New Name for the Garden Writers Association

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With the coming of the New Year, the Garden Writers Association (GWA) has taken advantage of its 70th anniversary to update its name. It is now Garden Communicators International and will be known as GardenComm.

This name change has been a long time coming.

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This was long the logo of the Garden Writers Association.

It’s been apparent for years that the name “garden writers” simply didn’t cover it all. Many of its members are photographers, artists, lecturers, garden tour hosts, horticultural consultants, podcasters, PR people for public gardens and the horticultural industry or work on radio or television. All do reach out to gardeners to share information, but they don’t all write. Even garden bloggers—and there are many of us!—often don’t, for some reason, seem to consider themselves writers. So, a more comprehensive name was needed … a name like Garden Communicators International, GardenComm for short. Because all of us (yes, I’m a member!) communicate about gardens and gardening. It’s what we do and it’s what brings us together!

I’ve been a GWA member for over 30 years. In fact, I’m a past president of the association and have held all sorts of offices within GWA over the decades, including chairing the Local Arrangements Committee for the Quebec City symposium in 2013.

I can still recall how surprised I was to learn there was actually an organization for people like myself who made their living communicating about gardening. I was, in 1983, just starting my career, writing freelance about my passion for gardening for a newspaper and a few magazines and beginning to give lectures. I had no idea what I was really doing and whether you could actually make a decent living at it (I certainly wasn’t at that point). Then, while I was in Miami for the World Orchid Conference, I heard that there was a “Garden Writers Association of America” meeting in the hotel just across the street, so I wandered over … and met the friendliest people I’d ever run into to in my life. They just welcomed me in (well, I did have to pay admission, of course!) and presented me around. To my astonishment, I found myself hobnobbing with famous authors (well, famous in the gardening world) who treated me like I was one of them! And, I now realize, I was!

I ended up skipping the rest of the orchid show and spending the final part of my trip attending outstanding lectures, visiting extraordinary gardens and simply socializing with this new group of like-minded people (we’d call that networking today). I was hooked!

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Don’t miss the 2019 Annual Conference and Expo.

It was thanks to GWA that I got my first book contract, that I learned how to put together a decent PowerPoint presentation, that I learned the tricks of the trade of being a garden speaker, that I was able to pick up the latest gardening news and trends and that I simply developed the reassurance that what I dreamed of doing—making sharing my passion for gardening my life’s work—was indeed a viable way of life. And every year I attend the annual conference and exposition, wherever it takes place (it will be in Salt Lake City in 2019!), to reconnect with old friends, meet new ones, pick up new information and visit exclusive gardens. I owe GWA—now GardenComm—all my gratitude.

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Visiting outstanding gardens is one of the main draws of the annual conference and expo.

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On the QT, GardenComm’s bimonthly newsletter.

Are you a garden communicator? Do you blog, write about gardening for a local paper, share information about gardening in other ways? Why not consider joining GardenComm? At $105 US for a year’s membership, that’s a whole lot less than just about any other professional organization (indeed, I spend more every year on seeds!) and you certainly get your money’s worth. And tell them the Laidback Gardener sent you, for…

I am GardenComm!

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Larry Hodgson

New Plants From the GWA Conference

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Some of the 2018 introductions.

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’)

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Anemone Wild Swan. Photo: Pride of Place Plants

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’)

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Hydrangea arborescens Invincibelle Wee White. Photo: Proven Winners

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’)

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Pepper ‘Candy Cane Red’. Photo: Pan American Seed

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’)

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Oregano ‘Bellissimo’. Photo: Plants Nouveau

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’)

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Rosa At Last. Photo: Proven Winners

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’)

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Snap Pea ‘Sugar Magnolia’. Photo: Territorial Seeds

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)

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Sunflower Sunfinity™ Yellow Dark Center. Photo: Sygenta Flowers

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’)

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Tomato F1 ‘Sweet Valentine’. Photo: HemGenetics

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’)

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Weigela Czechmark Triology. Photo: Proven Winners

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’)

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Zinnia ‘Profusion Red’. Photo: All America Selections

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)

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Achillea millefolium Ritzy Ruby. Photo: Darwin Perennials

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.20170816L

Plant a Row for the Hungry

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20150606APlant a Row (Grow a Row in Canada): that’s the title of a program launched by the Garden Writers’ Association to encourage gardeners to think about planting extra vegetables they can then offer to food banks. It just makes sense: if you grow vegetables for your family, why not produce a few extra to share with the needy? And it doesn’t have to be an entire row, either: just a few extra plants can make a difference.

Suppose you have a bumper crop of zucchini (and who doesn’t?). The time-honored tradition is to give them to your neighbors so you can show off your horticultural prowess. But your neighbors probably already have their own zucchini, or the means to buy zucchini. If you see them pretending not to be home when you head their way with a basket of veggies, you know they don’t really appreciate the gift. Instead, share the bounty with someone who will really value it. True enough, you won’t gain bragging rights with your neighbors this way… but wouldn’t you rather enjoy the feeling of really helping others?

20150606BAnd while you’re at it, start a campaign in your neighborhood to get others to do the same. When gardeners get together, they can change the world!

Here’s where to go for information:

Plant A Row (US)

Grow A Row (Canada)

Such a simple way to give!