An insider look at new plants

Garden Making

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Rodger Tschanz at Landscape Ontario’s trial gardens in 2011 (Photo: Landscape Ontario)

Rodger Tschanz definitely has the inside track on new plants. He’s been in charge of growing and evaluating new annuals and perennials at the University of Guelph’s and Landscape Ontario’s trial gardens for more than 10 years.

Garden Making’s display garden at this year’s Canada Blooms will include some of the new plants introduced last year, as well as other noteworthy selections.

Rodger’s been busy at the university greenhouses, getting these ready to bloom in time for the magazine’s first show garden, but he took time to answer a few questions about the highlights from last year’s plant trials. He also provides his perspective on the many recent developments with echinaceas, heucheras and petunias.  

Q: How many plants did you trial at the gardens at the University of Guelph and Landscape Ontario in Milton last year?

A: 514

Q: What plants from last year impressed you the most—and why?

A: These are a few of the special plants that caught my eye.

Eritrichium ‘Baby Blues’: The winter hardiness of this perennial is still being tested in our trial beds, but in its first year of growth it grew to fill in the plot and exhibited many forget-me-not type blooms in midsummer.

Melampodium ‘Casino Light Yellow’: This vigorous and floriferous plant did very well in our landscape beds. It fills in quickly and no deadheading was required. It bloomed from spring until fall.

Rudbeckia ‘Cappucino’: The plants produced very showy, long-lasting six-inch (15-cm) diameter, bi-coloured flowers in the first growing season. In our trials it seemed to have excellent powdery mildew resistance. Winter hardiness is still being tested.

Q: Was there a visitor favourite?

A: Petunia Sweetunia Black Satin was a favourite. Of all of the petunias, this one stood out as unique. The flower colour is stable and the flowers remain fully open and visible in the garden.

Q: You’re growing 15 new plants for Garden Making’s display gardens at Canada Blooms this year. Which do you think are particularly noteworthy?

A: Begonia Dragone Sunset is an example of the adaptation of a traditional indoor plant to outdoor use. The “Rieger” style begonia has smaller blooms than tuberous begonias, but with the same potential range of colours. Dragone Sunset is one selection that does exceptionally well outdoors in partly sunny/shady settings. It blooms well all season long and appears to very resistant to cooler temperatures and powdery mildew in late summer.

Another is ‘Vertigo’ pennisetum. This vigorous annual reached four to five feet (1.2 to 1.5 m) in the 2011 trials.  It produced lots of upright dark purple foliage, but didn’t flower during the growing season.

Q: For the past few years, breeders have introduced dozens of new echinaceas, heucheras and petunias. What plant do you predict will capture their attention in the next few years?

A: Predicting the future has never been my strong suit, but here are some of my thoughts based on my experiences and the experiences of others.

A big concern among growers of new and exciting looking echinaceas is the hardiness of the species. Those who have paid a premium for a unique echinacea only to have it die after one season are understandably wary about investing in new and “improved” releases. I think achieving a balance between uniqueness and hardiness is needed to improve customer satisfaction with this genus.

Most of the breeding work with heucheras has gone into improving leaf colour and pattern, and as a result there is now an incredible selection to match most designers’ palettes. That said, for the most part improving the flower has largely been ignored. Heucheras can have a long bloom period and this is potentially an opportunity to increase the “flowering” choices for shady gardens.

Breeders continue to increase the colour selection, flower form, and flower performance of petunias, a floral standby.  The advent of the black petunia has been ground-breaking and the publicity surrounding that will be hard to eclipse.

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3 thoughts on “An insider look at new plants”

  1. I think an expert’s view of new plants that perform well is a great idea. I think that Mr. Tschanz was the author of a article on the Garden Making web about new plants in 2010 or 2011 and I remember looking up ALL the plants he’d mentioned. I would have liked a greater number of recommendations this year based on the hundreds of plants he tested but the few he mentioned are much appreciated.


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