Not counting the ice storm and the paltry amount of moisture in the past several months, our winter hasn't been too bad.
Nonetheless, every year about this time, spring fever overtakes us. The flower and garden shows of February only add to the urgency. We need to feel warm breezes against our faces, see green plants in our gardens and smell the fertile earth on our fingers.
Gardeners are in for a treat this growing season. Our yen for colorful and unique plants to grow in our gardens is met by the introductions of new flowers and vegetables for 2002 featured in mail-order seed catalogs. Many will soon be available as seed packets or later as bedding plants at garden centers. Thanks to the National Garden Bureau, we can take a sneak peek at some of the finest plants offered this year.
A hardy plant that is becoming increasingly popular in the flower garden is the scabiosa. It boasts flowers that first bloom in spring and continue until frost. Deadheading prolongs flowering. New this year is Scabiosa S. columbaria Nana. This compact plant has a long flowering season of blue-violet flowers that cover the plant in the first year.
Plant Scabiosa S. columbaria Nana in borders, and separate and divide it every three years to invigorate the plant. Although seeds are not available directly to home gardeners, look for bedding plants this spring at garden centers.
Penstemon Dwarf Navigator is one of the hardiest penstemons available. Prominent spikes of trumpet flowers rise above the low mound of green foliage.
Penstemon Dwarf Navigator is ideal for borders and wildflower gardens. It thrives in sunny locations with fertile, well-drained soil. As if the charming tubular flowers aren't enough, this plant attracts hummingbirds. Seeds are available from McKenzie Seeds (www.mckenzieseeds
Another plant loved by hummingbirds and butterflies is asclepias, or milkweed. Asclepias Garden Leader Scarlet prefers warm, sunny, well-drained locations. Only clean rubbed seed from very vigorous and large-flowered plants goes into this series.
Asclepias Garden Leader Scarlet makes an excellent cut flower. It is also a showy plant for the patio, border or wildflower garden. Bedding plants should be available this spring at garden centers.
Veggie lovers are in for a treat this year, too. Tomato F1 Agriset 8279 Grape is a sweet, bite-size grape tomato. The fruit is produced in clusters of more than 20 on large indeterminate-type plants in 75 days.
The small fruits are firm and highly rated for texture, flavor and crack resistance. Put them in a salad or just pop them in your mouth for a delicious summer treat. Seeds are available from Harris Seeds (www.harrisseeds.com).
Another tomato worth a try in this year's vegetable garden is Tomato F1 Health Kick. This 72-day tomato is a must-have for the health-conscious gardener. Its fruit has 50 percent more lycopene, a powerful antioxidant. The plant is resistant to spotted wilt virus, a devastating disease that cripples tomato production in parts of the United States.
Tomato F1 Health Kick is a strong determinate plant that produces big crops of tasty plum-shaped 4-ounce fruits. Tomato F1 Health Kick plants should be available this spring from garden centers.
Swiss Chard Italian Silver Rib is worth growing in this year's garden. It has a clean, mellow flavor that should make it a favorite of Italian cooks.
It is a large-framed, handsome plant that grows vigorously from spring through late fall. Swiss Chard Italian Silver Rib is available from Renee's Garden (www.reneesgarden
Check back next week for more new plants for 2002.
Carol Boncella is education coordinator at Lawrence Memorial Hospital and home and garden writer for the Journal-World.