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Something new under the sun

A preview of the year's plants promises a terrific season in the garden

Will you take a look at that!

The reliable flowers on 'Prairie Sun' are bright, sunshiny yellow. 'Prairie Sun' is as simple as its country cousin the black-eyed Susan, but its growth habits and colors are new this year, and it's on my 'must have' list.

'Prairie Sun' is one of a number of plants that are brand new to the market this year that are beautiful, fun and fairly easy to grow.

Growers hybridized the beauty with city gardeners in mind. The flowers might be 4 inches wide, but the plant itself is smaller and more compact and grows anywhere the sun shines.

'Prairie Sun' is an easy, easy plant. While it sports a green, not a black, eye, there's a new Heuchera (say: hugh-ker-a) called 'Obsidian' with really black leaves. 'Obsidian' can take some shade and has those black leaves 365 days a year.

Want something different? You'll find tassels of burgundy blooms hanging under the umbrella-shaped leaves on the strangest new plant of the year. Yes, 'Kaleidoscope' is one freaky plant.

'Kaleidoscope,' a Podophyllum (say: pod-o-phil-lum) commonly called the May apple, is actually an old herb used as a remedy for warts. In the summer, the top of the 'Kaleidoscope' leaves shimmer with bronze and silver. The pattern really does replicate the view inside the child's toy.

For a different thrill, run your hands through 'Fiber Optic,' a grass with a bad hair day that can't be controlled by a comb or pitchfork. 'Fiber Optic' and 'Kaleidoscope' both mesmerized crowds at Portland's Yard, Garden and Patio and Home & Garden shows this year.

Then there's 'Purple Majesty,' which swept the All American Selection trials in 200 test gardens across the country. 'Purple Majesty' won the prestigious Gold Medal Flower award, which is given about once a decade by the AAS.

The leaves and culm, or stem, of 'Purple Majesty' look like a stalk of corn. The fluffy caterpillar seed heads look like a cattail growing in wetlands. 'Purple Majesty' is ornamental millet Ñ the same kind of millet you'd feed a bird. It's just that 'purple bird seed' Pennisetum doesn't sound as interesting, now does it?

One thing's for sure: It's a plant you can't miss in the garden. 'Purple Majesty' is big: It grows3 to 5 feet tall (a very 'architectural' plant, as they say in the garden biz). The leaves are extraordinary, too. They start out green and then change to an intense mahogany-purple color after about three weeks of sunshine.

Rose Marie Nichols McGee, owner of Nichols Garden Nursery in Millersburg, describes 'Purple Majesty' as 'tall, dark and handsome.' It's a great compliment for the garden or the gardener, as the case may be.

If you're looking for new plants that come highly recommended, 2003 is growing some beauties that promise a terrific year for plants and plant people.

This week's to-do list

• Cut butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii) down to within12 inches of the ground.

• Cut back, water and fertilize plants over-wintered inside (fuchsia, geranium).

• Trim heather after it blooms.

Garden gossip

• Portland General Electric will give you $50 for old your old, working gasoline lawn mower when you replace it with an electric lawn mower or push mower. Call the Metro Recycling Hot Line, 503-234-3000.

'Anne Jaeger's Gardening Tips' airs at 9:56 a.m. Saturday and Sunday on KGW (8). Jaeger's Web site is at www.gardengal.tv.