Saucy Strawberries, Jambalaya & Bumbleberry

2018 was one of the wettest years on record which made it just terrible for gardening. Farmers here, in the Garden State, had awful yields of corn, tomatoes and peppers and unless you were into aquatic gardening, many plants just rotted. Alas, that was last year and I am looking forward to this year and much improved gardening. Every year, there are so many new plant introductions to get excited about. Sometimes, I find, new introductions are thrust into the market without really being tested. However, here are a few plants I feel have real merit and will stand the test of time.

     A Lily of the Nile, Agapanthus ‘Galaxy Blue’, many have been waiting for seems to finally be here. A cold hardy African Lily touted for withstanding New Jersey’s cold winter temperatures, Zone 6, grows about three feet tall and two feet wide. Typically grown in warmer climates, Walters Gardens, seems to have cracked the code bringing this lily type farther north. Proven that they can be buried in snow and still survive, you can expect blue flowers with globular clusters on tall stems suspended above clumps of green foliage. A re-bloomer in full sun, it will flower from midsummer to early fall. A great addition to perennial beds and patio containers, I am very excited about this lily.

     A variegated redbud appearing in many trade publications and periodicals lately is Cercis canadensis ‘Carolina Sweetheart’. Typical pea-like, rosy-purple flowers open along its branches, creating an almost ‘ribbon affect’. The show continues as its heart-shaped leaves unfurl showcasing variegated leaves opening to shades of pink, red, purple and green. This redbud is ideal for smaller garden spaces, reaching only 20-30 feet tall with an equal spread. An umbrella-like growth habit, this new release is the result of work done by Dr. Tom Ranney at North Carolina State University and the NCNLA. As a side note, I saw this tree at Universal Studios, Seuss Landing, Orlando, Florida this past autumn. A perfect tree to pair with the bright colors and whimsical adventures of Dr. Seuss.

     A “Hardy” Ice Plant introduction by “succulent maven” Chris Hansen, Delosperma Hotcakes ‘Saucy Strawberry’ should not disappoint. A tight, flat “pancake” growth habit, ‘Saucy Strawberry’ has strawberry-red outer petals surrounding its ultraviolet center with a white eye and a touch of yellow in its center. Able to survive in zone 6, this little gem grows only a few inches tall and about 15 inches wide. Fast growing, for an Ice Plant, this ground-hugging mat is covered with bright green, succulent foliage. Hidden most of the time though because this re-bloomer keeps performing. An excellent, care free, addition to container and rock gardens, Ice Plants generally appreciate sunny, hot and dry locations.

     A new coneflower to behold is Echinacea Sombrero® Tres Amigos. “Watching the blooms mature throughout their long season is like witnessing a living sunset in slow motion” ( This sun loving perennial, beloved by local pollinators, showcases 3 colors at once. Peachy-coral markings age to rose and fade to burgundy on this tidy, compact, sturdy perennial seldom browsed by deer. Drought resistant and part of a highly floriferous series, the Sombrero series is worth seeking out.

     A hydrangea to get excited about in a land where redundancy runs rampant, is Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Bailmacfive’. Another Endless Summer® type, Summer Crush® is another Bigleaf hydrangea type, however this one differentiates itself in the hydrangea market. A profusion of big raspberry-red or neon purple blooms, Summer Crush® is a color breakthrough in reblooming garden hydrangeas. Bred by Bailey Innovations, this new addition will survive zone 4 conditions and only grows about 3 feet tall and wide. Can you imagine this new reblooming selection with its bright raspberry-red color backed by deep green, glossy leaves in a patio container?

     An exciting ornamental grass, from Emerald Coast Growers, is Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Jambalaya™’. A long-flowering infertile variety that won’t self-seed forms tidy, uniform mounds with slender, erect foliage and silvery-pink plumes. This fountain grass type grows 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide, likes full sun and is “Hardy” to zone 5.

     Finally, a perennial Salvia with a great name is Salvia nemorosa ‘Bumbleberry’. Named in part because bumblebees and other pollinators swarm this perennial type, ‘Bumbleberry’ also produces dark fuchsia pink flowers on dark wine purple calyxes. Deep green foliage and a petite habit should thrust this newcomer to superstardom. ‘Bumbleberry’ only grows a foot high and wide and makes other pink Salvia types pale in comparison.

     There are so many new plants pushed into the marketplace each year, it makes it difficult to keep track. The aforementioned plants offer a deciduous tree and shrub, an ornamental grass and a tapestry of perennials to help paint your new garden with exciting color and variety.