10 January 2012

Favorite plants of 2011: Part 1

I try lots of new plants every year. It is one of my favorite things about gardening, so I thought I'd share some of my very favorites of 2011. Not all of them new in my garden this past year, but simply things that made an impression on me.
Beautiful, hardy mums.
I've talked about these before, and I'll keep talking about them because I can't believe so few people grow them. Fully winter hardy, amazing range of forms and colors. Don't think you have to limit yourself to the boring not-very-hardy cushion mums from the big box store, or the few hardy, daisy-form varieties that are more widely available. Sheffield Pink and Will's Wonderful are great, but why stop there when you can ALSO have something like Peach Centerpiece? Get them all from Faribault Growers. Oh, and in my original post I didn't give a great review of 'Matchsticks'. Well, that was because I hadn't been patient enough. Early in their development, the flowers are okay, but once the open fully, they are stunning as seen in the image above.
Kale 'Gulag Stars'
I'm a huge fan of basically all kale, but this beatiful and incredibly diverse mix of kales won my heart. Actually a fascinating hybrid of different brassica species rather than a regular kale, the result is masses of frilly, slightly spicy leaves on robust plants I harvested from constantly the entire summer. Any vegetable that combines easy of growth, great flavor, and beauty is a winner in my book. As far as I know, available exclusively from Adaptive Seeds, which is a crazy cool source for crazy cool veggies you should really check out.
Salvia nutans
Previously mentioned in the blog, I love this plant. So clearly a salvia, and yet so unlike any salvia I've ever grown. This is my first year with if from seed (it was completely easy to germinate and grow, by the way) and it started out as a rosette of gloriously big, bold, textured foliage. Usually, when a plant starts as a rosette, it stretches out dramatically into a big leafy pillar when it flowers, but this one is different. The leaves stay nice and compact at the bottom, and up goes a tall (almost 4 foot), slender, leafless stem topped with an utterly charming upside-down cluster of lavender flowers. I could see this being stunning in the front of a mixed border, the basal leaves looking great at ground level, and the dancing flowers making a wonderful see-through effect like the always great Verbena bonariensis. I got mine from Gardens North.
Crocus speciosus
When it comes to fall blooming crocuses, I'd pretty much written them off several years ago when I tried – and failed spectacularly with -- Crocus sativus, the saffron crocus. It hates my cold, wet garden and promptly died. But in the fall of 2010, I decided to give this group another try, and this time planted Crocus speciosus. It bloomed that first fall, which was nice, but I more-or-less expected it to rot out in the wet of winter and spring. To my surpise, and delight, however, it showed up happy and more numerous in my garden this fall! The large blooms are wonderful, and such a lovely contrast to the red and yellow tones that dominate that time of year. I was also impressed with the length of the bloom season – flower after flower opening for quite a few weeks. I'll certainly be adding more to the garden in future years.
Carex buchananii
I've grown this for several years now, and I love it more every year. People seem to love or hate it – brown is a wonderfully strange color for a grass, and you may dismiss it as looking dead, but I love how it sets off other colors around it so vividly. The real surprise to me on this species is that it is hardy. I'd grown other species of brown sedges as annuals, so when I saw Arrowhead Alpines listing this as hardy here in zone 5 Michigan, I was stunned. They are, as always, totally correct. Sails through every winter without a scratch. For something completely different, tough, and care-free, give it a try.
Impatiens balfourii
Okay, full disclosure: This isn't in my garden yet, though I've got seeds on order. I fell hard for this little beauty at the Indianapolis Museum of Art gardens, where it was self-sowing enthusiastically through a lovely shade garden. I'm not a big fan of they typical Impatiens walleriana, all dumpy little lumps of flowers. This one is a completely different beast: a looser, more natural looking habit between one and two feet, and loaded with marvelously intricate blooms. Everything I've heard and saw in the gardens tells me that it is perhaps an overly enthusiastic self-sower, but the nice thing about impatients is they are soft and easy to uproot where not needed. Hopefully my seeds will germinate without any fuss, and I'll be able to establish them in my garden. I'll keep you updated.

I've got more favorites coming, so stay tuned for the other things I loved last year!


allan becker said...

Like you did, I grew Chrysanthemum Mammoth in several colors this season but Matchsticks was not my favorite.
Perhaps it's attractive as a specimen plant but in the flowerbed, it is too frenetic to combine well with other perennials. I found that the contrast between the yellow and red of it petals were too dramatic - they created a visual energy that was unwelcome.
I had planned to blog about this Mammoth variety. Now, before I post my opinion, I'd like to first read what others might report about it.

Joseph said...

Matchsticks is pretty bright, but I do love me some intense bright colors sometimes.

scottweberpdx said...

I'm intrigued by that Salvia...how wide does the clump get? I'm thinking it would be a great mid-border plant perhaps. Impatiens balfourii is one of my faves...for all the reasons you mentioned...it will even take some mid-day sun here in the PNW. i had a few seedlings given to me earlier this spring...and boy did they grow...extremely carefree and floriferous...can't wait to see how many I have next year ;-)

Joseph said...

Like I said, this was my first year with S. nutans, so I'm not sure how big it will get eventually, but this year it was ~18 inches wide.

Lucy in the Garden said...

I have a hypothesis that the long blooming season of Crocus speciosus is because of genetic diversity of the species crocus bulbs. A large-flowering hybrid can descent from a single cross so all the bulbs are effectively clones while the "species" plants were grown as a population.
Does this sound even remotely possible?

Keith said...

The Impatiens germinate best if the seeds are subjected to a cold spell and then given some warmth.
They don't seem to self seed to readily for me.....

Unknown said...

Could you tell us about Impatiens salsamina?

Unknown said...

Transposon in Impatiens salsamina

Unknown said...


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