Hot New Plants: Eric's Faves

Zinnia Profusion Fire
BHG garden editor Eric Liskey checks in with some of his top new plants.

'Shenandoah' Switchgrass

Here I am in my suburban jungle, peering through my favorite grass, 'Shenandoah' switchgrass (Panicum virgatum 'Shenandoah', hardy to Zone 5). This isn't a new variety, but it remains one of the best, because it keeps a nice, tight clump, doesn't get too big (4 feet or so), has lovely fall color, doesn't flop much through winter, and doesn't seem to need dividing as much as many other ornamental grasses because it doesn't get that dead center.

Golden Shadows Dogwood

Pagoda dogwood has one of the most beautiful forms of any tree species. Golden Shadows adds some of the most beautiful foliage of any tree, and the result is a magnificent specimen plant. I've had one growing on the east side of my house several years. It's tough, carefree, fast-growing, and as elegant as any tree I've ever seen. The branching is very horizontal -- it's about twice as wide as it is tall -- with a lovely, tiered look. It's hardy to Zone 4.

Touching Lily

This is an example of the Orienpet hybrid lilies. The name is a combination of Oriental and trumpet, the two main components of this group's complicated pedigree. What's remarkable is the robustness of these plants. They're lilies on steroids: tall, thick-stem plants that grow in clumps that seem to get bigger (more stems) every year. And the flowers are stunning. Large, numerous, long-lasting, and so fragrant they fill my whole yard with perfume. I got these 'Touching' bulbs from Brent and Becky's Bulbs.

Redbuds: The Rising Sun and Burgundy Hearts

These are two new and cool redbuds. The foliage color of The Rising Sun is a fabulous bronzy gold, and I haven't seen anything quite like it in any other woody plant. Burgundy Hearts is not quite so unusual, since it's similar to 'Forest Pansy', but it keeps its dark color better through the season, and that's why I include it here. They both made it through my Zone 5 winter, so I'm confident in saying they're as hardy as other redbuds.

'Field of Dreams' Popcorn

This is primarily grown as an ornamental corn, which is unusual enough. The striped foliage is yummy-looking. So are the purple ears of corn, which can be dried and popped. People often grow 'Field of Dreams' in small pots, where it stays pretty short. But in a large pot, or in fertile garden soil, it becomes nearly a full-size corn plant. I grew some this year, and they topped 5 feet, with very full foliage. Gorgeous.

Wasabi Coleus

When it comes to coleus, where to begin? There are so many wonderful types. But this is my very favorite. Wasabi is a uniform chartreuse that positively glows, making it an outstanding partner to just about any other plant. It's also quite robust, so it really makes a statement.

Tropicanna Black canna

The Tropicanna series is well known by now and remains among my favorites. The black version, shown here, keeps its extraordinary dark foliage all summer, so it's a great contrast partner for container plantings. The flowers are a fiery scarlet -- jewels in the crown of this lovely tropical.

Leycesteria 'Jealousy'

You're seeing a pattern by now, right? I love plants that contrast well. Leycesteria 'Jealousy' is a lesser-known plant. It's another great contrast plant, with light green leaves that are tinged burgundy at the shoot tips. Bushy, full, and not too large, it's a great partner in containers.

Icicle Tomatoes

This is a Ukrainian strain, according to Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, which sent samples to me. All I know is it's one of the best-tasting tomatoes I've ever eaten. It's super fleshy, doesn't have a lot of seeds, and comes in a couple of colors. Yum!

'Windsor' Pumpkin

I grew 'Windsor' pumpkin in pots this year to test the claim that the plants -- a bit smaller than standard varieties -- are suitable for containers. They were, which is very cool. But here's what was really surprising: the blooms. The flowers are 3 to 4 inches across and absolutely stunning. I think the same thing that makes them compact and suitable for pots is what makes the bloom so nicely: They don't have long, viney stems; the plant grows as a clump. That means the flowers are packed in together instead of strung along a vine. They open early in the morning and are gone by the afternoon, so you could easily overlook them if you don't check each morning. But they're worth getting up for.

Calibrachoa Star Rose and Tequila Sunrise

One of the best groups of annuals among the new varieties coming out, calibrachoa continues to impress me with unique looks. Here are two: 'Callie Star Rose' and 'Tequila Sunrise'. You can probably figure out which is which! Like most calibrachoas, these awesome new varieties bloom and bloom, and they drape gracefully from pots and baskets.

Cuphoric Cuphea

This is the daintiest plant I've ever grown. The photo shown here is a super tight shot and might be deceiving -- the flower is about a quarter-inch across. However, the plant is loose and airy, and it has an almost cloudlike effect. It would get lost in large containers or flowerbeds, but it's very cute in a small pot.

'Nonstop Deep Rose' Begonia

The name is apt, as these plants bloomed all summer long in my containers. The gorgeous, big, tuberous-type blooms are a red so intense, there are few other flowers like it. They can have trouble from overwatering, so go easy on the irrigation.

Cool Wave Pansy

This is a new trailing pansy. The blooms are nice enough, though nothing special as pansies go. But the plant truly does trail. It's a lovely effect in baskets and over the edge of containers. In many areas you can plant it in the fall, and it will overwinter and bloom again the following spring.

Profusion Fire Zinnia

I'm not a huge zinnia fan, because most of them are so leggy. But this one grows in tight mounds and never stops blooming until it freezes. One thing that really impressed me was how quickly it became established. I planted it in a July heat wave, and it never missed a beat. I took this picture in late September, and it was bigger, bloomier, and healthier than it had been all summer. Plus, this zinnia resists mildew and other disease -- notorious problems for the species. All this is very impressive for a zinnia grown in nasty heat and humidity.

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