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The Recorder - Between the Rows: New plants for a new year

The New Year is well begun. New and special plants will be available at every nursery this spring. The Perennial Plant Association (PPA) chooses and honors one plant every year. This year, the organization chose the ‘Sun King’ Aralia as its Plant of the Year. Another name for Aralia is spikenard, or nard suggesting a long and ancient history. When ground up, its roots can produce a fragrant and beneficial oil.

Centuries ago, the Egyptians stored the fragrant oil; the Hebrews used it as incense and it appears in the Bible in the book of Song of Solomon, chapters 1:12 and 4:13. Sometimes, it is referred to as frankincense, but the oil is still used today as a balm and in the perfume industry.

Today, the golden foliage of “Sun King” will brighten a shady garden location. It grows in a clump and in late summer into the fall it sends up two-foot-tall spikes with small white flowers. It can grow to between 3 to 6 feet tall in rich, moist soil that is well-drained. That suggests necessary attention to the difference between moist and well-drained. It is a plant that can naturalize.

The PPA chooses a special plant every year. In 2019, they chose the Stachys “Hummelo.” This a hardy plant that needs what we call “full sun,” which is at least six hours a day. Unlike the “Sun King,” it needs well-drained soil that requires water when needed. Again, we need to pay attention, at least until we know how plants act in our own gardens.

Some of us may be familiar with the variety of Stachys like lamb’s ears with the gray wooly foliage. “Hummelo” is very different with a clump of bright green foliage and spikes of magenta flowers that attract pollinators. When in full flower, it can be two feet tall. This is a trouble-free plant that will put on a great show when massed. Over time, it will make a good ground cover.

Terra Nova is a nursery that hybridizes plants with a concentration on coral bells, Heuchera. They are available at most garden centers. I went to their online catalog and found their Plant of the Year is Heuchera Grande “Amethyst.” This large leaf H. villarosa hybrid has large purple foliage, which explains the name Amethyst. The summer-blooming flowers on tall stems are pink. This lusty plant has a spread of 30 inches. It will grow in sun or shade.

This year, Terra Nova has a substantial list of 10 new offerings from heucheras, heucherellas, which combine the attributes of heuchera and tiarella, plectranthus, sedum, and a veronica. A visit to the website will provide beautiful images of each plant and growing information. Visit the organization’s website for full information about all their plants: terranovanurseries.com/product-category/active-plants.

Proven Winners (PW) is a nursery that has plants in just about every local garden center. Like Terra Nova, they have a number of new plants for 2020. PW is offering 21 new perennials from four yarrows in shades of amethyst, white, peach and bright golden sunshine. Yarrows (Achillea) are great plants for attracting pollinators.

They are offering two bright coneflowers (Echinacea) in shades of orange and yellow, which will attract more bees and butterflies. Other new arrivals are two heart-leafed brunneras, two beautiful pink rose mallows, two 16-inch phlox, three stonecrops, white salvia, a frilly pink daylily with a wine-red heart and a rich purple speedwell “Purple Profusion.” They are also offering a delicate fern-leafed bleeding heart (Dicentra) only 16 inches tall and named “Pink Diamonds.”

The Proven Winners website provides information about plant care, pollinators, the mysteries of hydrangeas and many other useful topics. Check out provenwinners.com/plants/search/year/2020?duration=Perennial.

Monrovia doesn’t name new offerings, but my own stroll through their online catalog monrovia.com/plant-catalog showed me some plants I would love to add to my garden.

I already have a geum that I bought at a plant sale. It is a low-growing plant that sends up strong 10 inch stems holding up little orange flowers with gold centers and blooms over much of the summer and attracts butterflies. The new Monrovia catalog shows Geum coccineum “Werner Arends,” with its semi-double flowers above the familiar lobed foliage.

Another colorful perennial is a beardtongue, Penstemon barbatus ‘Rondo’ which grows floriferous stems one to two feet tall in shades of pink, red and purple. Bees and hummingbirds love this plant, which has a long summer bloom season.

Monrovia has a great website that lists more than 1,800 perennials, 241 ground covers and 100 shrubs. The page for each plant gives information about size, blooming time, needs for water and sun and more: growbeautifully.monrovia.com/best-early-spring-flowering-plants-to-attract-pollinators.

My husband might think there is no room for more plants in our garden, but I know better. We have opened up more plant space and there is a garden tour this summer. I want to be ready.

Pat Leuchtman has been writing and gardening since 1980. Readers can leave comments at her website: commonweeder.com.

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