For now, at least we can dream about the beautiful garden we can plant in spring.
Gardeners are always on the lookout for new plants. This upcoming growing season is no different. We imagine our gardens filled with wonderful new floral introductions. We seek new colors of our favorite plants, longer blooming perennials and showier annuals. We want hardier and healthier plants. And this year, like the one before, we want to grow a lovely garden.
Several new introductions in both flowers and vegetables fulfill our wish list this year. With thanks to the National Garden Bureau, we have a chance to learn about some of the new plants available in 1998.
Of the several flowers highlighted, one is among our more popular annuals -- the impatiens. Whether we have large or small gardens, most of us have room to plant this reliable bloomer. Even if we have sun drenched gardens, no doubt we can find a shady little nook somewhere to tuck in a few impatiens. They reward us with simple flowers from spring to frost. Impatiens enjoy global cultivation. The genus is found throughout most tropical and warm temperate regions -- Australia, New Zealand and South America being the exceptions.
This year several new impatiens are being introduced. Each offers the home gardener a little something different, something that will brighten that shady garden spot.
If you are shopping for a new cultivar of impatiens this season, try "Victorian Rose." It has the rare distinction of being a double winner of the All-America Selections (AAS) and the Fleuroselect for 1998.
"Victorian Rose" is the first impatiens with consistently semi-double flowers whose extra petals add depth to each bloom, making them resemble miniature roses. The plant's flowering capacity exceeds other impatiens. The entire plant can be carpeted in blooms. Extensive testing by the AAS trials ensure seasonlong performance when the plant is placed in a shady garden location and given sufficient water. The National Garden Bureau believes the dark rose-violet color is the first of more colors to come.
Impatiens "Super Elfin Sunrise" is a unique new color combination for impatiens. The flowers have salmon orange centers with purple edges. Better branching and improved flower power give this plant high gardener appeal.
Another impatiens is "Dazzler Apricot Improved." This plant produces an abundance of apricot orange blooms with slightly darker eyes. It is excellent in the garden where a compact, uniform plant is needed.
But, if you are looking for height, try an impatiens called "Wild Blue Yonder." A big, bold, and shrub-like plant with succulent, thick stems, "Wild Blue Yonder" grows to a height of 24-36 inches. This is a new species type with large lavender flowers and dark green, long narrow leaves reminiscent of rhododendrons or hellebores. It gives the shady garden or container a definite exotic look.
One of the nice things about impatiens is flexible placement in the garden. Impatiens "ShowStopper Cherry" is a free flowing rich rose red variety with branching habit that lends itself to such versatility. It provides superb performance in morning sun or partial shade all day long and is ideal for placement in hanging baskets, pots or in the ground.
Watch for a few other impatiens with intriguing names such as the "Cajun series," which is less likely to become leggy than other impatiens, "Tempo Watermelon," producing up to 2-inch watermelon colored flowers with a soft cherry eye center, and "Tempo Punch," with soft scarlet/carmine flowers that shine against its light green foliage.
Out of the shadows
What garden wouldn't have a place for the diminutive dianthus? Two new introductions extend the color of the plants we have cultivated successfully in our gardens. Dianthus "Floral Lace Light Pink," a light rose pink color, and "Floral Lace True Rose," a deeper rose shade, feature the largest flowers of their type. They have lacy, serrated edges with darker markings etched on the flowers. Both of these elegant new varieties are extremely heat tolerant.
If you prefer slightly more unusual looking flowers in your hanging baskets, try fuchsia hybrid "Fete Floral." It is a rich and free-flowing fuchsia easily raised from seed. The plant habit is upright and branching stems become woody with age. The many pendulous blooms are in clusters together in a crowded terminal racemes of a bright red color. The flowers are followed by attractive deep purple berries.
Another annual worth looking for is zinnia elegans "Oklahoma Mix." This exciting medium-size plant has bright colors and is a heavy flower producer all season long. Most flowers are fully double with some semi-doubles. In trials, "Oklahoma Mix" has been shown to be much less susceptible to powdery mildew.
It wouldn't right, living in Kansas as we do, if I didn't mention a sunflower called "Crimson Thriller." This plant is loaded with mahogany red blooms that measure 6-inches across. This sturdy, carefree plant grows to 5 feet and bears its flowers on multi-branched stems.
Beyond the flower garden
Herbs are one of those in-between plants. Many gardeners grow them for their fragrant beauty, others for their culinary benefit. Even if you are novice gardener, you might want to try lemon basil "Sweet Dani" to get the best of both. This aromatic herb can be used as flavoring in many savory entrees, fish being one of the most popular. The plant has a strong lemon scent that bursts forth when the leaves are lightly touched. The scent is due to the purposeful breeding of high essential oil and citral content.
Easily grown from seed, "Sweet Dani" needs warm temperatures for rapid growth. Mature plant height is 26 inches with an equal width. White flower spikes appear late in the growing season. They can be pinched off to prolong leaf production. "Sweet Dani" has won the vegetable award of the All-America Selections.
Billed as a good "vacation" tomato, "Keepsake" hybrid will wait for you right on the vine while you are gone. Once the ripe fruit is picked, it keeps for up to one month unrefrigerated. The plant has a firm fruit with a good flavor and crispy texture.
Round out your salad with a cucumber named "Stix Hybrid." It has a thin skin and sweet flavor, even up to full size. There is no need to peel this cucumber, making it ideal for the relish tray. To protect its delicate skin against scarring, it is best grown on a trellis.
Lastly, try a few peppers. One, called "Gold Standard" hybrid, is a huge 5-inch by 5-inch blocky bell pepper that matures to a glossy, deep golden yellow in 88 days from a transplant. It is aromatic and extra sweet when ripened to yellow and excellent tasting when left green. It is delicious raw, grilled, roasted or stuffed.
Another pepper, "Mucho Nacho," is a jumbo sized jalapeno with fruits an inch longer than standard jalapenos. They are also fatter, heavier and somewhat hotter.
Thumb through the catalogs. Mark each page with yellow sticky notes as you make a wish list for your ideal garden this spring. For now, in the middle of winter, is a safe time to dream your gardening dreams. You have several weeks to indulge your grandest fantasies. Once the season gets much closer will be time enough to slim down the list to one that will be more manageable.
-- Carol Boncella is education coordinator at Lawrence Memorial Hospital.