For me, new plants spark interest no matter who is introducing them. These plants have been hybridized or discovered in the wild or at a nursery, and they exhibit some unique characteristic that is expected to make gardeners eager to buy/try/grow them.

When the introductions are plants that are discovered locally, I’m more interested than ever. I asked several local nurseries what they are introducing this spring that gets them excited. Here’s what I heard:

O’Donal’s Nursery in Gorham is introducing two shrubs to the market: a physocarpus and a weigela.

Physocarpus opulifolius “Gorham’s Golden” (GiGi) comes from a seedling found in the north Scarborough part of O’Donal’s property. It has “brilliant chartreuse foliage in spring and summer,” according to nursery owner Jeff O’Donal, “with the inner foliage turning lime-green when the outer foliage shades it in mid-summer.” He doesn’t yet know its ultimate height, but the shrub has medium to fast growth, and he expects it to reach 8 feet tall and wide. The plant has the same pinkish-white button blooms followed by clusters of dried seed heads that other ninebarks – the common name for physocarpus – have, plus orange-red fall foliage.

I am a big fan of ninebarks, and in our driveway garden my wife Nancy and I have two red ones. They are native to Maine, hardy to Zone 4 and have wonderful exfoliating bark, hence the name ninebark, which makes them interesting to look at in the winter. Adding a golden version to our garden might be nice.

As for the weigela, O’Donal said that a customer named Christine noticed one growing beside the display of “Dance Series” (Minuet, Polka, Rhumba, etc.) of weigelas and asked for that particular one. O’Donal’s started propagating it and named it “Christine” in her honor. It has deep pink flowers with recurved tips. Like its likely parents (those dancing weigelas), it is compact, with dense green foliage that turns red-purple in the fall and with occasional fall reblooming.

O’Donal regularly rants against trademarked and patented plants from groups like Proven Winners because he has to buy special pots and tags and charge customers more for the brand name. He won’t trademark or patent these two new plants, or any future O’Donal’s introductions, he said, calling the pair “our gift to the world,” with only the hint of a grin.


Tim Bate of Skillin’s Greenhouse in Falmouth is excited about four new plants: one rose, one shrub, one perennial and one plant that will be treated as an annual in Maine.

He is offering the annual, Digiplexis, in two varieties: “Berry Canary” and “Illumination Flame.” It’s a cross between the native foxglove, or digitalis, and a tropical foxglove from Canary Islands, Isoplexis. The new annual has good foliage and bright tropical-colored blooms that begin in the spring and last through the fall, Bate said, “one of the longest-blooming annuals I’ve seen.”

I love the idea of crossing a native biennial – meaning a plant that seeds itself but takes two years to produce flowers – and a tropical perennial to create an annual just for Maine.

The shrub, a red-twig dogwood named “Pucker Up,” also sounds interesting. It has the red twigs for winter interest, and in summer its leaves are glossy but heavily textured, almost like a pucker.

The rose Bate likes is “Above and Beyond,” a climber that will reach 9 feet tall, is hardy to Zone 3, disease resistant and has large flowers that start orange and open to apricot. Above and Beyond blooms heavily in late spring through summer and sporadically after that. The new perennial is an Astilbe “Chocolate Shogun,” the darkest-leaved astilbe Bate has ever seen, with bright pink flowers that fade to a blush pink. Unfortunately, we have no space for a climbing rose in our garden.


Claudia Risbara of Risbara’s Greenhouse in Portland is thinking outside the flower box – she recommends a vegetable, suggesting gardeners grow artichokes for their striking flowers. Remember, don’t harvest the buds for eating, she said. For a more traditional annual, she likes Gomphrena “Fireworks,” which sends up a tall stem with a flower like an allium, pink with tips that are a hotter pink. Last year, monarch butterflies spent more than a day hanging out on the blossoms, she said.

Both sound lovely for a spot near a patio or deck.

Jim Masse of Estabrook’s Farm and Greenhouses in Yarmouth recommended an elderberry: Sambucus “Lemon Lace” has golden, thread-like foliage with red-tinged new growth and creates a shimmery, feathery mound, he said. Umbels of white flowers will appear in late June and give way to bright red fruit in the fall. This is a native plant with great foliage, flowers and fruit – what more could you want?

Masse also likes Little Twist Flowering Cherry, which has delicate branches in a zig-zag pattern, with many small, white red-centered flowers covering the branches in late May. In the fall, the deep green serrated leaves turn red-orange.

About a decade ago, my wife Nancy and I planted some Kniphofia, or “Red Hot Poker” in successive years. I loved the way they looked in the nursery, but if recollection serves, they bloomed just once in our yard, then died.

But Knophofia hirsuta “Nancy’s Red” makes me want to give them another chance. Given its name, I could pretend it was a gift for my wife (don’t tell). Here’s how Masse described this introduction: “Electric coral-red spikes of tubular flowers that are hummingbird candy appear in late June through July above thickly textured grass-like foliage.” It’s rated for Zone 5, so it should survive in our garden. I plan to give it (another) try.

All of these nurseries, and others, have dozens more new flowers to try. The ones mentioned in this column struck my fancy. But check the nurseries out for yourself, in person or online, to see what strikes yours.

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 [email protected]