Endless-blooming perennials. Jurrasic-sized ferns. Built-in deer and rabbit resistance. Welcome to the world of Super Plants, where today’s hybridizers are creating amazing plants that defy what many horticulturists thought was possible.
By Abby Lapides Elliott
(This article was first published in The Gateway Gardener April 2015 issue)
Endless-blooming perennials. Jurrasic-sized ferns. Built-in deer and rabbit resistance. Welcome to the world of Super Plants, where today’s hybridizers are creating amazing plants that defy what many horticulturists thought was possible. I’ve scoured the country looking for these Super Plants. Here are some of my favorites.
Our first Super Plant should be called Super Phlox. With blooms twice the size as the
largest garden phlox variety, Phloxes ‘Hercules’ and ‘Goliath’ boast bubblegum pink and purple blooms, respectively. Because these are cultivars from the Missouri native Phlox amplifolia, they both can tolerate our hot, humid summers without getting powdery mildew. If they couldn’t get any better, they both have a sweet candy-like scent and bloom for months on end.
Like designer dogs, Super Plants combine many of your favorite traits into one plant. One I particularly like is Agastache ‘Rosie Posie,’ which provides bright, fuschia-pink flowers beginning in early summer that won’t stop until fall. Drought tolerant? Check. Deer and rabbit resistant? Check. Butterflies and hummingbirds go crazy for this one, which is why I love this variety.
Lavender ‘Superblue’ also provides long blooms that are distasteful to deer and rabbits. ‘Superblue’ will provide armfuls of heavily scented blooms all summer. This compact variety reaches only 10-12” tall and wide, making it perfect for edging or in containers.
‘Fire Island’ is one of the more vigorous of the Fern Leafed Bleeding Heart family. Puffy lipstick-red heart-shaped flowers bloom in abundance over blue-green ferny foliage that deer and rabbits dislike. Because these flowers are sterile they bloom much longer than other varieties.
Super Plants also means super-sized blooms and foliage. For starters, how about a Hosta the size of a kiddie pool? This blue ruffle-leafed Hosta ‘Humpback Whale’ can reach 8 feet in diameter. I really love the color it adds year-round to my shade garden. One my favorite imports is the aptly-named Japanese Painted Fern ‘Godzilla.’ It’s a true monster, reaching 3 feet tall and 6 feet wide. Like all Japanese Painted Ferns deer tend to leave it alone. If you’re looking for the Alton Giant of Astilbes, ‘Mighty Pip’ could be the largest of all. Soft pink fluffy flowers shoot up past 4 feet in height. Like many other Super Plants, the ferny foliage is deer and rabbit resistant.
Sometimes selective breeding can produce something wholly unique. Clematis ‘Sapphire
Indigo’ is truly singular. It is a cross between a shrubby clematis and a vining one. ‘Sapphire Indigo’ can be trained up a trellis to grow about 4’ tall, but if left on its own it will grow into a 3’ by 3’ weed smothering mound. It will also cascade down walls or containers. Dark purple flowers fade indigo blue. It keeps this show up for months, blooming June through September.
Bigger isn’t always better when it comes to Super Plants. Sometimes Super Small is superb! For example, ‘Pixie Grapes’ reach only 20” tall at maturity. These dwarf grapevines provide amazing miniature clusters of delicious grapes with few seeds. Plants can be grown in a pot and taken inside in the winter or can be planted in the ground, coming back year after year. One of my favorite ‘miniature’ plants is the ‘Little Annie’ coneflower, the smallest variety available. Reaching only 8-10″ tall, ‘Little Annie’ bursts with bright pink mini flowers starting early summer. Sterile flowers will keep blooming almost until we get a frost.
These are some of my favorite Super Plants. What are yours?
Abby Lapides Elliott is owner and a speaker at Sugar Creek Gardens in Kirkwood, MO. She has degrees from the University of Missouri, and is a member of the Landscape and Nursery Associatioin of Greater St. Louis.