Led by Dr. Alan Armitage, this seminar combined the academic with the aesthetic. Dr. A, for short, stressed that his subject should be serious, but also fun.
“Everybody wants to know what’s new, but the more important question is ‘What’s good?’ ” Dr. A said. The plants he went on to feature are those varieties he has found to work, based on his travels around the country speaking at horticultural shows.
Using his own family as an example, Dr. A stressed that it is important to keep the end consumer in mind. One of his daughters has four children and no time; a second has two kids and no time; his son has no time and no interest in gardening.
Below are some of the plants Dr. A recommended for people who have money, but no time, yet want to decorate their gardens — and most importantly, plants that work!
ANNUALS: Breeding work in these plants has been nothing short of astounding, according to Dr. A.
• Angelonia: Baskets and containers are the garden of the future.
• Begonia: “Splashy” pendulous forms in red, such as ‘Santa Cruz’ and ‘Bossa Nova’
• Rex hybrids: Esp. Jurassic. His recommendation for the front of the garden center — “People will swoon over these!”
• Canna: Very popular for their tropical look. Range in size from large to dwarf, and wide variety of vibrant flower color.
• Geraniums: Too many zonals on the market, but people buy them. Deadheading is essential. What’s exciting to him are Ivy + Geranium hybrids, such as Caliente/Timeless & Precision series.
• Gomphrena: Great for people who need the indestructible. “You can mow over this stuff and it’ll still come back.”
• Bedding impatiens: The big downside is downy mildew, but New Guinea and hybrids are downy resistant, eg Bounce series
• Sweet alyssum (Lobularia): Used to die in an instant, but big advances in hardiness have been seen with new varieties, eg ‘Snow Princess’, ‘White Knight’ and Stream series
• Coleus: Shade tolerant but sun-loving. Great for mixed containers.
• Colocasia (Taro): Tropical look, and do well everywhere.
• Alternanthera: ‘Little Ruby’ = best ever.
Crazy annuals — Retailers won’t sell a ton of these plants, Dr. A advised, but they will make people smile and come back to buy their begonias and gerniums.
• Eyeball plant, Bed of Nails, Musical Note plant, variegated Tapiocca
PERENNIALS: All the tried and true is what’s selling.
• Yarrow (aka ‘woundwort’): Have been out of favor, but the short (knee-high tall) varieties are becoming popular. The back story: Smell it, stomp on it — the first room freshener.
• Baptisia: The hybrids, eg ‘Purple Smoke’, ‘Twilight Prairie’, ‘Screming Yellow’. The first ever subsidized agricultural crop in America as alternative for making indigo dye.
• Brunnera (aka false forget-me-nots):
• Erysimum (aka wallflowers): Breeding has made great strides for tougher plants.
• Coreopsis: fun plant, but breeding has messed them up. Have to make sure about what you’re selling: perennial or annual?
• Echinacea: “A plant we’re stubbing our toes on.” Too many in the market, and a lot are terrible. People are buying them, but they’re not coming back.
— A’s rule for Echinacea: If you’re not sure, always buy purple or white. The fancy types: do not sell or plant in the fall.