Some plants I loved last year. See part one here.
I love plants that suck me in with glorious, unique flowers, and then win my heart forever by also being tough and carefree. 'Atom' fits the bill perfectly. The flowers are a vivid, shade of red, with each petal edged in the faintest possible line of white, somehow at once brash and elegant. All gladiolus are pretty much trouble-free during the summer, unless they need staking, which this one is thankfully short enough to avoid, but 'Atom' takes that all to another level by also being completely zone 5 hardy. That's right, no digging and storing the bulbs, just plant it and enjoy year after year! Even better, it multiplies pretty quickly, so from one plant you'll soon have a mass to enjoy and plenty to share with friends.
Mint "Sister Julie's Wintergreen"
I talked about these mints when I first purchased them, an amazing array of gourmet mint varieties bred by a chef. After eating my way through the varieties I tried for the summer, I've settled on a clear favorite. Quite unlike the standard mints you might have grown, 'Winter Green' packs an enormous punch of menthol, the compound which stimulates the temperature sensitive nerves in our mouths to create the sensation of cooling, much as chili peppers do to produce the feeling of heat. That makes this mint a perfect counterpoint to intensely spicy dishes, and I love this particular variety in the Indian sauce Raita. It is simple to make – plain yogurt, cucumber, handfuls of fresh mint, and a little salt. Dip some naan in it after a mouthful of fiery curry, or even a tortilla chip after a mouthful of hot, hot salsa. The contrast of hot and cool is wonderful, soothing, and primes your tastebuds for the next hit of heat. I got mine from Richters Herbs
Primula x pubescens
Like most American gardeners, I've spent most of my life being jealous of England. It seems, with their mild summers and winters, that they can grow everything better than we can. Well, now I've found something for them to be jealous of. Look up Primula x pubescens, the auricula primroses, online or in reference books, and you'll find all sorts of nonsense about how finicky they are and how carefully they must be cultivated. Turns out, all they really want is to be living in Michigan. Plop these babies in anything from full fun to bright shade, and watch them do their thing. Lovely, thick, fleshy leaves all year, topped with incredible clusters of fragrant blooms in the most delicate shades imaginable. I got mine from the always wonderful Arrowhead Alpines
Sometimes the best plants are right under our noses. I'd seen gazanias countless times, and never given the much thought. Little daisies... okay, whatever. But this year, on a whim, I bought a packet of seed and grew out a patch of them, and once I got down and looked closely at the flowers, I was amazed. Each flower is incredibly intricately marked with the most mesmerizing patterns of spots and stripes. Like most mainstream annuals, they bloom profusely all summer, but unlike some, they are also require no pampering whatsoever being wonderful heat and drought tolerant. It is time I explored this group some more and gave this marvelous little blooms the respect they deserve.