One of the perks of being a garden writer is I sometimes get to trial new plants and seeds a year before they appear in retail nurseries, garden centres, or catalogues. I may also spot a striking specimen in other trial gardens a year or two before they’re released, or watch someone in the plant world tease new varieties in a talk. And at some point in any given year, my inbox starts to receive sneak peeks at new plant introductions. By the time the growing season rolls around, I’m usually pretty prepared to make recommendations—and seek out my favourites for my pots and plots.
Speaking of new plant introductions, I got a behind-the-scenes look at how that whole business works after attending the California Spring Trials with the National Garden Bureau in 2017. That trip gave me an extra sense of appreciation for the work that goes into plant breeding, and the pride that comes from releasing interesting new annuals and perennials to the world.
And so, this will be the page where I discuss the eye-catching new plants that cross my radar each year. Check back in from time to time, as I’m sure I’ll be adding a new plant here and there if I discover something special.
New plants for 2021: Perennials
Aurora Borealis rose
I love the advances that have been made in rose breeding over the last several years to create hardy roses that have greater pest and disease resistance. This new kid on the block, from Vineland’s 49th Parallel Collection was developed really close to my home, too. I feel a certain pride when I tell people about this compact shrub. Aurora Borealis is the third rose in this collection.
The Velvet Fog Smokebush
I have a thing for texture, so the fluffy, soft-looking plumes of smokebushes always catch my eye. This one is pretty spectacular and apparently grows more flowers than a conventional smokebush. Clouds of pinky-red seem to hover atop the blue-green foliage of this showy shrub. Mature plants range from 60 to 96 inches (152 to 244 cm) tall and should be planted in part sun to full sun.
I don’t think I’ve even seen such a profusion of blooms all together in a columbine plant, in such a short little tidy clump. And you can see their faces! The blooms are so stunning, on all three from this series: Purple Yellow, Blue White, and Red Yellow. These plants are hardy down to zone 3a!
Midnight Cascade blueberry
Why do I have a blueberry bush in an article about new ornamentals? Well I’ve always found Bushel and Berry’ berries to be both edible AND ornamental. And this is the first-ever hanging basket blueberry! The flowers in spring are white and shaped like bells—they remind me of lily-of-the-valley—and the hints of red in the leaves deepen towards the fall.
Echinacea ‘Sweet Sandia’
I’m a sucker for green flowers. ‘Sweet Sandia’ is a pretty groovy-looking flower introduction with both green AND pink petals. They’re described on Terra Nova Nurseries’ website as “a slice of watermelon.” Hardy down to USDA zone 4, these pollinator magnets bloom from July through October.
Lilac New Age™ White
Lilac is my favourite scent of spring. So I’d be all over adding another lilac bush to my property. I love how delicate the flowers are on this white lilac. It is compact, resistant to mildew (a huge bonus, because by mid-summer, the bottom leaves on mine usually have it) and is hardy down to USDA zone 4.
Phlox Super Ka-Pow™ White
Another white choice, but I was quite taken with the soft, delicate white petals with a hint of pink in the centres of this new phlox. The petals may look dainty, but this is one tough plant that is frost tolerant—and hardy down to USDA zone 4b—rabbit and deer resistant, resistant to powdery mildew, and best of all, low maintenance. It also attracts bees and butterflies.
New Annuals for 2021
Petunia Headliner Crystal Sky
Growing up, I think my mom had something like five standard colours of petunias to choose from for her gardens—purple, white, pink, etc. But the options now are pretty fun. I think plant breeders enjoy trying to outdo each other each year. When I went to the California Spring Trials in 2017, I was amazed at the breadth of petunia varieties on display. But that’s where I developed a new appreciation for this popular annual. The possibilities are endless!
High Noon® Bush Daisy
When I’m choosing annuals for my containers or to fill holes in my garden beds, I’m looking for plants with that “wow” factor. A conversation starter. This is one of those plants that immediately draws you in. It’s a thriller. And despite the monochromatic yellow hue, the entire flower is interesting.
Calibrachoa Cha-Cha™ Diva Hot Pink
Calibrachoas consistently make it into my container arrangements each year. There are so many varieties, but I love the ones that look like a teeny tiny paint brush was used to design each petal. The blooms of sun lover Cha-Cha will cascade over your pots as a bloom-filled spiller, showing off right until those first frosts.
Foliage Celosia Sol™ Collection Gekko Green
I’m always on the hunt for interesting foliage for my container arrangements. I’ve grown celosia with the fuzzy-looking flowers, but this new variety is a foliage celosia that’s meant to stand on its own. The leaves, which are arranged in clusters that look like flowers, are green and burgundy. They would make a filler in my pots!
New plants for 2020
Superbells Blackcurrant Punch and Double Blue Calibrachoa
Calibrachoas are container regulars in my garden, probably because every year yields an interesting new collection of varieties. They make great spillers in both hanging baskets and containers and bloom all season long (without having to deadhead). Often a calibrachoa will determine the colour combination of my arrangements. There were two superstars in my garden this year: Superbells Blackcurrant Punch and Superbells Double Blue, which Proven Winners sent to me to trial.
Blackcurrant Punch is a gorgeous fuschia hue with a black and yellow centre. The black part looks like it was painted on by a leaky felt-tipped pen.
Double Blue was planted in my main urn along with alyssum and a selection of herbs, like trailing rosemary and parsley. It paired nicely with a deep purple salvia, and the purple and mauve Superbena Sparkling Amethyst Improved Verbena.
Wave Carmine Velour Spreading Petunia
I grew this lovely petunia from seed in 2019 and it bloomed through the fall. The colour is a vibrant red, but it’s the delicate centre pattern that is really stunning when you look at it closely. Part of the Wave family, it’s a 2019 All-America Selections Winner.
I’m fortunate to live near William Dam Seeds, so it’s fun to get a sneak peek of new varieties in their trial gardens. In August, I had the chance to get a tour with flower and herb seed manager Connie Dam. After looking at rows of ornamentals abuzz with pollinators, we headed over to an herb garden where she pointed out a plant and encouraged tasting it. The plant had a licorice flavour that can be used as a tarragon substitute. It’s called Marigold Dropshot, and while you might expect it has flowers, it is all about the feathery foliage.
Coleus Main Street Beale Street
I usually pick up at least one variety of coleus on my yearly garden centre travels. I’m excited to keep an eye out for the rich red hue and scalloped edges of this gorgeous variety. Main Street Beale Street is a 2020 AAS Ornamental Winner, the first-ever coleus to win the honour. Apparently the foliage doesn’t fade over the summer and it’s supposed to thrive in full sun and full shade.
UpTown Frosted Strawberry Zinnia
Zinnias are another garden staple that are super-easy to grow from seed. In 2019 I grew two red varieties, so I’m feeling this pink ombré variety that is heat tolerant and has excellent disease resistance. Zinnias are pollinator magnets—bees and butterflies love them, and I’ve even seen hummingbirds on the zinnias in my garden. Once they take off, they usually bloom right through the fall. Zinnias also make great cut flowers.
Bright Lights Berry Rose Osteospermum
Speaking of pink, I really loved the blooms on Bright Lights Berry Rose. For some reason, I’ve never grown Osteospermums before. This variety featured a gradient from white to deep pink, with flecks of orange in the centre. They really popped against the deep blue of my Muskoka chairs and outdoor carpet. These heat-tolerant stunners also bloomed for me more than once, the last blooms fading at the end of the fall.
Lavandula Bandera Deep Purple
Generally lavandula comes in light shades of mauve or pink, so this deep purple hue really stands out. I can see it looking great in a light-coloured container, paired with lime green foliage. It is long-flowering and self-cleaning (no deadheading required!) and likes the sunshine.
Heuchera NORTHERN EXPOSURE™ Sienna
I’m a sucker for standout foliage, so I have a few heucheras throughout my gardens. I love using them in container arrangements and then they’ll eventually make their way into the garden. This one is hardy all the way down to zone 3 and heat tolerant. The leaves start out a vibrant light green with subdued red veins in spring, but evolve to a more orange-chartreuse with a deeper pattern over the summer months. The flowers look quite stunning, too.
New plants for 2019
Echinacea KISMET Raspberry
I like how echinacea plants bloom as ready-made bouquets in the garden. They grow well in my dry front garden, add interesting bursts of colour, and the bees love them. The flowers look interesting in all their stages of growth, even as they die off. I deadhead throughout the season, but those last blooms of fall are left in the garden over the winter, so the birds can eat the seed heads. I have planted a few varieties of this perennial over the years, including Cheyenne Spirit. Echinacea KISMET Raspberry, from TERRA NOVA Nurseries, blooms in full sun from early summer until first frost. Apparently, this variety grows well in a container, too.
Zone: USDA 4-9
Panther Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius)
I’ve become a real fan of ninebarks, especially when they bloom. The delicately hued flowers against the deep dark foliage is quite a stunning combo. And it provides a great backdrop for other flowers and foliage, too. This new variety from Bloomin’ Easy has sumptuous, black-tinged foliage, loves full sun and has a stronger mildew resistance. This shrub grows between four and five feet tall, and about two to three feet wide.
Zone: USDA 3
Nasturtium Baby Rose
I sow nasturtium seeds every year among the edibles in my raised beds. Nasturtiums are great triple-duty plants: You can eat the flower petals and leaves; the pollinators love them; and they can be planted as a trap crop for aphids (if you don’t mind sacrificing a plant here and there). I guess a fourth bonus is that no matter which variety you choose, nasturtiums have very unique blooms. A few years ago I was delighted to discover Climbing Phoenix, with its serrated petals, rather than the more scalloped ones you’ll find on most other varieties. Baby Rose, which appears to be a similar rosy hue to the echinacea (hey, I have a type!), is a 2019 AAS winner. This compact plant is a great choice for small spaces and containers. I’m adding it to my seed order list!
Chinook Sunrise rose
I love that plant breeders have been working on growing hardy roses for modern gardens. Vineland Research & Innovation Centre in Lincoln, Ontario launched their 49th Parallel Collection with Canadian Shield a couple of years ago and this year, they are releasing Chinook Sunrise. I got to see the plants in person at Canada Blooms in March 2019 and the blooms are really pretty. This hardy plant is black spot tolerant and hardy down to zone 3 (Canada).
Butterfly Coreopsis Incredible
I love when a seed packet yields more than one colour of flower. That’s why I enjoyed the Queeny Lime Orange Zinnias I grew in 2018—no flower looked the same. This new introduction from Renee’s Garden, Butterfly Coreopsis Incredible, features a mix of flowers in soft cream, maroon, yellow, and shades of red. This is a pollinator-friendly plant that is deer resistant and that can withstand hot, dry spells.
Superbells Doublette Love Swept Double Calibrachoa
Calibrachoas have become container staples on my property. Each season, I choose at least one variety for a pot or hanging basket. These annuals don’t get leggy, they’re heat tolerant and self-cleaning, and they bloom right through the fall. It looks like someone took a paintbrush and carefully painted white around the edges of this new hot pink variety from Proven Winners. I love details like this. These plants are great “spillers” in containers and will also cascade over hanging baskets—and they attract hummingbirds!
Dahlia Belle of Barmera
I would be remiss if I didn’t include a plant belonging to one of the National Garden Bureau’s “Year Of” series. 2019 is The Year of the Dahlia, so I included this showy new variety from Longfield Gardens. And since my inbox has been flooded with emails showcasing plants that are coral, the new Pantone colour of the year, Belle of Barmera checks that box, too. Plant your tubers in sun to partial sun/shade and wait for the frilly, ruffled blooms.
Not new, but still gorgeous: New plants from past years
Here are 5 new ornamentals to plant in 2017
Canadian Shield™ rose
This rose got a lot of buzz at Canada Blooms this past March. It is the first rose from the 49th Parallel Collection to be launched from Canada’s National Hardy Rose Program, part of the Ontario-based Vineland Research & Innovation Centre. This rose is hardy to zone 3 and was bred to be low-maintenance—it is self-cleaning and disease resistant. It will be available at various nurseries across Canada (call ahead as some places have already sold out), as well as at President’s Choice Lawn & Garden Centres.
Above and Beyond rose
Since I don’t think Canadian Shield is available in the United States, let’s also talk about this zone 3 to 7 Above and Beyond climbing rose from First Editions. This eye-catching climbing rose is resistant to fungal disease and will apparently re-bloom sporadically throughout the summer.
Vista Bubble Gum, Vista Fuchsia, and Vista Silverberry Supertunias
I’ve grown Supertunias from Proven Winners in various containers for the last couple of years and they LOVE my sunny front yard. Last year I planted a container with the Vista series varieties listed above and they were so prolific, it was hard to get the whole container in the picture! I grew lemongrass in the centre for height (instead of a dracaena) because it’s a great Garden BFF—edible AND ornamental!
Date Night™ Crimson Kisses Weigela
Because this year marks Canada’s 150th birthday, there is much talk about planting red and white in the garden to celebrate. I’m excited to plant this weigela so I can add some red to the landscape. In Canada it is hardy to down to zone 4 and USDA hardy in zones 4 to 9. Apparently it remains nice and compact and will re-bloom throughout the season. In Canada, it’s available via Van Belle Nursery under the Bloomin’ Easy line and in the U.S., Monrovia carries it. I have one that I’m keeping in a sunny window, waiting to go into the garden.
Phlox Popstars Rose with Eye
I fell in love with these blooms that look like fireworks at the Floranova booth at the California Spring Trials. They’re said to bloom from June through August and they are very heat tolerant. And, as the National Garden Bureau pointed out, these aren’t your Grandma’s flowers! Keep an eye out for this flashy plant at your local garden centre or sow them from seed.