The first time I laid eyes on Wasabi coleus, I was a judge at the Costa Farms trial gardens in Miami. From a distance, I saw a bold, yellow coleus that was holding its color in full sun. At that time, the plant didn't even have a name; it was simply listed as "coleus 454 yellow." I knew the moment I saw it that this coleus was a winner, so I contacted the breeder, Ball Flora Plant, and discovered it was a new introduction named 'Wasabi'. In my garden, I planted Wasabi in large containers, where it grew about 3 feet tall and looked amazing all summer long. I highly recommend this plant.
Another new introduction from Ball, Sultana coleus is a gorgeous plant with maroon foliage edged with chartreuse highlights on delicately scalloped leaves. What I especially like about this plant is that as it ages, the leaves have a tendency to overlap, hiding the stems and creating a domelike mass of colorful foliage. Like Wasabi, Sultana does well in partial shade but is at its best in full sun. I grew Sultana by itself in containers and also mixed it with Wasabi in one large tub that was simply spectacular as the two varieties intermingled.
Talk about a success story! Over the past few years, the Sun Parasol line of mandevilla from Suntory has dominated the American market. Unlike old-fashioned mandevilla varieties that tend to get rangy and bloom sporadically, the Sun Parasol line is compact with more flowers per vine. Sun Parasol mandevilla can grow 6 to 8 feet tall in partial or full sun. My favorite new member of the family is a red-and-white striped variety called Stars & Stripes. I planted several in pots along an old wire fence and they quickly took off, providing a wall of gorgeous color.
I love the color of ornamental sweet potatoes, but I dislike how some varieties sprawl all over the garden, smothering everything in their path. That's why I fell in love with a new variety from Proven Winners called Sweet Caroline Bewitched Purple. In my garden, this little charmer grew a few compact feet; I paired it with some big-leaf crotons in a large urn. What I like best about Sweet Caroline Bewitched Purple is its shiny dark leaves and stems. Like other sweet potato vines, this new variety needs full sun and warm temperatures to look its best.
A 2011 All-America Selections winner, 'Summer Jewel Red' salvia makes an almost foolproof bedding plant. Used in big clumps or drifts, this bold bloomer is bright enough to stop traffic. 'Summer Jewel Red' salvia looks a lot like older 'Lady in Red' salvia, but it has more flowering branches per plant. 'Summer Jewel Red' is also a hummingbird favorite and makes a nice cut flower. You can start 'Summer Jewel Red' from seeds sown early indoors, or look for young plants at your garden center this spring.
A recent but not brand-new introduction, Caliente Fire annual geranium is worth a mention because of its continued top performance in my garden. I love this bold bloomer's dark foliage, which accents the intense red flowers. Caliente Fire is in almost constant bloom, and the flowers are self-cleaning, so they don't look messy as the blossoms fade.
'Field of Dreams' popcorn features variegated green-and-white striped leaves that often show a hint of red. I grew 'Field of Dreams' in large containers and scattered plants throughout my flower borders. Everywhere it was planted, this fast-growing corn was a standout. The plants matured about 4 to 5 feet tall and formed 5- to 6-inch-long ears packed with small burgundy kernels. I highly recommend this colorful breakthrough in plant breeding.
Unlike standard impatiens, the SunPatiens varieties are not built for deep shade. These easy-care sun-worshippers thrive in hot, exposed locations. Spreading Carmine Red is a new color for 2012. These plants develop a solid mass of deep red flowers from spring right up until hard frost. Spreading Carmine Red will grow 18 inches tall and wide. It's a great bedding or container plant that does best when mulched to maintain constant soil moisture. In my garden, I've also discovered that it's relatively cold-resistant for an impatiens. Even after nightly temperatures dropped into the mid-30s, Spreading Carmine Red SunPatiens kept on blooming.
Just when you think you've seen everything there is to see with roses, a new introduction comes along that knocks your socks off. That's what happened when I saw the first Balconia roses. These European imports are low-growing with spreading, pendulous canes that are ideal for hanging baskets, window boxes, or large planters. The double flowers appear all summer long, and the foliage remains glossy and green throughout the season. I planted three varieties -- Electric (crimson pink), Hot Pink, and Innocencia (white) -- in hanging baskets and was surprised at how fast they grew and how often they flowered. And more importantly, they did not have any foliar diseases such as black spot. Balconia roses are supposed to be winter hardy in my Zone 5 garden, so I'm waiting to see if my trio survive an Iowa winter.
Strawberries might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Holland, but this year Dutch growers are introducing wonderful new varieties that are as beautiful as they are tasty. These introductions sport beautiful pink, red, or white flowers as well as large, juicy, red berries. They truly fit the description of edible ornamental and will brighten a flower border, vegetable garden, hanging basket, or planter. The developers of these new strawberries classify them in two forms, upright and trailing, but my plants are all relatively upright, although the amount of trailing runners varies by variety. And all of these new berries are day neutral, which means they'll produce fruit all summer long.
Recently I've become much more interested in plants that offer color in the spring and fall when temperatures are too cold for standard flowers such as petunias and marigolds. That's why I was excited when I heard about the All-American Selections winner 'Glamour Red' flowering kale. My first glimpse of this newcomer was in a trial bed located at the edge of a gravel parking lot. Although I was in central California, the March weather was brisk, and 'Glamour Red' seemed to take it all in stride. In fact, I was impressed by its deep red color and ability to thrive in this rugged location. Like other ornamental kale and cabbage, 'Glamour Red' adds weeks of color to your garden in the early spring or late fall. It would make a wonderful companion for blue or white pansies. Start 'Glamour Red' from seed or buy transplants from your local garden center.
For color all summer, you can't beat angelonia. Also known as summer snapdragon, this nonstop performer is one of my favorite annuals to use in borders and containers. I am particularly impressed with the new variety called Serena Lavender (there's also a white-flowering form available). This easy-care angelonia is smothered in small lavender flowers on wiry stems that trail and dance in the wind. It also tolerates heat and drought. In my garden, for example, we had no rain throughout much of August and September, yet Serena Lavender never stopped blooming. The plant also resists pests and diseases, so it's as foolproof as you can get. Look for Serena Lavender at your local garden center this spring.