ice crystals), while ‘Jordan’ (very tasty reddish-purple figs with strawberry-coloured flesh) and ‘Nazareth’ (green-striped figs) are more for the fruit aficionados.

Annuals – Last but not least on my 2012 list are summer flowers and two that really caught my eye are the double-flowered Superbells (Calibrachoa ‘Double Ruby’, ‘Double Lavender’ and ‘Double Rose’) and the bronzy two-tone foliage of Ipomoea batatas ‘Illusion Garnet Lace’ – both available from Proven Winners.

The key to picking the plants that will fly off your shelves is knowing your customer and what works best for them. There’s no doubt that offering a great selection, combined with expertise and knowledge, will help your customer succeed in the garden in 2012.

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