Everyday Gardeners

Plant. Grow. Live.


Every spring, groups of plant breeders, garden center managers, horticultural brokers, garden journalists, and other plant-loving types flock to California for an event called California Spring Trials. It’s where a number of the big plant breeders show off their new varieties you’ll see in garden centers the following year. This year, Doug Jimerson (editor in chief of gardening for the Better Homes and Gardens brand) and I had the pleasure of attending.

It was a six-day journey that started with us leaving Des Moines, Iowa, for warm and sunny California. We arrived in San Jose on Sunday, and promptly started our adventure, driving south about 60 miles to the seaside town of Moss Landing where we met with the folks from Golden State Bulb Growers and saw their amazing selection of callas (and there were some spectacular varieties — lots of golds, some oranges, pinks, whites, and even a couple that were nearly black) and begonias (in the cool greenhouse, the flowers on some varieties were easily 6 inches across).

The next day we got up early and drove over to Gilroy, where we first met with the folks from Danziger and saw a selection of breathtaking new varieties (as well as some old favorites, including the Littletunia series of petunias) — and their lovely pre-made plant combo ideas (the Mixis).

Then it was time to hit the road and drive over to meet with the fabulous folks at Syngenta Flowers — where we saw tons and tons of plants (including Verbena Lanai Twister Pink), had a great lunch, and picked up a lot of ideas for future stories from their displays.

Look at how cute it was to weave fabric in the roof of the greenhouse!

We were next on the road again for a 25-mile jaunt to Watsonville, where we talked to folks at Pacific Plug and Liner, where we were treated to more great plants from around the world, including geranium ‘Dreamland‘ — as well as some yummy chocolate-chip cookies.

The last stop of the day was another 20 miles to San Juan Bautista, where we met with folks from Thompson and Morgan; ABZ Strawberries, which has really fun varieties such as delicious and beautiful ‘Tristan’, HEM (which offers a really lovely series of annual dianthus), and more.

That was just the first leg of our trip. Want to read more? Check out part two — and then part three — and we wrap up with part four!

CamelliaIt’s no secret that I’m kind of a fanatic about plants. Take me on a garden tour and I can do it all day…then get up and happily, go see more. At horticultural trade shows, I’ve been known to skip breakfast, lunch, and even dinner so I’d have time to see more of the plants and displays. And you can tell from the number of plants in my home.

A cool one is my camellia — an evergreen shrub with gorgeous pink flowers. It always blooms around the holidays for me. Other than giving it water and occasionally fertilizing it, that’s all the care it requires.

It’s a great example that if you want to have houseplants, you don’t need to be limited to everyday varieties like English ivy, pothos, or philodendron (not that there’s anything wrong with them; I grow those, as well!).

As long as you have a bright window or fluorescent lights and don’t mind watering your plants regularly, there’s a wealth of cool plants you can try, including a lot of things we don’t usually think of as indoor plants. Growing them may be easier than you think!

I’ve met a lot of gardeners who are afraid of growing plants inside, but really, you have nothing to lose. And if you live in a cold-winter climate like I do, there’s a lot to gain — both from the psychological effect of having something green and living when everything outside is cold and dormant and the physical health benefits (plants absorb harmful toxins from the air and also add welcome moisture to dry indoor air).

So give it a try! I’d love to hear what houseplants you grow!

Last November I wrote a blog post on starting a chocolate garden because I thought it was a fun topic, and quite frankly, I was craving chocolate (and didn’t have enough change on me to make a trip to the vending machine for a candy bar). Thinking about plants like the ‘Dark Chocolate’ coleus helped get me through…

It turns out I may have been ahead of the curve a little on a trend: black plants. Plants with dark foliage or flowers certainly aren’t new, but just last year publisher Timber Press released a book on the subject. And next year, our friends at Ball Horticultural are releasing a petunia called ‘Black Velvet’, the world’s first black petunia, as well as a black-and-cream sister variety called ‘Phantom’.

And this year in front of BHG headquarters, BHG Test Garden Manager Sandra Gerdes is planting a black border — full of richly hued plants such as Mystic Dreamer dahlia, ‘Purple Majesty’ ornamental millet, Illusion Midnight Lace sweet potato vine, and a host of others.

Why are dark foliage and flowers becoming so sought after? One reason, I think, is that it’s easy to use in the garden. Rich dark blackish-purples and reds pretty much go with every color (I’m especially fond of mixing them with sky blue) and look great as long as you don’t plant them in the shade where they tend to disappear in the dim light. Plus, I think there’s something intriguing about them — it’s a refreshing change from bold and bright reds, oranges, and yellows.

Watch for updates on our black border here on The Everyday Gardeners — and let me know by commenting below what you think of black plants and if you plan to grow any in your garden this year!

Looking for a big-impact, low-care perennial for your landscape? Try baptisia!

Also called false indigo, baptisia is North American native plant that bursts into bloom in late spring/early summer — usually about the same time as the peonies, Siberian iris, and ‘Globemaster’ alliums.

Here are some things to love about baptisia:

  • Deer and rabbits leave it alone (at least that’s always been my experience).
  • The lovely blue-green foliage looks great from spring to fall.
  • It tolerates heat and drought like a champion.
  • The seedpods, which start chartreuse and eventually turn charcoal-black, are fun decorations!
  • It comes in a range of colors (from dark purple Twilite Prairieblues to silvery Starlight Prairieblues to golden ‘Carolina Moonlight’).
  • It’s not too fast growing (so you don’t need to worry about it taking over your garden like you do some native prairie plants).

If you try baptisia out, be sure to give it plenty of room. The plant usually looks really small and scrawny in pots at the garden center, but within three or four years, they can mature into stunning 4-foot-wide mounds.

What’s America’s favorite flower? Based on the amount of mail we get about them, I’d guess it’s hydrangeas. It’s not hard to see why, with their beautiful blooms. Add on the fact that hydrangeas are relatively deer resistant (I know there are lots of you out there who may disagree, but many gardeners do grow these shrubs without fear of seeing them mowed down by Bambi) and it’s like a match made in heaven.

If, that is, you choose the right varieties for you. There are several different kinds, and unfortunately none of them are one-size-fits-all plants. Here’s a quick cheat sheet on hydrangea types:

If you have sun, choose varieties of Hydrangea paniculata. They’re also a good bet if you live in a cold climate (Zones 3 or 4). Most are white, but some newer varieties like Quick Fire and Vanilla Strawberry have a red or pink blush.
If you want cut flowers, choose reblooming varieties of Hydrangea macrophylla. They’ll start producing flowers in June and usually continue through fall. Endless Summer is the classic type, but there are others such as the Let’s Dance series or Mini Penny if you look hard enough.
If you want a no-brainer, go with oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia). This is the more carefree hydrangea I’ve ever grown, and it puts on the best fall show of any of my hydrangeas, too.

Interest piqued? Learn about other great types and varieties here!
By the way: What’s your favorite hydrangea? Share by commenting below!

Reblooming Lilac

Reblooming Lilac

‘Bloomerang’, a new lilac variety that blooms in spring, then puts out new flushes of flowers from midsummer until frost is one of the hottest shrubs of 2009.

Like other lilacs, it features wonderfully fragrant flowers. But this one fits in just about any garden as it grows about 5 feet tall and wide. It’s perfect for a medium-size hedge, as a foundation planting by your front door, or mixed in with you favorite perennials.

Interested in trying ‘Bloomerang’ in your garden? Check it out at:  White Flower Farm

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