April 29, 2012

Maine Gardener: Nurseries and the weather offer opportunities for long-lasting color


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Buddleia “Tutti Frutti”

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Spirea Double Play “Big Bang”

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A couple of other perennials she likes are "Little Goldstar" rudbeckia, which is a 14-inch black-eyed Susan with profuse blooms, and "Golden Zebra" heucherella, which has dissected gold leaves with red centers.

Ginny Moody of Moody's Nursery in Saco said vegetable gardens and fruit trees continue to be big.

"And there is a huge interest in organic gardening," she said. "I've never sold so much compost before."

Tarbox of Springvale Nurseries agrees with Moody that vegetable gardening continues strong. She's selling seedlings of products from High Mowing Organic Seed Co. in Vermont.

"We are trying 'Mountain Princess,' an early short-season tomato," she said. "It is a nice mid-size tomato and cold-hardy."

In addition to expanding its vegetable offerings, Springvale Nurseries is taking advantage of the warmer seasons by offering such products as Elberta peach trees, which could well grow in their area now.

Bate, the woodies specialist at Skillins, also mentioned Physocarpus "Little Devil,' a dwarf ninebark with a good red color.

"It gets to be 3 to 4 feet tall with ivory pink flowers in June," he said. "It is very drought-tolerant and hardy to Zone 3, and it is the first compact purple-foliage plant that will fill in the slot that the Japanese barberry plants held."

Lewand of Blackrock Farm also mentioned Heptacodium as "one of the most wonderful shrubs for a fall display, except for maybe the hydrangeas, with its incredible red fruits and a great color" and Cornus "Heart Throb," which is "like the Kousa, but it has great bright pink flowers that are just a bit smaller."

I spent 10 or 15 minutes on the phone with the professionals mentioned above, but I also attended a two-hour presentation at which Jeff O'Donal of O'Donal's nursery discussed more than 75 new plants. A few stood out.

One is the rhododendron "Florence Parks," created by the late Joe Parks of New Hampshire, who donated his collection of rhododendrons to the University of Southern Maine. Parks' goal in hybridization was hardy plants with large blooms, and this plant has lots of 6- to 8-inch trusses.

O'Donal, who played a major role in moving the collection to USM, hopes to offer more Parks rhododendrons in the future.

He is also offering box huckleberry, a native low-growing plant similar to low-bush blueberries. It has white to pinkish flowers followed by edible blue berries and a vibrant red color in the fall.

The "Rhino Hide" hosta, which grows 24 to 30 inches, has the thickest foliage of all hostas, and is resistant to attacks by slugs. "The foliage is cupped and puckered, with a wide blue margin and narrow light-green to yellow center," he said.

These are just a few of the new plants out there. To get the full flavor, take a trip to your local nursery and check them out on your own.

Tom Atwell has been writing the Maine Gardener column since 2004. He is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth, and can be contacted at 767-2297 or at:



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