MUST HAVE PLANTS
There is so much happening at the nursery this spring, especially when it comes to new plants! Every week for the next few months we are bringing new selections out for sale, so those of you who like to come out and stroll around looking for a new herb or perennial to tuck into your garden will find something new.
Last summer we tested out 5 different basils from the Herbalea series. After following them through their life cycle and of course cooking with them, we decided two were worthy of growing for our customers gardens. Ocimum ‘Wild Magic’ is a 16 inch beauty, with fragrant violet tinged leaves topped with spikes of deep violet blooms. Because ‘Wild Magic’ is sterile, you can allow it to bloom in the garden without changing its flavor or shortening its life span. It will bring in honey bees by the hundreds, making it a perfect plant to add as a pollinator to your summer vegetable garden. For many years we have been planting ‘African Blue’ basil to do this job, but we have found ‘Wild Magic’ to be a better size (smaller) for the veggie garden, much prettier, and quite frankly, much much tastier. This is my ‘must have’ basil for 2014. Close behind is the spicy ‘Ajaka’ basil, a robust 2 ft tall plant with deep green leaves. It is slow to bloom in the season – we had to really water stress the plant to get it to bloom, and when it did the blooms were very compact and easy to remove. I am using it like a Thai style of basil, because it definitely has a spicy punch to it. Quite frankly, it is also a rather beautiful plant, worthy of a beautiful container.
It’s difficult to be ahead of Sunset magazine with trends – sometimes they show a ‘must have’ plant a year before we can get it, so I was pleased to open up the April edition of the magazine and see a couple of our new plants in full color on their pages! Just in time for your Easter table, we will have es i‘Savour’ Greek basil trees in decorative pots (see the photo on page 46 of April Sunset). The ‘tree’ portion is the small leaved spicy Greek basil, grafted onto a wild basil rootstock. Delicious for cooking, this has the formal look of a traditional topiary, with a wonderful fragrance, and useful in the kitchen. It wants to be a bit drier than most basil, with twice a month fertilizing and snipping to keep the shape. Greek basil is delicious cooked, as the flavor holds up well to heat. A second plant that is the perhaps one of the most interesting introductions in the last few years is Digiplexis ‘Illumination Flame’. More than 6 years of breeding between two genera, Digitalis (foxglove) and Isoplexis from the Canary Islands has brought us a stunning perennial. Root hardy to 10 degrees, this 18 inch by 24 inch perennial produces blooms throughout the summer – spikes of golden yellow and brilliant pink bells. A terrific rebloomer, you can leave it in the garden for hummingbirds and butterflies to enjoy, or cut it to use as a very long lasting cut flower. Low maintenance, it works equally well in the garden or in containers. On the coast this plant could be in full sun, but inland should have some afternoon shade. If you are on the lookout for a lovely long bloomer in for a bit of shade, this is great choice. It was awarded ‘The Plant of the Year’ from the Chelsea Garden Show in 2012 and is part of the Sunset Western Garden Collection (www.sunsetwesterngardencollection.com).
This year will be all about drought tolerant, but of course we can’t live without lots of beautiful color in our gardens. A new yarrow we started growing late last season has proved an absolute winner with our customers. Achillea millifolium ‘Pomegranate’ is the tidiest we have grown with a very upright habit and strong stemmed flowers. The bloom color is the color of juicy ripe pomegranates, quite a knock out. With the added bonus of attracting butterflies and beneficial insects and being an excellent cut flower, it is a terrific addition to your garden.
Armeria maritima ‘Nifty Thrifty’ is a fun little sea thrift with a twist – instead of mounds of green grass like foliage, it has delicate looking cream and green variegated foliage, topped with deep pink blooms. It is great plant for a rock garden, tucked into the front of a border or in mixed containers. It grows 6 inches by 12 inches, and is a fun change from ornamental grasses.
About 5 years ago I had a Salvia called ‘Dancing Dolls’ from Suncrest Nursery in a pot near our sales floor. Since it was patented I couldn’t take cuttings of it, and I finally ripped it out of the pot because I got tired of telling every person who asked for it (which was every person who saw it blooming) I didn’t sell it. But finally this year it was made available for sale, so yippie we have it available! It is a microphylla x greggii hybrid, tough as nails, blooming from April through frost, and indestructible. It grows 2 ft by 4 ft, with blooms that are soft pink on the lower lips, deep pink on the upper lips, and a black calyx for some contrast. The leaves are lightly fragrant. So pretty, I think I will put it back into the pot to enjoy! Two other new Salvia microphylla x greggii hybrids, bred in Australia for hot, dry gardens that we have available now are Salvia Heatwave Glitter and Heatwave Blaze. Both are very upright growers, to 2 feet, with tight foliage and blooms from April through November. Blaze is a deep dark red, and Glitter is brilliant light purple. For long bloom and very low maintenance (very little pruning needed or fertilization) these are stunning in the garden, and your hungry hummingbirds will thank you – actually, hummingbirds aren’t particularly grateful creatures, but they will allow you to enjoy their activities as they race noisily through your garden to eat from your new Salvias!
We have plenty of tomato plants at the nursery now, but since the blue tomatoes are all the rage, with their very high anthocyanin (an anti-oxidant), I want to highlight Indigo Apple, a 4 oz tomato that ripens to almost pure black. Much improved in flavor (I think) from the blue tomato selections from years past, Indigo Apple has a delicious sweet flavor, and the skin is much thinner than previous selections. We first saw this tomato growing last August at Harvest Day in the Sacramento County Master Gardeners garden at the Fair Oaks Horticulture Center (don’t miss this event, scheduled for August 2nd this year, go to www.ucanr.edu/sites/sacmg/Harvest_Day. You couldn’t miss it in their garden, as the color range of fruit on the plant ranged from deep red spotted with violet black to almost pure deep violet black.
We all need a sure fire plant for success in our garden, and that plant is Verbena bonariensis ‘Lollipop’. We have grown the species for many years, but whenever I recommend it to a customer it is with the advice to plant something fluffy in front of it, since the lower part of the plant can be quite gangly. But ‘Lollipop’ is beautiful from bottom to top, growing only to 2 ft high and 3 ft wide. It is covered with the familiar purple blossoms from May through October, providing incredible nectar for butterflies, who will visit it continuously sun up to sun down. It thrives in full sun, but blooms quite well even in partial sun.
I was going to describe some of our new Agastaches, but there are so many and they are so awesome and useful in the garden, I think they deserve their own article!
Since we won’t write another newsletter until our June edition, look for updates at the website and on our Facebook page on new varieties as they become available this spring.