Every year for over 25 years, I’ve attended the Garden Writers Association Conference and Exposition, one of the rare opportunities for people like me, who write about plants and gardens, have to meet each year. In 2017, it was in Buffalo, New York from August 4 to 7. At each convention we visit beautiful gardens (Buffalo’s Garden Walk is absolutely to die for!), attend lectures … and there is also a trade show, trial gardens and a presentation on the most interesting new plants that will be launched the following year.
What Does “New” Mean?
Not all of the plants presented below will be 100% new to all gardeners. Some have been available on other continents for several years while others were launched gradually, region by region, over a number of years and are only just reaching nationwide distribution. I guarantee, though, that many will be new to most of you!
The following plants were some of my favorites from among the dozens of 2018 introductions I saw at the show.
Anemone Wild Swan™ (Anemone ‘Macane 001’)
This is the first anemone with non-stop bloom. It starts to flower at the end of May and continues until October! The slightly nodding flowers are rather cup-shaped, although they open wider when fully expanded, and about 3 to 4 inches (7 to 10 cm) wide. They are pure white with a boss of bright yellow stamens on the inside and white with lavender blue bands on the back. I’ve had my eye on this perennial since I saw it at the Chelsea Flower Show in 2011 where it won the Plant of the Year award, but it’s been very slow in making its way to where I live. 18 inches (45 cm) tall and 18 to 22 inches (45 to 55 cm) in diameter. Prefers rich, moist soil, so a mulch is wise. Sun or partial shade. Zone 4.
Hydrangea Invincibelle Wee White® (Hydrangea arborescens ’NCHA5’)
Who wouldn’t want a dwarf ‘Annabelle’ hydrangea? ‘Annabelle’ has to be one of the most widely planted shrubs in temperate climates and its huge balls of white flowers dominate the scene in many neighborhoods, but … its thin stems are floppy and who has the time and energy to stake? Well, that won’t be necessary with Invincible Wee White. It’s short and sturdy — even short enough for use as a border plant! — yet shares all the good qualities of ‘Annabelle’, including huge white balls of bloom from July to October or November. It only reaches 12 to 30 inches (30 to 75 cm) in height, yet spreads to 2 to 3 feet (60 to 90 cm) in diameter. The flowers are pure white at first, then turn greenish as the season advances. Invincibelle Wee White Hydrangea is also reblooms, producing fresh flowers as the season advances. Prefers rich, well-drained, moist soil. Sun or partial shade. Zone 3.
Pepper ‘Candy Cane Red’ (Capsicum annuum ‘Candy Cane Red’)
With its green and white variegated foliage and its two-tone fruits, ‘Candy Cane Red’ is certainly the most decorative sweet pepper on the market. The elongated fruits are crisp and sweet, measuring 3 ½ to 4 inches (9 to 10 cm) in length. They can be eaten immature at the green and white stage, 40–45 days after transplanting, or mature when fully red, 60–65 days after transplanting. The plant reaches 18 to 24 inches (45–60 cm) in height and 12 to 18 inches (30 to 45 cm) in diameter. Plant it in rich soil in full sun. Annual.
Oregano ‘Bellissimo’ (Origanum x hybrida ‘Bellisimo’)
This is a strictly ornamental oregano, not designed to be used in cooking. It resembles another ornamental oregano, ‘Kent Beauty’, but is denser with more flowers. In fact, it is covered with candy pink bracts from mid-summer to early fall and its flowers are so numerous that they almost completely hide the aromatic blue-green foliage. ‘Bellissimo’ can be used as a ground cover in regions with mild winters, but in colder climates, it won’t be hardy enough and is best used as a container plant. It reaches 6 to 9 inches (15 to 20 cm) in height and 18 to 24 inches (45 to 60 cm) in diameter. It will grow in almost any well-drained soil and is quite drought resistant once it’s well established. Sun. Zone 7, borderline in zone 6. You can overwinter it in a slightly heated garage in cold regions.
Rose At Last® (Rosa ‘HORcogjil’)
When I was a lad, hybrid tea, grandiflora and floribunda roses — the so-called bush roses — were by far the most popular in gardens, beloved for their heavenly perfume and their large flowers in wide range of colors. However, they were extremely susceptible to foliar diseases, especially black spot and powdery mildew, plus they needed massive amounts of winter protection for survival in many climates. Then in came modern shrub roses and groundcover roses — plants like ‘John Cabot’ and Knock Out® — that bloomed on and on all summer, needed no spraying with toxic pesticides and nor any winter protection in many climates … and they nearly knocked the bush roses off the market. The one flaw of the newcomers? They had no perfume, or at least, only very little. But that may be changing!
At Last is a rose with a shrub rose constitution and hybrid tea flowers. Thanks to its excellent disease resistance, no spraying is needed, plus its fully double apricot-orange flowers are big as hybrid tea blooms … and are highly perfumed as well. Also, they bloom repeatedly from early summer well into fall. Gardeners will indeed be exclaiming, “At last, a fragrant rose that’s easy to grow!” Full sun. Well-drained soil. Height: 30 to 36 inches (75 to 90 cm). Diameter: 30 to 36 inches (75 to 90 cm). USDA Zone 5, AgCan Zone 6.
Snap Pea ‘Sugar Magnolia’ (Pisum sativum macrocarpon ‘Sugar Magnolia’)
This is the first snap pea (also called sugar snap) with purple pods! Their color makes the long 3 to 4 inch (7.5-10 cm) pods are easier to spot than more typical green snap peas and they are just as sweet and tasty. Harvest them when the pods are just starting to fill out. The extra-vigorous plant reaches up to 7 feet (2 m) in height—yes, that’s no exaggeration!—with abundant tendrils that cling tightly to their support, so it will climb to great heights if you supply an appropriate support. It will look great in a flower garden too thanks to its purple and magenta flowers. Long harvest season. Sun. 70 days. Annual.
Sunflower Sunfinity™ Yellow Dark Center (Helianthus x Sunfinity Yellow Dark Center)
Imagine a sunflower that blooms not just for 2 to 3 weeks, but all summer long! That’s the case with Sunfinity, an interspecific hybrid between the classic annual sunflower, H. annuus, and another species (the hybridizer is keeping mum about the species name). If started indoors early, it will bloom all summer, from late spring well into fall, producing over 100 flowers per plant. It doesn’t have the rigidly upright habit of a typical sunflower either but rather a shrubby appearance with numerous branches and blooms. This first release has bright yellow flowers nearly 4 inches (10 cm) in diameter with a dark center, but other colors are in the works. The flowers are fertile, too, thus attracting and feeding bees, butterflies and seed-eating birds. (At the Buffalo display garden, the plants were full of goldfinches!) Excellent cut flower. Good resistance to leaf diseases. Height: 3 to 4 feet (90 to 120 cm). Diameter: 2 to 3 feet (60 to 90 cm). Sun. Annual.
Tomato F1 ‘Sweet Valentine’ (Solanum lycopersicum ‘Sweet Valentine’)
How would you like a tomato that is so attractive it can serve as an ornamental… while still delivering an excellent crop of small, sugary tomatoes? However, the most striking feature is that the fruits are heart-shaped, hence the name Valentine. They’re cute as a button! It’s a very dwarf plant (12 to 14 inches/30 to 40 cm in height and diameter), ideal for pots, baskets and window boxes. Fleuroselect winner. Sun. Rich, well-drained soil. This plant will be an annual in most climates.
Weigela Czechmark Triology™ (Weigela florida ‘VUKOZGemini’)
This particularly floriferous weigela, an improved version of ‘Carnaval’, offers three flower colors on the same plant, since the blooms change color. They start out white, then turn pink and finally red, creating a tricolor effect. This is a spring bloomer, though: don’t expect repeat flowering. Czechmark weigelas (there are other cultivars in the series) come from a Czech hybridization program that seeks to improve the floribundity of weigelas as well as their hardiness and adaptability to garden conditions. Green foliage. Rich, fairly humid soil. Dimensions: 36 to 40 inches (90 to 100 cm) x 40 to 60 inches (100 to 150 cm). Sun. Zone 4.
Zinnia ‘Profusion Red’ (Zinnia x hybrida ‘Profusion Red’)
Finally, a dwarf zinnia with deep red flowers that don’t fade to pink as they age! The plant forms a rounded dome and is covered with single 2.5 inch (6.5 cm) flowers from spring until frost. Zinnia ‘Profusion Red’ won the two major awards available to annuals: Selections All America and Fleuroselect, as did three other zinnias in the Profusion series, quite an accomplishment, so expect perfect results every time! Easy to grow from seed. Sun or part shade. Any well-drained soil will do. Dimensions: 12 inches (30 cm) x 12 to 15 inches (30 to 40 cm). Annual.
Yarrow Ritzy Ruby™ (Achillea millefolium Ritzy Ruby)
This is a very compact, very floriferous yarrow that blooms on and on from late spring to late summer. The intense red flowers with yellow hearts keep their coloring well, staying red all summer, unlike most other red yarrow that quickly fade to pink. Prefers sun and well-drained soil. Height: 10 to 14 inches (25 to 35 cm). Diameter: 10 to 14 inches (25 to 35 cm). Zone 4.
Where to Find Them
Here’s the catch! It’s always very difficult to predict what will appear on the market in a given region. At least you can order the vegetables and annuals presented here by mail, as they’ll be featured in several seed catalogs. For perennials and shrubs, though, you’ll probably have to wait until spring to see what your garden center has to offer.
Or … present this text to your local garden center this fall and ask them if they can order the varieties that interest you. All the plants presented will be available in 2018, but sometimes it takes a clear sign of consumer interest to ensure they show up in local nurseries.