New plants that make me drool

It’s the time of year when mail-order catalogs and e-mail offers come flooding in, tempting us with the latest plant introductions. While fairly immune to flowering plants, I’m a total pushover when it comes to ornamental grasses, succulents and anything with striking foliage.
Here are some recent drool-worthy discoveries:

Blonde Ambition blue grama grass (Bouteloua gracilis 'Blonde Ambition'). A Plant Select winner for 2011, this extremely striking and very cold hardy grass was discovered and introduced by High Country Gardens, and as far as I can tell can is only available from them at the moment. I saw the regular Bouteloua gracilis in a planting in downtown Davis last year and fell in love with it. This cultivar is almost twice as tall and hence even more impressive. High on my list of must-have plants.
From Proven Winners comes a new pennisetum called Vertigo (Pennisetum purpureum ‘Vertigo’). This fountain-grass relative from the grasslands of Africa is purple and big—up to 4 ft. I think it would make a great backdrop for smaller grasses with thinner leaves and delicate flower pannicles, such as dwarf fountain grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides 'Little Bunny'), or even for flowering perennials like shorter echinacea hybrids.
Variegated northern sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium ‘River Mist‘) from ItSaul Plants. Take a look at this closeup of the leaves. Looks just like a variegated bamboo (Pleioblastus fortunei comes to mind). I love the non-variegated version of northern sea oats, and this one looks to be even more stunning. Available at Plant Delights, High Country Garden, and many other retailers.
Agave xylonacantha 'Frostbite', available at Yucca Do and Plant Delights. I’ve never seen an agave this intimidating—the leaf margins look like veritable saw blades. Yet there’s something undeniably elegant about the overall look. This plant has cojones and tells you in no uncertain terms to keep your hands to yourself. I love it.
Arkansas blue star (Amsonia hubrichtii), 2011 Perennial Plant of the Year. This often overlooked Arkansas and Oklahoma native has finely textured foliage that is green all summer and turns golden-yellow in fall. In spring, masses of light blue flowers add additional interest. Would look great in combination with large-leafed tropicals. Available at many nurseries, including Blue Stone Perennials.
Plant Delights never disappoints when it comes to exciting new introductions. Even though I’m at the tail end of my banana obsession (the realities of our climate have finally sunk in), this Bengal Tiger banana has got me drooling. Luckily the photo on the Plant Delights web site is pretty awful, otherwise I really couldn’t resist.
I don’t have room for this and I don’t live in the right zone (zone 6-7) but, wow, this is a stunning variegated holly cultivar called Casanova (Ilex meserveae 'Casanova') available from Heronswood. The pink tinge appears in the winter. What a great way to add year-round zing to your woodland garden.
I love sea holly and have a hard time understanding why it’s almost impossible to find in local nurseries. Maybe because it’s prickly, and most nursery customers prefer soft and cuddly? For me, the drama of a sea holly in bloom is hard to beat. This cultivar from Blooms of Bressingham, available at High Country Gardens, is called Big Blue (Eryngium x zabellii 'Big Blue') and looks to be even bluer than the other cultivars already on the market. My experience with sea hollies is that they need a couple of years to really get going since they first need to develop their long taproot. After that they are very drought-tolerant.
Be sure to read this interesting article on Big Blue sea holly.
OK, I can’t conclude this post without at least one annual. This new sunflower hybrid from Burpee, called Coconut Ice, claims to be the first truly white sunflower. It starts out creamy vanilla and then fades to white. I don’t know why the world needs a white sunflower, but if I find seed locally, I will definitely give this one a try. It would look awesome intermixed with yellow and brown sunflowers.


  1. Definitely some nice plants here, but I have a couple of comments.

    The 'Vertigo' pennisetum looks like something I pickup up last year -- can't remember the cultivar name though. The wide leaves were a nice contrast, but after a while I decided it looked too much like corn or millet and lost interest in it. I didn't bring it in to overwinter.

    Although I have dozens of regular green "sea oats" (or "wood oats" as the more recent version of the common name so it won't be confused with real "sea oats"), I've seen this variegated one in shops and almost picked it up but passed on. If it doesn't reseed as much as the green form, or if the seedlings are variegated too I might reconsider.

    Holly: deer love these. My small potted holly was trimmed in half and was way up next to the house.

    Eryngium (sea holly) is awesome-looking, but is loved by woodchucks, and the flowers sometimes smell exactly like cat poop. I'd have to see (smell) a specimen in bloom before I bought it, or at least have a guarantee that it doesn't smell.

    Sunflowers: certain birds -- finches I think -- have no idea when the seeds are ready to eat, so will happily take chunks out of the flower centers each day to find out. So I never get to see flowers that look like the photos in the catalogs -- they're always pockmarked.

    Sorry to be so negative this morning and certainly don't want to discourage you from getting any new plants, but seed and plant catalogs don't always give the whole story. =)
    It's not work, it's gardening!

  2. >>seed and plant catalogs don't always give the whole story<<

    Exactly! They're selling an idealized garden world. However, I do enjoy looking at photos of "perfect plants", knowing full well that the reality sometimes doesn't live up to the promise.

    The variegated northern sea oats does produce all-green seedlings so the variegation is only retained in divisions off the mother plant.

    I had to laugh when I read your description of sea holly. I'd never noticed a cat pee smell, but all I have is a cultivar called 'Sapphire Blue'.

  3. It's cat *poop*. If you're looking for a cat pee smell, try salvia leaves, particularly Salvia nemorosa.
    It's not work, it's gardening!

  4. LOL. Sorry for getting those two confused.

    This almost merits a separate post: "Plants that smell like something you'd rather not smell".

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  6. I have a small Holly on the hill in front of our house and the Deer have never bothered it! About the only thing they don't eat around here. Don't know if they have had an opportunity to try the bamboo. As for cat pee smell add the old low growing junipers!


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