I'm often accused of being a traditionalist, and it's true that I like old furniture, old books and old-fashioned plants: for instance, most of my roses were introduced before 1840, and I'm the only person I know who owns an aspidistra. Nevertheless, even I was surprised to see how many of my perennials have only been around for the past 10 years or so. Some represent breakthroughs in foliage colour, such as Black Lace elder, while others boast non-stop flowering habits, like Easy Wave petunias or Josephine clematis. Many are the product of complex breeding programs, but some, like the Rozanne hardy geranium and 'Stairway to Heaven' Jacob's ladder, are the result of naturally occurring crosses that happen whenever flowers and bees get together. Either way, one thing is certain: they deserve a place in every 2010 garden.
1. 'Jack frost' siberian bugloss
(Brunnera macrophylla 'Jack Frost')
height: 35 cm, width: 40 cm, Zone 3
Grown primarily for its heart-shaped silver leaves delicately veined with green, 'Jack Frost' produces sprays of bright blue forget-me-not-like flowers in late spring. Deer and rabbit resistant, it can be used as a specimen plant or massed as a shimmering woodland groundcover. Discovered at his Michigan nursery by John Walters as a non-induced sport of B. m. 'Langtrees', 'Jack Frost' was introduced in 2003.
2. 'Lime rickey' heuchera
(Heuchera [Rainbow Series] 'Lime Rickey')
height: 30 cm, width: 35 cm, Zone 4
Glowing chartreuse springtime foliage morphs into an eye-catching lemon-lime for the duration of the summer, crowned with slender sprays of ivory bells. Deer and rabbit resistant, the leaf margins are deeply scalloped and naturally wavy. The progeny of H. 'Amber Waves' and H. 'Huntsman,' 'Lime Rickey' was bred by Janet Egger at Terra Nova Nurseries in Oregon and introduced in 2006.
3. 'Black negligee' cimicifuga
(Actaea simplex [Atropurpurea Group] 'Black Negligee')
height: 1.2 m, width: 65 cm, Zone 4
'Black Negligee' shows better vigour than other purple-leaved cultivars. The lacy black foliage is topped with white bottlebrush flowers that smell like grape bubblegum in early autumn. Deer and rabbit resistant, 'Black Negligee' establishes itself most quickly where soils are consistently moist. Use this lovely plant as a single accent or grow in groups of three or more. Introduced by Dr. Simon Gootjes at AllPlant (Holland) and released in 2004.
4. Rozanne hardy geranium
height: 35 cm, width: 45 cm, Zone 4
From early summer to mid autumn, my Rozanne geranium is never out of bloom; large (up to five centimetres) violet-blue flowers with white centres emerge from pale green, lightly marbled foliage. Spotted in their Somerset, England, garden by Donald and Rozanne Waterer, it's a naturally occurring hybrid between two Himalayan species (G. himalayense and G. wallichianum 'Buxton's Variety') they had growing side by side. Introduced by Adrian Bloom of Blooms of Bressingham in 2001.
5. 'White spotted lady' hellebore
(Helleborus x hybridus 'White Spotted Lady')
height: 35 cm, width: 45 cm, Zone 4
'White Spotted Lady' represents one of eight excellent hellebore cultivars (from The Lady Series) that come 90 percent true from seed, making otherwise expensive plants affordable for everyone. Leathery, dark green leaves give rise to upward-facing, pure white flowers with red spots from early to late spring. Developed by hellebore breeder extraordinaire Gisela Schmiemann of Cologne, Germany, and introduced by Jelitto Seeds in 2001.
Photo: Geranium 'Jolly Bee,' courtesy of Proven Winners