Hot New Plants: Sandra's Faves

Little Lime Hydrangea
BHG Test Garden manager Sandra Gerdes checks in with some of her top new plants.

Coleus Wasabi

Every Friday, visitors to our Better Homes and Gardens Test Garden® asked, "What's that?" as they pointed to this bright chartreuse coleus along our main walkway. The deeply serrated leaves and almost-neon coloring combine with a sturdy, well-branched habit to make this coleus a winner in sun or partial shade. It's shown here as a nice duet with Spreading Carmine Red Sunpatiens.

Basil 'Pesto Perpetuo'

Beautiful and tasty describe this unusual columnar basil that grows 30 inches tall and 18 inches wide. Its softly variegated cream-and-green leaves are aromatic and, yes, make wonderful pesto! Shown here in our herb garden with lavender, this basil could just as easily provide an ornamental accent in a sunny landscape.

Hibiscus Mahogany Splendor

This new hibiscus can reach a height of 5 feet if left unchecked, but we kept it pruned to 3 to 4 feet tall in our landscape border. Grown for its dark burgundy serrated leaves, this large drought-tolerant accent plant adds drama wherever it's planted. Here, it is surrounded by a new coleus, 'Limon Blush' (also a favorite of mine), for a wonderfully frilly effect.

Zinnia 'Profusion Sunrise Mix'

New in 2011, this mix includes three colors from the Profusion series: Fire, White, and Yellow. These bright, compact plants (10 to 14 inches tall) flower best in full sun and bloomed until our first frost. Planted along our main Test Garden pathway, the zinnia made an eye-catching combo with Japanese bloodgrass (Imperata cylindrical).

African Marigold 'Taishan Gold'

Debuting at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, 'Taishan Gold' is definitely a winner when it comes to landscape performance. This compact, well-branched plant is only 1 foot tall, but it was covered all summer with 2- to 3-inch-wide golden spheres. It has exceptional tolerance for heat, rain, and wind. Paired here with coleus 'Pineapple Splash', this marigold had 55 mph impact in our garden bed!

Agastache 'Grapefruit Nectar'

Stunning yellow flowers with pink highlights cover this new agastache from summer through fall. In full sun, this drought-tolerant plant was only 12 to 18 inches tall and wide. It's labeled Zone 7 hardy, so 'Grapefruit Nectar' will be an annual for us in Iowa, but it will definitely be on my shopping list again!

Agastache 'Grape Nectar'

Another new agastache introduction, 'Grape Nectar' is similar in size to 'Grapefruit Nectar' and also has fragrant foliage, but it's covered in violet-purple flowers. The two looked terrific together beside our stream. Give agastache full sun and good drainage. (The green fencing was to protect the young plants from munching rabbits.)

Dianthus 'Elation Cherry'

Cherry, the newest color in the Elation series of dianthus, is on track to perform as well as the earlier colors 'Elation Coral' and 'Elation Pink Bicolor'. Although it might not be perennial everywhere, Elation dianthus has survived two Iowa winters so far. It begins blooming in May for us, and with some deadheading provides color until October. The plant's dense, compact habit creates a wonderful groundcover.

Coreopsis Big Bang 'Full Moon'

This tall coreopsis (30 inches tall and 24 inches wide) is covered with cheery, soft yellow flowers from July until October for us. Our three-year-old clump sometimes needs a little support by midsummer and produces more blooms if deadheaded. Here in our perennial border, you can see it's an airy companion to the large flowers of Hibiscus 'Summer Storm'. Zone 5

Black Scallop Ajuga

This new variety of ajuga literally shines in our landscape. The thick, near-black leaves provide a 3-inch-tall glossy perennial groundcover that helps suppress weeds and tolerates sun or partial shade. The lavender-blue spring flowers are a dramatic contrast to the dark foliage. Here, Black Scallop curls between coralbells and boxwood.

Coneflower 'Pow Wow Wild Berry'

You will love this All-America Selections winner for so many reasons. It is a first-year flowering perennial (I even started mine from seed) with an intense rose-pink color that is slow to fade. With good branching, it produces lots of flowers on a 2-foot-tall plant. This long-blooming prairie native will add color to your landscape and bring butterflies to your garden.

Nymphaea 'Wanvisa'

This beautiful and unique hardy water lily was named Best New Water Lily in 2010 by the International Water Garden Society. Look closely and you'll see 'Wanvisa' has a variegated flower of coral-peach with cream highlights that rises above variegated leaves of rich bronze and green. What more could a water gardener hope for? It sure prompted lots of "ooohs and aaahs" from visitors to our BHG Test Garden in 2011.

Panicum virgatum 'Northwind'

An upright, clumping switchgrass with powder-blue foliage throughout the summer, 'Northwind' turns a clear yellow in the fall (shown here). It is a fast grower to 5 to 6 feet tall with a 3-foot spread. As with most grasses, place it in full sun and enjoy it as an accent plant or in masses for a screening effect.

Sedum 'Hot Stuff'

Electric-pink blooms give this super compact fall bloomer its name. In its third season, our plant is only 12 inches tall and 15 inches wide, but it's still one of the brightest spots in our fall landscape. Zones 4-9

Sugar Tip Rose of Sharon

The irregular, variegated cream-and-green foliage of Sugar Tip provide garden interest all season. In midsummer, pale pink flowers add charm and attract butterflies. Our three-year-old plant reached 5 feet tall with a spread of 3 feet and would serve nicely in a border of mixed perennials or shrubs.

Little Lime Hydrangea

This dwarf seedling from Hydrangea 'Limelight' is a compact 3- to 4-foot-tall flowering machine. The large, pale green flowers begin in midsummer and turn dusty pink as fall temperatures cool. Our two-year-old plant (grown in full sun) has strong branches and shows no sign of flopping. You can see what a bright combination it makes with Callicarpa 'Duet' in our mixed shrub border. Zones 3-8

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