There are a lot of bare spots in my garden this spring. I’m still hoping, but pretty soon I’m going to have to face facts and cut those dead plants down. (Sniff.) My hydrangeas and roses seem to have taken a big hit. Also my clematis and ornamental grasses, which all grew in containers.
So I’m on the lookout for replacements.
In the hydrangea department, plenty of new introductions have come along recently. I have my eye on a pretty new lacecap called Tiny Tuff Stuff. It stays roughly 40 cm tall, good for a small Beach garden. It’s also an H. serrata, which can survive cold better than the usual mophead hydrangeas (H. macrophylla).
My love of dainty lacecaps could tempt me to try a hydrangea called Let’s Dance Starlight, which has lovely pink lacecap flowers. If both these beauties are too hard to find, I’ll consider an Endless Summer from Sheridan in Scarborough, or an Everlasting from East of Eliza. (FYI, mopheads = big round blooms; lacecaps = flat flowers with a mix of petals and tightly closed knobs.)
Hunting the perfect clematis
Harrison, a staffer at Sheridan, assures me that they have all kinds and colours of clematis to choose from, as well as many different ornamental grasses. My dear departed was a Miscanthus (maiden grass), and I’d like to have another.
Yukiko, my contact at East of Eliza, told me they had clematis, too. She added that they get their plants directly from the growers, so they’re happy to take requests for specific varieties.
Roses, I’ve discovered from experience, are best ordered in fall and planted bare-root in early spring. So I’m going to think about those for a while.
Loblaws garden centres have some tempting shrubs this year that I might just substitute for roses. One is a splendid Amber Jubilee ninebark, with yellow, orange and red foliage. It grows 1.5 m tall, but can be pruned to stay smaller. Then there’s the lovely Morden Gold elderberry, with delicate golden foliage and tough as nails.
Brighter days with annuals
New shrubs take time to get established, so I’ll rely on cheap and colourful annuals to cheer me up in the meantime. As usual, Loblaws has a wide selection. Shade gardeners, especially, will be glad to see they have several alternatives to impatiens.
As many gardeners know, the most common impatiens (I. walleriana) is being wiped out by a nasty downy mildew disease that’s spread everywhere. Don’t even try growing them. However, good substitutes are the rex begonias Loblaws garden centres are stocking. Flowers are smallish, but their big leaves come in pink and burgundy and even a ghostly pale grey.
If you must have flowers in the shade, New Guinea impatiens may work for you. They’re a different species from the infected kind, and they tend to need more sun. However, the folks who originally bred good old I. walleriana have come up with a new line called Divine impatiens that shows a lot of promise.
They look like the regular impatiens, with green leaves and big flowers, but downy mildew doesn’t affect them. They come in all kinds of colours and are tallish (30 cm) with good branching. They’re worth a try to bring colour to darker gardens. Again, you can get them at Loblaws garden centres.
Plant marketers Proven Winners (PW) are introducing dozens of new annuals this spring, too. Their plants generally look great in hanging baskets – they have a rainbow of petunias and calibrachoas (petunia’s little sister).
I’m not a fan of oranges and yellows, so my pick of the new pack is Pomegranate Punch Superbells (PW’s name for calibrachoas). They’re the lush colour of pomegranate juice, with a darker throat. Nonstop flowering, no deadheading, and drought tolerance add to their appeal.
If you’re after something blue, Grape-O-Licious torenia is a nice container plant for light shade. Smallish bugle-shaped blue-and-white flowers grow on a mounding plant.
And for a strong, cool shot of blue, grab some Violet Ice verbena. They adore sun and are mildew-resistant (Water well, but not in the evening.) Best of all, they’re a wonderful, dreamy blue with a touch of violet that’s soothing just to look at. (Look for Proven Winners plants at East End Garden Centre.)
Mary Fran McQuade is a hobby gardener and freelance writer