I've been on a ruthless rampage lately, clearing out overly enthusiastic perennials, such as Mrs. Robb's spurge (Euphorbia robbiae), digging up some roses that don't thrill me any more. Lonely stretches of bare soil beg for new plants to fill in before weeds creep in. I love the chance to play with some blank canvas.
To get the scoop on new plants for 2011, I contacted several growers. First I spoke with Jim Siehl from wholesale grower Blooming Nursery in Cornelius (www.bloomingnursery.com). You'll find their plants at many retail garden centers, in distinctive burgundy pots.
You may already grow some of the Itoh hybrid peonies, crosses between woody tree peonies and herbaceous peonies that combine the best features of both - bigger flower sizes from the tree peonies and longer bloom period from the herbaceous types. New this year, 'Visions of Sugar Plums' has large single flowers, soft pink blending to a deeper pink at the petal edge, with a plum color flare toward the center.
'Once established, after a few years, you will get up to 50 blooms a season,' Siehl says. Flowering in late spring and early summer, the plant will die back to the ground in late autumn.
A new bishop's hat, Epimedium 'Purple Pixie,' has vivid violet-purple flowers with white spurs. Besides the intense flower color, it has a tight and dense growth habit, spreading slowly to about a foot wide, and a foot tall.
You've heard of tall, dark and handsome - well Sedum 'Chocolate Drop' is the short version. Succulent leaves, the color of bittersweet chocolate, are born on sturdy stems, topped by rose-pink flower heads in autumn.
'It makes a small mounding clump,' Siehl says. 'Full sun is ideal to keep the color true, and once established it has very low water needs.' The dark foliage will stand out more if you surround it with contrasting gold or silver-leaved perennials such as 'Angelina' sedum or silvery cottage pinks (Dianthus).
New forms of Coreopsis intrigue me, especially the burgundy varieties such as 'Cranberry Ice,' which is definitely on my shopping list.
'It's got cranberry colored flowers with white edges that makes them pop,' Siehl says.
I'm also curious about Coreopis tripteris 'Flower Tower,' native to the Midwest. Super tall, up to 10 feet, with yellow flowers up to four inches across, it promises to make a showy focal point.
'It has thick heavy stems, and branches out like a big bouquet at the top, blooming from June through the summer,' Siehl says. 'Don't be scared of it, just give it some room to grow. Full sun is best.' Finches love the seeds.
Next I spoke with Urs Baltensperger of Edelweiss Nursery (www.edelweissperennials.com) in Canby. His first pick was new 'Dark Violet,' fisherman's rod (Dierama), a sturdy hybrid, from five to six feet tall.
He also loves 'Apollo,' a huge white Peruvian lily (Alstroemeria), originally from England, and 'Mauve Majesty,' a smaller, purple-pink variety, originally from Cornell University's breeding program.
Baltensperger is proud of his gentians, especially his newest, Gentiana dinarica from Montenegro. It blooms first in early summer and again in autumn. Not yet named will be a new apricot poker, from a friend's garden. Also, he grows a host of Christmas tree selections of hardy cyclamen - the leaves look like green Christmas trees surrounded by silver edgings.
Last, I quizzed Ryan McGrath from wholesaler Spring Meadow Nursery, which brings us many wonderful new shrubs. He was enthused about the first thornless flowering quince.
'One of the downsides of quince was, you reach in there and prick your finger,' he says. Now there's the 'Double Take' series with red, pink and orange varieties.
'They're some of the first blooming plants of the year, only three to four feet tall, with no fruit and less to clean up,' he says. Resembling miniature roses, they're a welcome treat in late winter and early spring.
With my renewed interest in abelias, I'm eager to grow his 'Ruby Anniversary' in my own garden. 'New for this spring, it's joined the line of Golden, Silver, and Bronze Anniversary abelias,' McGrath said. Foliage is ruby red, buds are salmon, opening to white flowers. This evergreen shrub is four to six feet tall.
Last year, I tried out some of the OSO Easy roses that Spring Meadow is releasing this season. Of all the samples, 'Cherry Pie' was a standout. Large, single, bright pink-red flowers with yellow stamens captivated visitors.
This is a great time to make room for new arrivals. Get out your spades and start clearing some ground!