There are many reasons that I regularly attend the Farwest Show. One is for the social connection to others in the horticulture industry. There is camaraderie among garden people that I rarely see in other organizations, and it is hard to explain until you are part of it. I believe that social interactions are extremely important in this age of the internet and there are few opportunities to see so many industry people all in one facility.
Another reason that I attend is to see what is new, both in hard goods and green goods. While seeing what is new in hard goods is interesting, my chief interest is to see what new plants are being offered. These are the plants that we will be seeing at garden centers in the spring.
The area within the Farwest Show that I always gravitate to is the New Varieties Showcase. This is a section where plants have been selected to be featured because they offer something new. It might be the foliage, or the flowers, or the growing habit, or a combination of these. Or it could be a new plant introduction.
At the conclusion of the Farwest Show, awards are given within the New Varieties Showcase. There is an award for Best in Show and a People’s Choice Best in Show. Plus there are Awards of Merit. After spending time looking at all the choices, I selected five plants to talk about. Two of those were singled out for an award, but to me they are all winners.
Crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia) has long been a favorite plant of mine. There are many attributes to this genus, including that many bloom in late summer to early fall when it is not common to see trees blooming.
There is a wide selection to choose from. As to height, some would be considered shrubs and other trees. These are deciduous plants and crape myrtle bark is very attractive, making it ideal for a spotlight to shine on it in the winter. Depending on the particular cultivar, some will provide brilliant fall color.
The New Varieties Showcase featured ‘Cherry Mocha’, (L. ‘Cherry Mocha’ PP28281) which had cherry red flowers in clusters and foliage that was deep burgundy. ‘Cherry Mocha’ is said to be a dense, compact plant and has mildew resistance. This would make an excellent container plant on a deck or patio with plenty of sun exposure. The deep burgundy foliage is an added bonus.
Of my five selected plants, Golden Falls™ Redbud, (Cercis ‘NC2015-12’ PPAF), was selected for an Award of Merit. This is considered a breakthrough foliage color for a weeping Cercis. The new growth is tinged orange followed by bright gold leaves that do well in the sun without burning. This tree is narrow and weeping and lends itself to small spaces. It has pink flowers in the spring. This plant was introduced by the J.C. Raulston Arboretum at North Carolina State University.
For the past several years, I have had an obsession with the genus Salvia. It all started when I purchased Salvia guaranitica ‘Black and Blue’ and realized what a long blooming, hummingbird magnet and superb container plant this was. After a summer with ‘Black and Blue’ blooming continuously in a container on our deck, I knew that I needed more Salvia in my garden. Today, I have more than a dozen Salvia cultivars in containers, with multiple plants in each container.
Each year I add new cultivars that I have not grown before and this past spring, one was Salvia Rockin’® Fuchsia (Salvia × cBBSAL0031’ PPAF). I planted four plants in a large pot and they started to bloom in early June and have not stopped. As I write this column, it is mid-September, my plants are prolific with flowers and there is no sign they are about to stop, and there are many new flower buds continuing to appear. With a black calyx, the flower stems are attractive even when the petals fall. Since the plants are sterile, they will not set seed and so that means more bloom. Honeybees and hummingbirds have been regular visitors and my plants have stayed much more compact than ‘Black and Blue’.
Hardy hibiscus is a group of plants that are becoming increasingly popular with gardeners. Perhaps it is because they provide spectacular blooms late in the summer when many other plants are beginning to wane. The flowers, which come in many different colors including white and shades of red and pink, offer quite a show of color with their dinner plate-sized blooms. The foliage can also vary from green to almost black.
Summerific® ‘Evening Rose’ (Hibiscus ‘Evening Rose’) is an excellent combination of hot pink flowers and near-black foliage. Compared to another popular cultivar, ‘Berry Awesome’, the foliage on ‘Evening Rose’ is much darker and the flower color is more magenta than lavender. ‘Evening Rose’ received an Award of Merit.
The New Varieties Showcase award for Best in Show went to ‘Crested Surf’, a Japanese Painted Fern (Athyrium niponicum ‘Crested Surf’). I was pleased to see a fern win this title because many of us have moist shady areas in the garden and it is not always easy to find plants that will provide color, especially those without flowers. As my own garden matures, what once were small shrubs and trees have become bigger which creates more shady areas. This fern is similar to the traditional Japanese painted fern but the tips of the fronds are double-crested. This would make a nice container plant for a shady space and would provide interesting texture all summer.
It is never easy making a list of favorites and I would not dismiss any of the plants selected for the New Varieties Showcase. The above mentioned five are those that appealed to me and I could visualize them being popular plants in the spring for gardeners. I am certain that garden centers will want to capitalize on the excitement surrounding all of the plants that were selected for the New Varieties Showcase, because just being selected is in and of itself an award!
Garden centers will want to feature these plants and should create signage to indicate the awards that these plants have won. The public will not only appreciate the new plants, but also the extra information. After all, educating the public is what garden centers are all about.