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Tried Growing These?

Anne Jaeger


Well, will you take a look at that! Instead of sending up flowers front and center, you find tassels of burgundy blooms hanging underneath the umbrella-shaped leaves on the strangest new plant of the year. Yes, ‘Kaleidoscope’ is one freaky plant. Then run your hands through ‘Fiber Optic’ a grass with a bad-hair-day that can’t be controlled by a comb or pitch fork. The plants are brand new to the market this year and the latest on the “Must Have” list.

Unlike last year’s supermodels, these plants are beautiful, fun, and fairly easy too. ‘Fiber Optic’ and ‘Kaleidoscope’ mesmerized crowds at the Yard, Garden and Patio and the Home and Garden shows this year. ‘Kaleidoscope’ podophyllum, commonly called the Mayapple, is actually an old herb used as a remedy for warts. (A fact which doesn’t paint a pretty picture and is kinda like saying supermodel Cindy Crawford has a “mole” on her face instead of a “beauty mark”. After all, it’s not nice to find ugly things to say about stuff just to make your other plants feel better.) Anyway, in the summer, the top of the ‘Kaleidoscope’ leaves shimmer with bronze and silver. The pattern really does replicate the view inside the child’s toy.

‘Kaleidoscope’ is as exotic as ‘Prairie Sun’ is simple.  The flowers on ‘Prairie Sun’ are bright, sunshiny yellow. Growers hybridized ‘Prairie Sun’ with city gardeners in mind.  The flowers may be four inches wide but the plant itself is smaller, more compact and grows anywhere the sun shines.  Although this black-eyed Susan sports a green, not a black eye, there’s a new heuchera (Say: hugh-ker-a) called ‘Obsidian’ with really black leaves. ‘Obsidian’ can take some shade and has those black leaves 365 days a year.

‘Prairie Sun’ and another plant named ‘Purple Majesty’ swept the All American Selection trials in 200 test gardens across the country.  ‘Purple Majesty’ won the prestigious Gold Medal Flower award, which is given once every ten years or so by the AAS. The leaves and culm or stem of ‘Purple Majesty’ look like a stalk of corn, but it isn’t.  The fluffy caterpillar seed heads look like a cattail growing in wetlands, but it isn’t. ‘Purple Majesty’ is ornamental millet. The same kind of millet you’d feed a bird.  It’s just that ‘purple bird seed’ pennisetum doesn’t sound as interesting, now does it?

One thing is for sure; it is one plant you can’t miss in the garden. ‘Purple Majesty’ is big; it grows 3 to 5 feet tall. (A very “architectural” plant as they say in the garden biz.) The leaves are extraordinary too. They start out green and then change to an intense mahogany/purple color after about three weeks of sunshine. Owner Rose Marie Nichols McGee of Nichols Garden Nursery in Millersburg, Oregon describes ’Purple Majesty’ as “tall, dark and handsome”.  A great compliment for the garden or the gardener as the case may be.

So, if you’re looking for new plants that come highly recommended, 2003 is growing some beauties that promise a great year for plants and plant people.