Just when garden prospects seem to have gone dormant for the winter, brightly colored garden catalogues begin to arrive, waking up gardeners with visions of their garden in the spring.
Most of them offer both reliable, tried-and-true sources for planting favorites, and the opportunity to glean new information for broadening horticultural horizons.
To get you started exploring this year's possibilities, here is a 2010 calendar's worth of suggestions for discovering a few different plants recently put on the market. All except January's alyssum are perennial, and all are hardy in Kentucky's United States Department of Agriculture cold-hardiness zone 6. Along with each plant is an Internet reference for a deeper look, as well as some great mail-order sources.
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Sweet Alyssum: Lobularia Snow Princess hybrid. Drifts of tiny, delicately scented, snow-white blossoms cover the ground or spill over the edges of containers and hanging baskets to a depth of about four inches. Unlike other heat-intolerant annual alyssums, this award-winning new hybrid is heat-resistant, lasting throughout the summer until frost. With sterile seed, the flowers devote more energy into growth, creating an opulent, regal display. Look for Proven Winners transplants at garden stores this spring.
Ornamental Rhubarb: Rheum "Ace of Hearts." The foliage trumps the flowers when this funny valentine cultivar called "Ace of Hearts" shows its hand in early spring, with petioles supporting striking, foot-long, heart-shaped leaves, glossy green with red veins on top, contrasted with solid, sanguine red on the reverse. Perennial leaf clusters, about a yard high and wide, surround stalked panicles of delicate pink flower clusters borne later in the summer. This colorful, unique specimen grows in sun or part-shade. Check out www.heronswood.com.
Siberian Bugloss: Brunnera macrophylla "Emerald Mist." This plant wears its green all summer long on its heart-shaped foliage, graced with a dusting of shining silver-work patterns that will shimmer in your garden's shady glens. In June, delicate blue forget-me-not-type flowers bloom just above the 16-inch-high leaves. Brunnera thrives in woodland understory conditions, with moist, rich soil, and deer usually avoid it. Learn more at www.whiteflowerfarm.com.April
Floribunda Rose: Rosa "Easy Does It." Ordinarily, the All-America Rose Selections committee gives its highest honors annually to at least a couple of roses, but for 2010, "Easy Does It" is their single, outstanding winner. "Easy Does It" is the essence of spring, a pretty-in-pink petticoat with ruffle-edged double petals in blended shades of mango, peach and apricot and a fruity fragrance to match. Rounded, bushy plants grow to about four feet high with shiny, disease-resistant medium-green foliage. Introduced to be available in spring by Weeks Roses, www.weeksroses.com; also go to www.jacksonandperkins.com.
Yucca: Hesperaloe parviflora "Surprise Bouquet." Surprise mom this year with a very different sort of bouquet on Mother's Day. Give her a planted container of this unusual, native plant specimen, which bears deep pink, orange and yellow flowers atop grey-green spikes reaching up to six feet tall. This sun-loving desert-atmosphere evergreen entices hummingbirds and once established requires little watering. It's a 2010 introduction from monrovia.com, and the line is carried at many local garden shops.
Fumewart: Corydalis "Berry Exciting." You might not be familiar with the genus Corydalis yet, but these succulent stemmed plants, with a growth habit reminiscent of old-fashioned bleeding hearts, are beginning to grow in popularity. This offering, developed by Terra Nova Nurseries (www.terranovanurseries.com) spreads with a flash of sun-colored yellow foliage in the spring and sticks around through the summer in shady or semi-shady rock garden nooks. Spikes of deep-purple dangling flowers appear throughout spring and early summer. Also explore the fragrant "Blackberry Wine." One commercial source is Nature Hills Nursery, www.naturehills.com. September
Rodgersia: Rodgersia pinnata "Fireworks." You might need to wait for dark to see Fourth of July fireworks displays, but during Independence Day's sunny hours, the red blaze of feathery "Fireworks" plumes will sparkle in your shady gardens. Richly tinted foliage, big pinwheels of deeply-veined, leathery lobed leaves, form a three-foot tall backdrop in woodland wet spots. Seed heads create late-season interest. Go to www.heronswood.com or www.whiteflowerfarm.com to get glowing.
Coneflower: Echinacea "Tiki Torch." The wide diversity and frequency of native Echinacea in local gardens is the result of its appeal and hardy, easy-to-grow attitude. For those hot August patio parties, the new "Tiki Torch" cultivar is a must for sunny garden borders. Big, beautiful, spicy-scented orange ray petals that emanate from a central cone sit atop three-foot stalks. Butterflies love the blooms, and finches enjoy the seeds. See more at www.greatgardenplants.com.
Black-eyed Susan: Rudbeckia laciniata "Autumn Sun." Here is a new twist on an old favorite. At 5 to 6 feet tall, this classic native prairie meadow flower, which has been bred to be even more cold-hardy with a longer re-bloom period, can look you straight in the eye with golden petals that fall, suspended in a ring, from a central cone. It's also a rest stop for migrating monarch butterflies. Go to www.bluestoneperennials.comOctober
Butterfly Bush: Buddleia davidii "Evil Ways." They call it "butterfly bush" for good reason. Yellow swallowtails, sitting atop the dark, purple blossom-clustered wands of this unusually striking golden-foliaged bush in late summer, conjure up a more magical aura than the label "Evil Ways" implies. It's thought to be a seedling of B. "Santana." Plants need full sun, and grow to about eight feet tall. No tricks: this is a real treat. Explore www.plantdelights.com.November
False Indigo: Baptista Prairieblues collection: "Twilite," "Starlite," "Midnite" and "Solar Flare." Developed at the Chicago Botanic Garden over the last few years, the Prairieblues collection of false indigo includes three light- to deep-purple and one golden inflorescence, with re-blooming spikes covered by pea-like flowers in June. They are superb fixtures for naturalized areas, their blue-green foliage growing as a four-foot backdrop for perennial borders until fall frosts. Read more at chicagolandgrows.org, and find them at Klehm's Song Sparrow Nursery, www.songsparrow.com.December
Arborvitae: Thuja occidentalis North Pole "Art Boe." Looking very much like a child's easy-draw triangular Christmas tree, with a perfectly conical form reaching 14 feet high and seven feet wide, this evergreen tolerates cold, heat, the weight of ice and snow, and pests. As part of a green, living wall, a privacy hedge or just a single-accent specimen, it is especially useful for smaller-space city landscapes. Go to www.waysidegardens.com.