Pros and amateurs let you in on their greatest garden find that actually thrived in our miserably hot summer

What’s your favorite new plant?  We asked local gardeners and experts to share their newest finds so we could share them with you. Maybe you’ll discover a new plant to love in their lists.

By Mary Lynn Bruny

Last summer was challenging, even for the most passionate gardener. Sizzling record-high temperatures and near-drought conditions made it hard to keep plants alive, let alone allow them to thrive.

Yet even during this scorching season, a few gorgeous great performers made it all worthwhile. We asked local gardening experts and enthusiasts to look back on the season and identify their newest favorite plants to share with readers. Here’s what they said.

Fairmount Proserpine Rose  (Rosa ‘Fairmount Proserpine’)

delightful_roseWhen you’re in the nursery business and constantly trying out new plants, it’s impossible to have just one favorite! So I flipped a few coins and came up with a wonderful rose to talk about. Fairmount Proserpine is the ‘study name’ of this heirloom that rosarian John Starnes found growing at Denver’s Fairmount Cemetery, where it had survived untold decades with no care or attention. It has just about every great quality you could ask for in a rose: gorgeous, full, fuchsia-pink flowers, a strong romantic ‘old rose’ fragrance, repeat bloom, compact growth habit, great disease-resistance and cold-hardiness to USDA Zone 5 with almost no winter die back. We planted one in the rose display garden at our nursery, where it endures ferocious sun and wind and a less-than-ideal watering schedule without complaint. We fertilize twice a year with Mile-Hi Rose Feed and alfalfa meal. Plant Fairmount Proserpine where it receives full sun or morning sun/afternoon shade, near a path or patio where its delicious fragrance can be easily enjoyed.”

—Eve Reshetnik Brawner, co-owner, Harlequin’s Gardens Sustainable Nursery, Boulder

Pee Wee Oak Leaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Pee Wee’)

delightful_pee“This plant just continues to amaze and impress. Large, 5-inch, oak leaf-shaped leaves start out mid-green in spring and turn a brilliant maroon-bronze in fall. The flowers are incredible! Large pyramidal white clusters usually bloom in midsummer (last summer they bloomed in early June!) and turn dusky-pink about five weeks later, eventually drying to a golden brown. The dried particles hold through winter and look great with a little snow on top. The bark is cinnamon-colored and peels a bit, which I like. I had a Black-Laced Elder (Sambucus nigra) next to it, which looked great, and I also like it with gray-blue sage leaves and Blue Star Juniper underneath. The Pee-Wee variety is about 4-by-4 feet, perfect for my smaller garden. It likes morning sun and needs moderate water, and otherwise all I do is fertilize it once in spring. Mine is in a fairly protected area, which helps keep snow and heavy winds away. I planted lots of tulip bulbs underneath and nearby this fall, so it should look great come spring.”

—Deborah Malden, gardener, Boulder
(Deborah’s garden was  showcased in the 2012 Whittier- Mapleton Garden Tour) 

Autumn Embers Muhly  (Muhlenbergia reverchonii ‘Autumn Embers’)

delightful_autumn“My favorite plant this past year was unquestionably Autumn Embers Muhly, introduced to horticulture by Scott and Lauren Ogden through High Country Gardens. This incredible grass makes a trim tuft of green all spring and summer. But by August, it erupts into a perfect hemisphere of luminous, shimmering, glowing, gorgeous purplish flowers that are simply amazing. I think it is the most beautiful grass I have ever seen! It seems to need a bit of water to perform at its best, as it does not look so dazzling in my un watered xero scape. But in the right spot and conditions, WATCH OUT! This is a diva of a grass that should be in every sunny garden as far as I’m concerned!”

—Panayoti Kelaidis, senior curator and director of outreach at Denver Botanic Gardens”

Wate’s Golden Pine (Pinus virginiana ‘Wate’s Golden’)

delightful_wate“Wate’s Golden Pine is a medium-sized evergreen (up to 15 feet) that we use in its natural growing habit as well as a sculpted specimen tree. Its unique attribute is that it has an amazing color change in the winter months. Most of the year the needles are a soft medium-green; then they turn a brilliant golden-yellow. They are best used as a specimen garden piece, or for complementary color or structure. For example, they work well in a rock garden with a sculpted branch hanging over a large boulder, perhaps surrounded by a complementary ground cover. The winter color looks great with maroon and gray-blue plants, such as Crimson Barberry and Globe Blue Spruce. It’s not uncommon for this pine to defoliate some after the first year from transplant shock. Once established, however, it has low water requirements and thrives in part shade to high-exposure areas.”

—Scott Deemer, president of Outdoor Craftsmen, Erie

Lime Green Nicotiana (Nicotiana alata ‘Lime Green’) 

delightful_lime“Last year I made the great discovery of the small annual Nicotiana, lime-colored and beautiful. My gardener, Sandy Swegel, suggests it for gardens that have a lot of white and need something else bright, but not yellow. After a season it became a “must have.” Shrubby, covered with prominent, delicate, trumpet-shaped, five-petaled flowers, Nicotiana is a great foil for lavender and a large variety of purple flowers such as Veronica, Platycodon and Bellflowers. It’s also a great front planting for all the purple Clematis growing on my fences. Hummingbirds love it! Its leaves don’t “brown-edge” in heat, and the plants bloom all summer. It grows 12 to 15 inches high in full light to partial shade and likes to be watered, but doesn’t need wet feet. The bonus: It self-seeds and blooms wherever it lands in the same season. We’ve got a number of them in places far from the parent plant. Yet it has a tidy habit, and if it is in the wrong spot, a simple pull and it’s feeding the compost heap. This is a great, easy flower that even does well when you cut it and bring it in.”

—Sheila Dierks, author and Ecumenical priest, Boulder
(Sheila’s garden was featured in the summer 2012 issue of Boulder County Home & Garden Magazine)

‘Distant Drums’ Rose (Rosa ‘Distant Drums’)

delightful_distant“At the end of the 2011 spring selling season at a local nursery, a Griffith Buck rose was sitting all lonely in the middle of the rose house. So I took the forlorn rose home and planted it in a pretty ideal place. ’Distant Drums’ has graciously been described as ‘one of the most unique colorings in rosedom’ and a ‘symphony of colors.’ It has 4-inch blooms with ruffled petals that are brownish in the center and mauve to orchid-pink toward the edges. A bushy rose, I think mine will be around 2 feet tall and wide. Now, I showed this rose to one lady and she said, ‘Eew!’ because of the brownish color. But to me, this is a truly unique and beautiful rose. Griffith Buck roses, which are bred in Iowa to be hardy and disease-resistant, have generally done very well for me here without spraying, and come back vigorously even after severe winters.”

—Lynn Nichols, senior instructor at the Department of Theatre and Dance, CU Boulder (Lynn’s garden was featured in the spring 2012 issue of Boulder County Home & Garden Magazine).

Rex Begonia (Begonia rex)

delightful_rex“By far my favorite plant is the shade-loving Rex Begonia. The variety of foliage designs available with this type of begonia is nearly infinite. Getting most plants to flower is difficult; keeping them flowering can be even more difficult. Both of these problems are not an issue with the many types of Rex Begonias, as their beauty is all in the leaves. Given that they are slow-growing, their water uptake is also very slow, making them very easy to care for. I went without watering 50 different Rex Begonias for 11 days and not a single plant slightly wilted! Because they are tropical in origin, I always move my begonias indoors for the winter, where they outperform almost any other houseplant.”

—Thad Johnson, owner of Yatahai Gardens
(Yatahai Gardens was featured in the spring 2012 issue of Boulder County Home & Garden Magazine)

Agastache, Hyssop, Hummingbird Mint (Agastache)

delightful_agastache“Agastache is my new favorite perennial. I have three varieties of it, and I love each one. I adore their long-lived showy blooms that arrive in late summer when most other plants are fading. This sun-loving plant is incredibly hardy and very drought tolerant. In fact, I’ve killed a few of them with too much water and attention. Depending on the variety, Agastaches are about 1.5 to 3 feet high and wide, but the larger types really steal the show. Their fragrance is more intense than any perennial I’ve encountered; I think my favorite one is ‘Double Bubble Mint.’ The purple blooms of this variety are fabulous. If I can sit long enough to enjoy my garden—rather than pulling weeds and trimming—I’m rewarded with the sight of hummingbirds swarming over my Agastaches!”

—Bobbi Carlin, gardener, Boulder

Fan Flower (Scaevola aemula ‘Blue Wonder’)

delightful_fanMy newest favorite plant is Fan Flower. It’s a fantastic annual for pots, baskets and barrels, as it has long cascading tendrils that are absolutely loaded with pretty lavender blooms all season long. It likes a sunny spot, with six to eight hours of sun a day, and it’s fairly drought tolerant. I watered mine every other day during the summer’s constant 90-degree days. One time I forgot and it wilted horribly, but after watering, the blooms bounced back beautifully. You will love this hardy plant from the land down under!”

—Carol Brock, editor of Boulder County Home & Garden Magazine

Mexican Heather, False Heather (Cuphea hyssopifolia)

delightful_mexican“This very sturdy, almost stiff plant has a wide V-shaped habit, beautiful glossy leaves and vivid purple flowers; it’s also available in white and pink. It stands up to immense amounts of heat and sun, but will grow in partial shade. I like Mexican Heather for its shape, hardiness and profusion of bright purple flowers from late spring to frost. This year I planted two of them in a rectangular Italian clay pot on the western end of my deck, which gets baking afternoon sun despite an arbor of grape and trumpet vines. I perched the planter on the deck rail, where it provided a perfect privacy screen when people were sitting down—the planter is a foot tall, and the plants themselves were well over a foot. Next year I plan to extend the deck-rail screen by adding two more Mexican heathers in another rectangular pot. It’s an annual that’s evergreen in zones 7 and warmer.”

—Mary Jarrett, editor of Boulder Magazine

Pussy-toes (Antennaria dioica ‘Rubra’)

delightful_pushi“My newest favorite plant is Pussy-toes, planted en masse as a ground cover. At Wild by Design, we plant native gardens designed to reestablish Boulder County wildlife like birds, butterflies, insects and native bees. When I was looking for a beautiful native ground cover, I decided to think outside the box. In order for butterflies and caterpillars to thrive, they need large areas of a single plant. I love the look of Pussy-toes, and it’s a low-water beautiful native plant that supports local wildlife, including the American Painted Lady butterfly caterpillar. You can achieve the look of a ground cover by planting large numbers of individual plants 8-inches apart. The silver-blue-green color is wonderful for highlighting the silver-blue lichen on moss rocks. I have people stopping me on the street asking if this beautiful ground cover is a type of thyme. They are always surprised when I tell them that it is Pussy-toes.”

—Mimi Elmore, garden designer at Wild by Design, Lyons

Favorita Tomato

delightful_tomato“My favorite plant is a cherry tomato new to me called Favorita. I spent most of the hot summer days working outside on the irises. Detouring through the vegetable garden and ‘grazing’ was a great pick-me-up. Not much beats a sun-ripe tomato, and for snacking, cherry types are tops. Favorita started producing very flavorful small fruits early and was still going strong through the fall. The plant put out an incredible amount of fruit, but stayed much more compact than some other super-producing cherry types. I like Sun Golds and Yellow Pears, but they always threaten to take over my tiny vegetable garden with their ungainly growth habits. Aside from great eating, I enjoy the ornamental aspects of tomato plants—bright yellow flowers and colorful fruits set off by lovely deep-green leaves. Favorita scores high for ornamental appeal, with cascading red fruits and good healthy green leaves. And I have to admit, I’m a bit addicted to the olfactory high I get just from brushing by those aromatic leaves.”

—Catherine Long Gates, owner/manager of Long’s Gardens, Boulder
(Long’s Gardens was featured in the spring 2012 issue of Boulder County Home & Garden Magazine)