A Gift for Gardeners

That's what gardeners had to say about last year's first-ever Outdoor Living Extravaganza events in Chicago and Boston. This year Proven Winners is bringing this enjoyable and educational gardening seminar to additional cities across North America.

You'll learn from experts about creative new ways to use color, the easiest ways to grow plant varieties, how to put together exceptional containers, and much more.

P. Allen Smith, The Today Show’s gardening expert, will be at some locations with fun and practical advice, and later you can join him for book signings and photos.

In addition, you'll be treated to a goody bag of exciting gifts-including a plant; you'll enjoy delicious lunch, beverages, and snacks; and you'll have plenty of chances to win great prizes. Even your non-gardening friends will enjoy this relaxed and entertaining look at what’s new in outdoor decor, Proven Winners style.

February 6 - Dallas, TX


February 20 - Lake City, UT


P. Allen Smith
Kerry Meyer
Carmen Johnston

March 6 - Chicago / Rolling Meadows, IL


Kerry Meyer
Tim WoodTBD

March 13 - Minneapolis / Park, MN


Amy SitzeJohn Gaydos

March 26 - Vancouver / Rosedale, BC Canada

and March 27

P. Allen Smith
Brian Minter
Ingrid Hoff
John Gaydos

April 24 - Boston / Norwood, MA

P. Allen Smith
Kerry Meyer
Tim Wood
Amanda Thomsen

What People are saying ......

I attended your PW seminar in Chicago, this weekend. Loved it! It was a wonderful day! Thank you!Nancy from Wisconsin

I was at your Chicago show over the weekend and I would like to compliment you on a great time! All of the speakers were wonderful and I really learned from them. I would love to attend another show! I just wish it wasn't winter in Chicago I am ready to attack the yard! Thank you for an enjoyable Saturday! Kathy from Illinois

My husband and I were among the fortunate gardeners who attended the Outdoor Living Extravaganza in Chicago yesterday. Thank you, thank you, thank you for an inspiring, fun, and informational day. We've been serious gardeners for over 40 years and have never experienced a garden seminar that could even come close to the experience you provided. We hope this will become an annual event. Again, thank you for a wonderful day. Kim from Wisconsin


The first 100 to register prior to the New Year will receive a FREE 2010 Proven Winners calendar and save $10.00.All those registering before the first of the year will receive $10 off their ticket. $75.00 per person before January 1, 2010. $85.00 per person starting January 1, 2010.

Abracadabra Hydrangea

Regular people look at plants quite differently than your typical horticulturist. That’s why I get a kick out of reading comments by Mike Dirr where he gushes about the attractiveness of the bark on some particular shrub. As if the typical homeowner is going to actually crouch down under a shrub and exclaim “Wow, now that’s awesome bark.” From my experience, the public does not get overly excited about bark (that is unless it has in-your-face bark like a Paper Bark Birch).

I get excited about bark, but I have to remind myself that most people won’t even notice. Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Nigra’ (Syn.: H. macrophylla 'Mandshurica') is a good example. It’s a cool plant. I like it but it’s never been a big seller. It has very attractive back stems, but the feature is obscured by the leaves, so few people ever notice.

When I first saw the Abracadabra Series of Hydrangea in Germany, I got so excited I could hardly contain myself. That’s because, for the first time ever, I actually felt that the average shopper could get excited about bark. What makes these plants so unique is that they have internodes (the spacing between the leaves) that are large enough to give you a real good view of the dark, glossy black stems. Of course it doesn’t hurt that the plants also have funky blooms that are both massive and richly colored. I honestly think that these plants have a cool factor that will make them as popular as lucky bamboo. As a pot plant they would make great centerpiece on a table. You’d actually be able to see the person across the table from you.

Abracadabra Star has massive lace-cap blooms with hot pink flowers. The stems are straight and strong.

Abracadabra Orb is a mop-head hydrangea. The flowers emerge a blend of peach and green then mature to a deep pink. As with Abracadabra Star, the bloom size is massive. The sepals are thick in texture and again are held up on strong, upright stems.

Cool Conifers

The great thing about dwarf conifers is that they require so little work to keep them looking so good. Just plant them and enjoy them. They add color and structure in the winter months. I like varieties that add interesting color or texture as they stand out in the garden. Here are a few of my favorites.
Thuja plicata 'Gruene Kugel' is a great little Western cedar. It requires little to no pruning and it has very nice shinny foliage and dark color.

Thuja occidentalis 'Linesville' is a soft, rounded, juvenile plant discovered by Joe Stupka of Pennsylvannia. Also sold under the name Mr. Bowling Ball.

Juniperus horizontalis 'Gold Fever' was introduced by Iseli Nursery. A colorful, low growing plant that benefits from dappled sun.

Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Little Keon' in a small rouned plant with foliage similar to 'Boulevard.' Blue foliage is always a great additon to the garden.

Thuja plicata 'Whipcord' is a very cooling looking shrub. The species has good deer resistance.

This is just one of the funny, sheared conifers that can be found at Iseli Nursery. While I'm not into shearing plants myself, you have to respect someone that can do it this well. It does make you smile.

Caryopteris is not a Spiraea

It is unfortunate that Caryopteris has the common name of Blue Spirea for it is not a Spiraea and it’s just plain confusing. How this came about I do not know as they are not even in the same family; Spiraea is in the Roseaceae family while Caryopteris is in the Verbenaceae family.

The genus Caryopteris is comprised of roughly 15 species, most being native to Asia. Only are few of these species are grown in North America as ornamentals. The majority of the ornamental selections sold here are hybrids; Caryopteris x cladonensis (pronounced Cary-op-ter-is clan-don-en-sis) which is a hybrid between Caryopteris incana and Caryopteris mongholica. Unless otherwise noted, the following information here after refers to this hybrid.

Caryopteris is a fall flowering shrub with rich blue to purple-blue flowers. While it is hardy to USDA zone 5, it is typically a die-back shrub in the North, behaving much like a Buddleia. While the plant makes woody stems, they are tender and die back during the winter. As the plant grows back quickly in the spring and its flower buds (and flowers) are formed on new wood so the plant does not miss a beat.

Culturally there are three things necessary to grow a nice plant. First off, it loves full sun. It will grow in partial shade but it will not look happy or flower nearly half as well as a plant in full sun. In addition, the yellow leafed cultivars have much better color in full sun. In partial shade the leaves will appear a dull, washed out green. The next thing to know is that Caryopteris needs well drained soil. It will not tolerate heavy, wet clay soils, or at least not for long. People often blame the plant for not being winter hardy because their plant did not make it through the winter, but the real culprit is wet soil. Well drained soil is a must. Once established Caryopteris is very drought tolerant and requires even less water. My final bit of cultural advice deals with pruning – as the plant typically dies back in the winter, you should only have to prune the plant once and that is in the spring after the plant starts to grow. Simply cut the plant back to wood with active sprouts. If you wish you can give the plant a slight shearing in early summer to bulk of the body of the plant. Fall pruning is not recommended, as it stimulates the plant to grow when it should be going dormant - the result can be a dead plant the following spring.

Caryoteris is a wonderful garden plant because it offers a mass of colorful blue flowers in late summer when few other plants are blooming. It’s a great source of pollen for bees and butterflies. Its aromatic foliage is turn off to deer so it rarely bothered by Bambi and her four legged friends.

There has been a flurry of Caryopteris breeding over the past 15 years and we have never had such wonderful plants for the garden. Here are a few of the newest cultivars to hit the market.

Petit Bleu (‘Minbleu’) is one of my favorites as it is a semi-dwarf plant with very tight branching and a nice mounded habit. The flower color is a very dark blue and the foliage is very dark and glossy which makes a great background for the flowers.

Sunshine Blue (‘Jason’) is a yellow leafed form of Caryopteris incana. It is a larger plant than most (3-4’) with masses of clear blue flowers that appear a bit earlier than other varieties. This English selection has very good hardiness and is more adaptable to heavier soils. It was a vast improvement over ‘Worcester Gold’ which can look a bit ratty by mid summer.
Lil' Miss Sunshine ('Janice') is new variety that I hybridized using Petit Bleu and Sunshine Blue. This plant has be best attributes of both parents as it is hardy, compact with glossy bright yellow foliage. The abundant flowers are a rich clear blue. It should be available in summer of 2010.

‘Sterling Silver’ is a new selection from the renowned English plantsman Peter Catt. It is a silver leafed selection that will most certainly replace 'Longwood Blue' once it is more widely available.

There has been a rash of variegated forms released in the last few years. Two of the better looking plants are ‘Summer Sorbet’ which has green and yellow leaves, and ‘White Surprise’ has silvery-green leaves adorned with a thin cream margin of variegation. As with most variegated plants, these will throw the occasional non-variegated shoot. Simply prune and remove these shoots as they appear

Dr. Shim - The Mike Dirr of Korea

Some of you may have read one of my older posts on plant hunting in Korea. It was one of my greatest adventures and it explains how I met Dr. Shim. Well Dr. Shim just spent three days with me at Spring Meadow Nursery. He came to see some of his new Hibiscus syriacus selections that we are evaluating for potential introduction. Dr. Shim developed Lil’ Kim Hibiscus – the first dwarf rose of Sharon. This is a great little shrub that unfortunately is still hard to find. If you can find it give it a try!

I like to call Dr. Shim the Mike Dirr or Korea. For roughly 30 years he was the Professor of Ornamental Horticulture at Sungkyunkwan University, in Suwan just outside of Seoul. Just like Dr. Dirr, Dr. Shim has roots at the University of Illinois. This is where he got his Ph.D., and where spent a year as a visiting professor. He is now retired and spends his time golfing and breeding Hibiscus, Forsythia and Korean Tiger Lilies.

Dr. Shim got into horticulture as a young boy. His family owned a pear orchard. He told me that one of his first jobs was bagging pears. In Korea, pear growers bag the fruit while still on the tree to protect them from insects and disease. Ten women would make bags out of old news papers and each tree would require up to 500 bags. You can image it took a good deal of time to bag every pear in the orchard yet this did not dissuade Dr. Shim from continuing on in horticulture. He went on to study post harvest physiology, just as I had. After working for three and a half years on his Ph.D. in Champaign we retuned home to teach pomology in Korea. In time, his position was changed to ornamental horticulture. The rest is history.

While traveling, looking for new plant is great fun; it’s also a pleasure when breeders come to visit me. We spent two days touring the nursery, looking over new plants, scouting the seed beds for treasures and most importantly evaluating his 20 or so cultivars we have under evaluation. I’m happy to report there are many fine plants and I suspect a few will make it to market in the coming years. The hard part will be narrowing the plants down to the best three or four cultivars. His dwarf Hibiscus selections look great and have the potential to widen the Lil’ Kim line with a broader color range.

As I’ve said before I have a great job. I get to see really cool plants long before anyone can buy them. But the best part of my job is meeting the special people that develop these plants. Dr. Shim is more than just a special plant breeder. He' is a special friend.

New Plants: Netherlands 09

I just got back from a week in the Netherlands looking at new plants. Here are a few that I found interesting. Which do you like?

This is a greenhouse bench filled with Lo & Behold 'Blue Chip' Buddleia. It will be introduced in Europe next spring. I've never seen so many butterflies in one place in all my life. The Boskoop Royal Horticlture Society has it awared it a gold medal.

Chasmanthium 'River Mist' is acutally an American plant but it won a Gold Medal from the Boskoop Royal Horticulture Society. It was developed by Itsaul plants.

Echinacea 'Irresistible' is just one of may new Coneflowers on the market. Below is a vase shot of one assortment now on the market.

This is a new larged variety of Hibiscus moscheutos called GH7 or Guido Oak Red.

This is one the the best red leafed grasses I've ever seen. It's not hardy but can be used as an annual in the North. It's called Pennisetum setaceum 'Fireworks' and I love the contrast with the green interior leaves.

Pretty Much Picasso petunia is available here in the US but it has made a big splash in Europe as well. It won a metal from the Boskoop Roayl Horiculture Society for one of the best new plants for 2009.

Invincibelle Spirit Hydrangea Video

I just bought a flip video recorder. What a great little device. This is my first attempt in using it - I suspect I should be using a tripod but I was very excited to use it and share with you what's looking good in the garden today. I've shared pictures of Invincibelle Spirit Hydrangea before but video seems to give you a better idea of what the plant looks like. If you have a blog or a website you might consider a flip. It films in HD and is very reasonably priced. Best of all it's easy to bring along so you're more likely to use it. Check out the quality of this video.

As for the Hydrangea, it will be available at better garden centers in spring of 2010. We're pretty excited about the plant. It appears that the flowers are larger than anticipated. We're also excited that the plant will help raise money for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

If you're a garden center retailer, think about how you can utilize this plant to raise even more money for breast cancer research. This spring Chalet Nursery and Garden Center featured this plant during their spring workships. They raffled off plants and donated the proceeds to the BCRF. Fruit Basket Flowerland did the same. The Morton Arboretum auctioned off a plant for $1,600. What could your garden center do for this great cause? Get your staff together and make a plan for next spring. Conact a Proven Winners ColorChoice Gold Key grower to purchase plants. Learn more at http://invincibellespirit.net

East to Grow Roses

If you subscribe to this blog than you now Dale and I visited with Chris Warner the Oso Easy rose breeder while in England. Getting to his Shropshire home was not easy even with a GPS unit. English addresses are a tad bit strange and the GPS does not like them. Thank goodness for cell phones!

Chris Warner in his rose breeding greenhouse

It was a great pleasure to visit with Chris and the get a better feel for how he breeds and selects his roses. For example - he leaves any diseased seedlings in his greenhouse seed beds so there is plenty of fungal inoculum available to infect and show which seedlings have the greatest disease resistance. We got to see all phases of his testing and selection. It is in the later stages in the process where Chris gets ruthless about culling out any diseased seedlings. Still even at these stages there are old rose plants near by to infect any susceptible roses.

One of Chris's most disease resistant roses in the Oso Easy line is a bright and cheerful red rose with a yellow center called Urban Legend. This rose is so healthy and floriferous it has been awarded the Lord Burleigh Award for Best Disease Resistant Rose, the Chauncey Beadle Award for Best Shrub Rose at the 2018 Biltmore International Rose Trials at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, N.C. and the American Rose Society Award of Excellence. Now I have to be totally honest with you when it come to this rose. When it was time to name this rose, we considered several other names, including Barbed Wire, Brinks and ADT. These names may seen a bit strange, but you have to understand this is a very thorny rose, and because so it is perfect for planting under windows in high crime areas. There is a real need for security plants and the names were our attempt to position this rose for that very purpose. We settled on Urban Legend which speaks to it usefulness in fighting crime but also to its award winning disease resistance and flower power.  

A container shot of this roes sent to us by a customer in Texas

Urban Legend on the left and nock out on the right in out test garden. 

Chris has also made a name for himself with his hybrid Hulthemia Persica rose breeding sold under the series name Ringo Roses. Ringo Yellow is a magically colored rose with yellow, red pink and white in the bloom. His Ringo roses are substantially hardier and more disease resistant than anything else in the catagory. Ringo has proven it self by winning awards at the Hauge Rose Trials, first place at the Lyon Rose Trials and Gold at the Gold Standard Rose trials.      

The original Ringo Rose from Chris Warner

Ringo is sold under the Proven Winners brand in the USA

Ringo® Double Pink (Rosa 'Chewdelight), also a Hague Rose Trial First Class Certificate winner, comes with a fuchsia pink flowers, a dark magenta center and having 15 to 25 petals. It too has been a worldwide hit with rose growers. 

Ringo Double Pink rose flower

Ringo Double Pink did excellent in our container rose trial

It is always a pleasure to spend time taking plants with a plant breeder, but it is even more so with Chris. He has such a depth of knowledge and such great enthusiasm for roses and it is evident in his plant introductions. They are smart and elegant. Beautiful, yet useful. Healthy, yet happy. I cannot wait to return to Shropshire, England!

New and Interesting Plants seen in the UK

We'll I had a few moments to go through some of my pictures from England and gleened out a few to share. The first one is an English Oak (Quercus robur) tree we say along side the road. It was so large we just had to stop and get a picture. Turns out it has a name - The Big Belly Oak and is one of the largest in the country.

We had a chance to visit the Berberis traials at Wisely. I hope to revisit them in this blog at a later time but they had Sunjoy Gold Pillar Berberis 'Maria' there and it looked great. The color was bright and there was no mildew or bunring as with some of the other yellows.

This is a very nice Buddleia grown not for it's flowers but rather its silver foliage. I think Plant Haven offers it. It's called Silver Anniversary. It have white flowers but that's not the reason to grow it. It was developed by Peter Moore.

Another plant by Peter Moore is Choisya Goldfingers. What a pretty container plant for the patio. I suspect it's a good plant for California or Oregon but not for the rest of us. Still very stunning.

This is a variegated from of Hydrangea a. pet. with dusty variegation. It comes from Japan and I believe it's been patented but I forget the name.

Schizophraga is a relative of the climbing Hydrangea. This unusual selection has yellow blotches on the leaves. I kind of like it but I think many people would think it has chemical damage

I have always loved this shrub but have never had success growing it. It's Sophora davidii - a member of the pea family. This plant was loaded with blue flowers and was quite stunning.

Plants on Trial - Lonicera vines

It’s a shame that Honeysuckle vine has gotten a bad rap. Lonicera japonica, the Japanese Honeysuckle vine is to blame of course. It has proven to highly invasive, particularly in the South East. Birds love the fleshy fruit and deposit the seeds along fence rows and thus miles of fence lines in the East have been engulfed by this aggressive vine. As with most invasive plants, it is a regional issue. The USDA plant database shows it as being escaped in Michigan, however, I’ve never seen it to be a problem. The point is that there are many excellent vines in this genera that are well behaved and garden worthy depending upon where you live. In addition there are also native species that get neglected simply because of this guilt by association.

On my trip to England, I was fortunate enough to catch some of the early flowering varieties of Lonicera in bloom at the RHS trials in Wisley Gardens. The bright orange, red and yellow flowers drew me in and the thick, sweet fragrance lured me even closer and I ran from plant to plant clicking photos and sticking my nose into each bloom inhaling the rich aroma. These are twining vines and they need support to climb. They will not adhere to brick or bark as would ivy or climbing Hydrangea. And as a twining vines go these plants require more structural support than Wisteria or Clematis. At Wisley they loosely wrapped a tube of chicken wire around wooden poles with the vines planted in between the two. This worked brilliantly, as the British say.

It was a tad early to see the majority of these vines in flower, so what follows is a snapshot of some of the early flowering varieties.

The showiest plant in bloom was Lonicera x heckrotti (Goldflame Honeysuckle) which to the best of my knowledge is a hybrid that contains the genes of three species; our native Lonicera sempervirens, Lonicera etrusca a Meterianian species and L. implexa a species native to Africa. It is an everblooming vine with rose-pink tubular flowers adorned with an orange-yellow interior. The plants I sniffed were wonderfully sweet and intoxicating.

Lonicera x italica is another early bloomer. It too was fragrant but the blooms were not as showy as Goldflame.

Our native species Lonicera sempervirens was in flower. While it does not have the fragrance, I love the contrast between the intense orange-red flowers its attractive blue-green foliage. The flowers are more pendulous, more tubular than other and so you only get a slight glimpse of the yellow hues hidden within the tube.

Two Lonicera periclymenum (Woodbine Honeysuckle) cultivars were in flower. The cultivar ‘Munster’ sported yellow flowers with a hint of pink in the buds, while ‘La Gaserie’ was a lighter cream-yellow and pink in bud. Both plants had good fragrance. The cultivars ‘Belgica Select’ and ‘Graham Thomas’ were showing buds but were not in flower. The popular cultivar ‘Serotina’ was even further behind.

Lonicera x tellmanniana, Lonicera henryi, Lonicara x brownii and their cultivars were not yet in flower.

If you are interested in learning more about these interesting vines I would suggest you visit http://www.clematis.com.pl/wms/2494791.html. It is the website of ornamental vine expert and Clematis breeder Szczepan MarczyƄski.

I’ve visited Szczepan in Poland a few years ago and fortunately for me the Lonicera vines were in full bloom. Oh how I love fragrant plants.