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The new breed: this year's best plants, and how to use them in your garden.

Fashion shows and spring plant previews have one thing in common: showmanship that creates excitement and sets trends. When buyers show up in Paris or Milan to view the latest clothing lines, they try to identify the hot new looks. What colors feel fresh? What silhouettes catch the eye? Are styles drifting toward minimalism or ornamentation? And will this be the year something truly original appears on the runway and sets the industry abuzz?

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That is also the mindset of wholesale nursery buyers who visit pack trials (named for the containers that bedding plants are often sold in) held in California at major wholesale breeders and seed companies such as Ball, Goldsmith Seeds, and Proven Winners. The buyers scrutinize for color, shape, and level of detail. They look for the next new thing that will generate excitement among retail nurseries and home gardeners.

Which plants are creating a stir this year? We went to the shows to find out.

What's Hot

Five trends to watch in 2006: richer flower colors, patterned leaves, and a few surprises

Bold colors

You'll still be able to find delicate pastels this spring, if you want them. But flowers in more intense versions of these shades--the same colors you're finding in fashion--are now available, and they pack a lot more thrill. Think raspberry instead of blush. Eggplant over lilac. Dandelion yellow rather than primrose. Coral and pumpkin instead of peach.

Statuesque forms

It was probably inevitable--now that nearly all bedding plants are uniformly compact, the pendulum had to swing in the opposite direction. Whatever the reason, we're delighted to see the return of taller, beefier annuals and perennials for seasonal color. Standouts at the pack trials included Salvia 'Picante Purple' (see no. 4) and S. 'Mystic Spires Blue' (no. 6); and dianthus such as 'Bouquet Purple' (no. 5), tall enough (18-24 in.) to use for cut flowers.

Embellished leaves

Variegation is showing up everywhere. Coleus still rules, thanks to newcomers like the Kong series (see no. 7), with its huge leaves and brilliant patterns. The popularity of tropicals such as Acalypha, Alternanthera, and Iresine (no. 9) will continue to be strong. But variegation is also evident in more perennials, like the Heliopsis (no. 8), which sports mint green leaves netted with cream. Herbs and succulents are getting patterns too.

New "annuals"

Columbines are perennials, and foxgloves are biennials, but some of them don't know it. Breeders have altered them to perform more like annuals. That means they bloom earlier and more often; you can buy them in color and still successfully transplant them. Look for the Origami columbine series (see no. 11) and the Camelot foxglove series (no. 12), both bred by Goldsmith Seeds. And expect more of these transformations to come.

Novelties

Some plants that we saw at the shows didn't fit into neat categories--we just loved them. For example, a New Guinea impatiens ('Celebrette Strawberry Star'; see no. 13) with pansy-like blotches and another impatiens ('Fusion Glow'; no. 14) with snapdragon-like flowers. We also fell for golden Coreopsis 'Zamphir' (no. 15) for its unusual shape. Named for the master of the pan flute, it also gets our award for most artful cultivar name.

Ways to use the plants

1 Plant a mixed border

'Big Blonde' coleus has large leaves and a bold chartreuse color, which complement larger tropical perennials like orange-flowered bird of paradise. Zinnia 'Magellan Yellow' and Bracteantha bracteata 'Wallaby Flame' (bush strawflower) create warmth; Ageratum 'Leilani Blue' adds a cool note.

2 Quickly fill a pot

Cluster a Sunsatia 'Mango' nemesia from Proven Winners and Laguna 'Sky Blue' lobelia with dainty Pennisetum 'Fairy Tails' in a green-glazed pot.

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3 Mass a single variety for impact

'Bouquet Purple' dianthus blooms are vibrant in massed plantings (they're fragrant too). The PanAmerican introduction is also more heat-tolerant than older types, which allows it to bloom further into summer.

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4 Mix greens

A collection of sedums, with a fringe of golden lemon thyme for contrast, is a novel and easy-care option for a strawberry pot. The showy sedum at the top of the pot is S. alboroseum 'Medio-variegatum'.

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PHOTOGRAPHS BY THOMAS J. STORY

RELATED ARTICLE: Editors' picks

1. Hibiscus 'Largo Breeze'

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2. Calibrachoa 'Cabaret Purple'

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3. Zinnia 'Zowie! Yellow Flame'

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4. Salvia 'Picante Purple'

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5. Dianthus 'Bouquet Purple'

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6. Salvia 'Mystic Spires Blue'

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7. Coleus 'Kong Mosaic'

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8. Heliopsis 'Lorraine Sunshine'

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9. Iresine 'Blazin' Rose'

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10. African daisy (Osteospermum) 'Orange Symphony'

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11. Columbine (Aquilegia) 'Origami White'

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12. Foxglove (Digitalis) 'Camelot Rose'

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13. New Guinea impatiens 'Celebrette Strawberry Star'

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14. Impatiens 'Fusion Glow'

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15. Coreopsis 'Zamphir'

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RELATED ARTICLE: DESIGNER GENES

The next big thing

"I design a product that just happens to be a flower," plant breeder Todd Perkins says. "I envision what I want, then I go shopping for genes. If I can't find the ones I need, I'll mutate the genes I have as a last resort. Then I put them together into a package."

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If this seems like rarefied design, it is. Perkins develops new flower forms and colors for Goldsmith Seeds, a California-based company that ranks among the world's largest flower breeders. If you've ever grown annuals, chances are good that you've tried something from Goldsmith--and Perkins.

The "package" Perkins produces can be anything from a restyled line of zinnias to a sophisticated new collection of columbines. How does he come up with them? He starts by thinking ahead; it took 13 years to develop the Magellan series of zinnias. Perkins breeds all colors, but Goldsmith only releases the ones with the most "market potential," as determined by talking to retailers and gardeners.

Looking ahead, Perkins is working an a strain of pansies that have the toughness of violas, and he's got his eye on more salvias in an improved color range.--J.M.
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Article Details
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Author:Cohoon, Sharon; McCausland, Jim; Swezey, Lauren Bonar
Publication:Sunset
Geographic Code:1U800
Date:Mar 1, 2006
Words:1004
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