Les Exceptionnelles garner love at first sight
By Annie Champagne
The public and experts have spoken. 11 varieties were named in the 2020 edition of Quebec’s Les Exceptionnelles program. Find out which made the cut.
By Annie Champagne
Decorative foliage, spectacular flowers and stunning vegetables: the 2020 selection of Les Exceptionnelles is a sight to behold! Whether you’re looking for volume, good varieties for a pollinator garden, or adding to your repertoire of mixed containers, this selection has it all.
The vegetable selection continues to flourish in 2020. In addition to the eight award-winning annuals, there are three winning vegetables chosen by experts. These varieties, some of which are created and distributed by small Quebec seed companies, will enrich the yard or balcony of many gardeners who grow their own vegetables and herbs at home.
For the past 15 years, Les Exceptionnelles has been Quebec’s horticultural evaluation program. It is unique because it calls on the public to vote for their favourite plants. In 2019, more than 1.2 million visitors were once again able to admire the plants on trial in three major gardens: the Montreal Botanical Garden, the Roger-Van den Hende University Garden in Quebec City and the Daniel A. Séguin Garden in Saint-Hyacinthe. The varieties submitted were also rigorously evaluated for their general appearance, floridity, visual impact and resistance to insects and diseases. The winners gathered maximum public votes for their beauty, outstanding performance and ease of culture. These public choices were then evaluated by a selection committee made up of horticultural experts and industry representatives to ensure technical performance and sufficient supply.
Let’s discover this year’s 11 winners.
1. Artemisia mauiensis Makana Silver: This perennial plant, a Hawaiian shrub, should be grown as an annual in our climates, as it is hardy only in zones 9 to 11. Makana Silver is prized for its decorative silver-grey to silver-white, finely chiselled and silky foliage. Its leaves are very indented, somewhat like a fern. Its foliage is fragrant. It is suitable for container and soil cultivation in full sun and well-drained soil.
2. Begonia Viking XL Red on Chocolate: The Viking series is a group of hybrids that includes very large begonias. Viking XL Red on Chocolate has dark bronze foliage; its main attraction. In addition, it is covered with very bright red flowers. This selection is suitable for both container cultivation and landscaping, both in the sun and in semi-shade. However, its foliage will be darker in the sun. A 2019 All-America Selections winner.
3. Calibrachoa Superbells Watermelon Punch: Superbells Watermelon Punch is the latest addition to the high-performance Superbells series, with its tireless flowering of large, bicolour pink coral flowers and a blackish eye. Its flowers are highly prized by hummingbirds. No need to remove unsightly flowers, which fall off when they fade. To be grown in the sun.
4. Isotoma axillaris Patti’s Pink: In bloom, Patti’s Pink offers a multitude of pleasantly fragrant, star-shaped pink flowers that dot its beautiful dark green, slender and finely cut foliage. This little-known plant is easy to grow in fertile, cool soil. It is superb in landscape and is also very decorative in container arrangements.
5. Lantana camara Hot Blooded Red: The Hot Blooded Red cultivar is sterile, so it constantly produces clusters of medium-sized red flowers with orange tones for an uninterrupted show all summer long. The foliage gives off a peppery scent like all its congeners. A must for those who want to attract pollinators and especially butterflies.
6. Nemesia fruticans Aromance Pink: In the sun, the foliage of the Aromance Pink cultivar disappears, without interruption, under a cloud of small, very delicate and very fragrant flowers gathered in bunches, which look like small orchid flowers. This plant is ideal for the edges of flowerbeds or to garnish container arrangements.
7. Petunia Shortcake Blueberry: The single flowers are marked by a purplish star on a white background without many variations in consistency. The plant forms a dense, drooping tuft, a cascade of flowers that are tightly packed together. The contrasting, vivid flowers of this cultivar bring a lot of dynamism to a hanging basket, a flowering pot and even to the edge of a flowerbed.
8. Solenostemon scutellarioides Colorblaze Wicked Witch: This coleus is spectacular with its velvety burgundy, almost chocolate leaves with delicately hemmed chartreuse borders. This cultivar is resistant to mildew. Colorblaze Wicked Witch can be grown in both sun and shade, but it is in the sun that it shows its best colours.
9. ‘Casperita’ pumpkin: This mini pumpkin is deeply ribbed and its white flesh is thick and soft. Its flavour is sweet. This pumpkin has a genetic tolerance to powdery mildew and is grown in full sun in rich but well-drained soil. It can be cultivated vertically in small spaces such as balconies.
10. ‘Green Doctor’s Frosted’ tomato: This cultivar is a cherry-type tomato. It produces bunches of six to ten small, bright green berries with transparent skin. The fruits being greenish, they escape the attention of squirrels, which is much appreciated by gardeners who are caught with this problem. The flesh is juicy and sweet, almost like candy.
11. ‘Slim Jim’ eggplant: The foliage of this eggplant, marked with purple or dark purple, makes it both ornamental and productive. This cultivar produces clusters of elongated, light purple fruit with a very thin skin. The sweet flavour of the flesh is highly appreciated. It is a winning plant grown in containers on a terrace, balcony or in the garden.
Due to the special circumstances this year, you won’t be able to visit the program’s three assessment gardens. Instead, we will post pictures and videos of the plants on our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/LesExceptionnelles.ca. This way, you will still be able to see the plants and vote for your favourites! As usual, winners for next year will be determined at the end of the season and announced this fall. Maybe one of your favourites will make the cut!
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