While it's not officially winter yet, the 1998 garden catalogs have begun arriving in the mail. It's fun to browse through garden catalogs during the cold, snowy days of winter. As you begin to formulate landscape plans for the upcoming year, consider those plant varieties that have been given special recognition for 1998.
Perennial Plant of the Year
The purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) is a native prairie wildflower. Plants grow 2 to 4 feet tall and produce 3- to 3 1/2-inch diameter flowers in summer. The flower consists of a bronze-colored, dome-shaped center surrounded by white to pink to reddish-purple, downward curving "petals". The shape of the flower is similar to a badminton shuttlecock or " birdie." Purple coneflowers are upright-growing, clump-forming, coarse-textured perennials.
Echinacea purpurea 'Magnus' has been selected as the "Perennial Plant of the Year" for 1998 by the Perennial Plant Association. The Perennial Plant Association is a national organization of growers, landscape designers, educators, and researchers. The goals of the organization are to promote high nursery production standards and the planting of perennials. The "Perennial Plant of the Year" is chosen by its members. 'Magnus' was selected for its distinctive flower color and shape, long bloom season, and ease of culture. The petals of 'Magnus' are more horizontal than the species. Their color is deep rose or carmine. Plants are often in bloom for up to 6 weeks. 'Magnus' grows about 3 feet tall. The variety was discovered by Klaus Jelitto at the nursery of Magnus Nilsson in Sweden.
Purple coneflowers are easy to grow perennials. They perform best in well-drained soils and partial to full sun. Plants are drought tolerant and have few insect and disease problems. Because of its stiff, coarse growth habit, the purple coneflower is an excellent plant for naturalized areas. It also does well in perennial borders. For those individuals interested in butterfly gardening, the purple coneflower attracts several species of butterflies.
Tree of the Year
The "1998 Tree of the Year" is the 'Greenspire' littleleaf linden (Tilia cordata 'Greenspire'). The "Tree of the Year" is selected by the Iowa Nursery and Landscape Association. The 'Greenspire' littleleaf linden was selected for its excellent form and adaptability to difficult growing conditions.
'Greenspire' possesses a strong central leader, excellent branching, a dense growth habit, and a symmetrical, conical form. It has small, dark green leaves. 'Greenspire' produces small, fragrant, pale yellow flowers in mid to late June. The growth rate of this littleleaf linden variety is moderate. At maturity, it is approximately 45 to 50 feet tall and 25 to 30 feet wide.
The 'Greenspire' littleleaf linden transplants readily and is an excellent shade tree. It is also widely planted as a street tree because of its tolerance of difficult growing conditions and urban sites. 'Greenspire' has few serious insect and disease problems. However, sunscald is an occasional problem.
Since 1933, All-America Selection judges have been evaluating new flower and vegetable varieties in trials all across North America. Based on their outstanding performance, two flower and two vegetable varieties have been chosen as All-America Selections for 1998.
The petunia is one of the most popular annuals in flower gardens. Its popularity is due to its dependability, wide range of flower colors, and long bloom season. Flower colors vary from white to red to dark purple. There are even a few yellow petunias. Unfortunately, the yellow varieties have not performed well. 'Prism Sunshine' was selected as an All-America Selection for 1998 because of its superior perfomance compared to previous yellow petunia varieties. 'Prism Sunshine' is a grandiflora petunia. It produces bright yellow, 3-inch-diameter flowers throughout the growing season. Petunias perform best in well-drained soils and partial to full sun.
'Victorian Rose' impatiens is a second AAS winner for 1998. 'Victorian Rose' produces rose-colored, semi-double flowers. It blooms more heavily than most double or semi- double varieties. Impatiens perform best in moist, well-drained soils in partial shade.
Swiss chard is a type of beet grown for its edible leaves and leaf stalks. The leaf stalks are typically white or red. 'Bright Lights' Swiss chard was selected as an AAS vegetable award winner because of its multi-colored stalks, tenderness, and mild chard flavor. Leaf stalks can be yellow, gold, orange, pink, crimson, violet, or striped, in addition to red and white. (The colors do fade when cooked.) 'Bright Lights' has green, savoyed leaves. Plants grow about 20 inches tall. Gardeners can begin harvesting 55 to 60 days after planting. The leaf stalks can be cut off about one inch above the ground. Plants tolerate heat and will continue to produce a crop throughout the summer.
The second vegetable to win an AAS award is 'Sweet Dani' lemon basil. The leaves of 'Sweet Dani' have a strong lemon fragrance. Plants may be up to 26 inches tall. In Iowa, sow the seed indoors about 4 to 6 weeks before the average last killing frost. Transplant into the garden in mid-May in central Iowa. Plants can be harvested several times during the summer.
As you browse through the seed and nursery catalogs during the upcoming winter months, be sure to check out these award-winning selections.
This article originally appeared in the December 12, 1997 issue, pp. 154-155.