There are plenty of new plants for Twin Cities gardeners, but old-fashioned, bee-friendly ones top the list

  • Article by: GAIL BROWN HUDSON , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 13, 2014 - 4:10 PM

What’s hot?  Bright orange blooms and oversized tomatoes. Hotter still? Pollinator-friendly plants.

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Orange flowers, such as these dahlias, are in demand this year.

Susie Bachman West describes herself as a “plant geek,” but she speaks for the rest of us when she says, “I’m excited every year.”

The vice president of marketing and sales at Bachman’s said she never fails to get revved up when the new plants make their appearance in spring.

Local nurseries curate their plant lists to include tried-and-true favorites as well as new plants “that really make people’s heads turn,” said Scott Endres, co-owner of Tangletown Gardens in Minneapolis.

So, what is turning heads?

The color orange, said Karen O’Connor, co-owner of Mother Earth Gardens in Minneapolis. “We’re getting a lot of apricot, salmon, orange, yellow-orange and peach colors,” she said.

Of course, you can’t go wrong with chartreuse, which brightens even shady corners of your yard. Look for plants with punch, such as Lime Zinger elephant ear, a showy tropical that’s often grown in containers. Another standout for the container is the new, dwarf version of papyrus called Napoleon.

As for annuals, begonias are big. They’ve become the go-to shade plant for people who love impatiens, but got burned by downy mildew. This year, look for the Begonia Whopper. “The flower is huge, bigger than a quarter,” said Bachman West. There’s also a new begonia series called Cool Breeze, which tolerates lower temperatures.

Other annual stars include million bells (also known as calibrachoa), loved for their miniature, petunia-like flowers

“It’s really a hot plant. It’s just taken over,” said Laura Wagner, wholesale marketing manager for Wagners Greenhouses. The Pomegranate Punch version has a deep red flower with a dark purple center, and Spicy has a yellow flower with reddish, brown veining. Wagners also has put together colorful container mixes of calibrachoas.

Bells also are ringing for perennials, with new varieties of coral bells (heucheras). Bachman West said her personal fave is Zipper, which gradually changes color with the temperature. Its frilly foliage starts out orange in the spring, turns amber in the summer, then reverts to orange come fall.

Edibles are still incredibly popular. In fact, there’s an explosion of veggies easily grown in containers — lettuce, herbs, cucumbers, squash and grafted tomatoes. “In the urban center, people have really small spaces,” said O’Connor.

Also high on the edibles list are Shishito peppers (made popular by big-name chefs) and a giant daddy of a tomato from Burpee called Delicious. “It’s 1 to 2 pounds,” said Bachman West. “Your tomato slices will be bigger than the bread for your BLT.”

Then, there’s a dwarf, bush-style French green bean called Bean Mascotte. Wagners has pots of the All-America Selections winner. Put it on your doorstep so you can munch a few as you go in and out of the house.

New shrubs bearing tasty fruit include a self-pollinating blueberry variety named Pink Lemonade that boasts pink berries. There’s also a new goji berry, named Firecracker, that can withstand Minnesota’s cold winters. Local grower Bailey Nurseries hopes to make a splash with its newest hydrangea, Bloomstruck, which has bright blue blooms.

But it might be what’s old that’s garnering the most attention. With the heightened concern over the effects of neonicotinoid insesticides on pollinators, gardeners are clamoring for bee- and butterfly-friendly plants. And those are old-fashioned favorites such as asters, bee balm, coneflowers, larkspur, phlox, yarrow and many others.

O’Connor said that’s what they’re focusing on at Mother Earth Gardens. “We’re hearing from people that they want to know how to plant for pollinators,” she said.

 

Gail Brown Hudson is a Minneapolis freelance writer and video producer, working on a master’s degree in horticulture at the University of Minnesota.

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