It used to be that winter was the season when you received seed and plant catalogs in the mail. You could sit by the window and watch the rain (or snow in colder climates) while leisurely leafing through your catalogs, dreaming about the garden you would grow in the spring.
Yet fewer catalogs are coming to your door these days. Companies have discovered that it is both cheaper and flashier to advertise their plants on Web sites or, in some cases, on compact discs.
I just received a CD from Ball, one of the largest seed companies in the United States. This CD includes pictures of new plants you can expect to see in nurseries in the weeks and months ahead.
I learned there are trailing impatiens with orange, fuchsia or lavender flowers and, more astonishing, trailing snapdragons in crimson red, purple, pink, yellow and white.
There is also a new scaevola, called “Zigzag,” whose fan-shaped leaves are striped in purple and white, a “Black and Blue” salvia whose royal blue flowers erupt from jet black calyces, a “Baby Blue” heliotrope that is a pleasant departure from the conventional purple-flowered variety, and Angelonia, a new introduction touted as a “summer snapdragon.”
One of the most fascinating plants for a hanging basket would appear to be a new selection called Dichondra “Silver Falls.” Dichondra may be familiar to seasoned denizens of the Valley. At one time, Dichondra was widely used as a lawn substitute. Dichondra was highly touted as an emerald green ground cover because of its fast-growing horizontal stolons – the same above-ground runners you see on Bermuda grass and strawberry plants. Dichondra also had attractive, tightly woven heart-shaped leaves, and it required only an occasional mowing to keep in bounds. However, Dichondra was highly susceptible to insect pests and fungus and did a poor job keeping out weeds. Homeowners, on their hands and knees, would spend several hours a week just weeding and preening their dichondra patch.
Dichondra “Silver Falls,” which is meant for hanging baskets or as a ground cover, possesses all the appealing characteristics of its failed cousin without any of the drawbacks. Imagine long chains of silvery green leaves spilling out of baskets or pots placed on your partial-sun balcony or patio – with no weeds or pests to worry about.
There is increased emphasis, these days, on ground covers with colorful leaves, especially for shady locations. The CD I received touts several “accent plants” that serve as wonderful alternatives to the impatiens and begonias used to cover the ground ad nauseam in partial sun or shady locations.
One of these ground covers is Cuban mint (Plectranthusamboinicus). It has triangular foliage and requires little water. Depending on the variety, this foliage may be bi-colored, tri-colored or edged in white.
Joyweeds (Alternanthera species) may be the most unforgettable colorful-leafed accent/ground cover plants that are just now making their way into our gardens. Aptly named because of the happy surprises they give upon first seeing them, joyweeds may have yellow and red, bronze or deep purple foliage, often with distinctively colored veins or margins. Joyweeds, being of tropical origin, would be grown in Valley gardens as spring and summer annuals.