Les Exceptionnelles 2021: Spectacular foliage, flowers and fruit
By Annie Champagne
Even a pandemic couldn’t keep the Quebec’s public and horticultural professionals from choosing this year’s Les Exceptionnelles. Meet the 12 winning varieties.
By Annie Champagne
Despite the unprecedented health crisis, the public and horticultural experts were once again present during the 2020 summer season to evaluate and vote for their favourite annuals and vegetables in the three trial gardens in Quebec.
The program’s plants were presented in each garden: the Montreal Botanical Garden, the Daniel A. Séguin Garden and, for the very first time, the Domaine Joly-De Lotbinière, which replaced the Roger-Van den Hende Garden in Quebec City due to COVID closures.
The 2021 selection is original and diverse while retaining the main feature common among all the winners since the inception of the program in 2006: high-performance plants requiring little maintenance.
Eight annuals and four vegetables will join the list of winning varieties. They were each awarded for their complimentary characteristics: spectacular foliage, uninterrupted flowering, abundant fruits or surprising volume!
Little Miss Zoe Alstroemeria
This is a new cultivar; a dwarf selection with variegations of dark green and tender green with a dominance of lime. From late spring to October, Little Miss Zoe produces flowers with six reddish pink petals.
 Ever-Blooming Begonia Double Up Red
This begonia displays unique and continuous flowering throughout the summer, offering small red roses gathered in terminal bouquets. Flowering is maintenance-free, with faded flowers being eliminated naturally.
Chameleon Double Desert Rose Calibrachoa
This calibrachoa offers double, medium-sized flowers in a palette of different shades of yellow, pink and orange. Its incessant flowering is a highlight for hanging baskets, containers and balconies.
 Sol Lizzard Leaf Silver Celosia
Celosias are known for their feathery, flame-shaped spikes; but not this one! The foliage, mostly green on the inside, turns burgundy on the outside within two weeks. In addition, its leaves tend to curl, which gives the plant a fantastic look!
 Dragon Heart Coleus
This plant is the one that has received the most public praise. Its colouring is very bright: the center of the fuchsia-coloured leaf is surrounded by burgundy veins which form streaks across the chartreuse border.
 ‘Elegant Feather’ Boneset
Large spaces often require a majestic presence that structures them and gives them character. This is what this superb plant with wispy foliage offers. Elegant Feather is spectacular on its own, in the background of flower beds, or as a featured plant in large containers.
 ‘Ice Crystal’ Frosted Ficinia
This foliage plant forms a small, low tuft of narrow, slightly curved dark green leaves. They are highlighted by a small white border formed by a fine pure white silky net, which gives it a frosted appearance. A highly popular choice for its original look.
 Royale Luscious Red Zone Lantana
This lantana produces small balls of red or two-toned flowers of red and golden yellow. Its multitude of small, flamboyant blooms attract pollinators and it is very resistant to summer drought.
 Butternut squash ‘Autumn Frost’
Resistant to powdery mildew, this 2021 novelty produces a fruit that is similar in taste to butternut squash. Its frosted orange skin and round, ribbed shape give it a unique appearance.
 The cucamelon
Halfway between watermelon and cucumber, the cucamelon has a surprising taste reminiscent of cucumber but with a tangy note. This fruit, ideal for urban agriculture, is a climbing or running plant that grows in full sun and in cool, rich soil.
 Ethiopian eggplant ‘Turkish Orange’
Its charming round shape and orange colour with stripes make it a very decorative vegetable. This neat selection, which is native to Turkey, adapts very well to the growing conditions in Canada.
 The ‘Orangeto’ tomato
This new orange cherry tomato is very sweet and tasty. The Orangeto produces a high yield of fruit and can be grown almost anywhere due to its small size, even in small spaces.
Looking forward to 2022
For 15 years now, Les Exceptionnelles has been an entirely Quebec-run horticultural assessment program which calls on the public to vote for their favourite plants each summer. The varieties submitted are also rigorously evaluated for their general appearance, their floridity, their visual impact and their resistance to insects and diseases.
In 2020, thousands of people saw the trials and over 7,000 votes were compiled. The public’s choices were then evaluated by a selection committee made up of horticultural experts and industry representatives to ensure technical performance and supply.
A first for this program, four trial gardens will host future Exceptionnelles for the 2022 program! Be sure to come and take a breath of fresh air in any of these four gardens; you will certainly be amazed! Les Exceptionnelles displays opened June 15 and trials will run until late August at the Montreal Botanical Garden, the Roger-Van den Hende University Garden, the Daniel A. Séguin Garden and the Domaine Joly-De Lotbinière.
Annie Champagne is the project manager for Les Exceptionnelles at Québec Vert (formerly FIHOQ, the Fédération interdisciplinaire de l’horticulture ornementale du Québec). She can be reached at email@example.com.