Beautiful new bloomers will brighten any outdoor living space

Spring is at hand and, soon, we’ll be lounging on the patio or deck instead of huddling indoors, hiding from the cold.

No plants we grow are enjoyed more frequently and intimately than those we use to enhance our outdoor living spaces. Container gardening is more popular than ever, according to the National Garden Bureau, but every season poses anew the age-old question: What should I plant this year?

We’ve been studying the garden catalogs and websites, looking for intriguing answers among the dozens of new specimens headed to garden centers and seed racks this spring.

Here’s a sneak peek at a baker’s dozen of the season’s most noteworthy newcomers.

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‘Cat’s Meow,’ paired with lavenderCourtesy of Proven Winners

Goof proof

There’s nothing wrong with easy. Get the blues (in a good way) with low-maintenance bloomers. ‘Cat’s Meow’ is a new variety of Nepeta x faasseniithat reblooms through the summer and grows only 12 inches to 18 inches tall. Attractive to bees, butterflies and hummingbirds, perennial nepeta is related to catnip but not as alluring to furballs.

Angelonia looks something like an annual snapdragon, but with bigger blossoms and a more compact habit — it’s one of my container favorites. ‘Wedgewood Blue’ laughs at heat and humidity, producing vertical spikes 18 inches tall, all summer long. Both plants are from Proven Winners; to find a local retailer.

Bright and bold

Interest in penstemons has exploded and with good reason. Handsome spikes of trumpet-like flowers are butterfly and hummingbird magnets. Expensive as plants, Syngenta’s ‘Arabesque Red’ can be grown from seed, flowering in 10 weeks. This All-America selection, which grows 24 inches tall, is perennial in our zone, so enjoy it again next year. Visit

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‘African Sunset’ petuniaAll-American Selection

Petunias are ever-popular workhorse annuals for containers and hanging baskets. Takii & Company’s ‘African Sunset’ is not your grandma’s demure little petunia. Blooming all summer in a striking shade of orange, this one won’t go unnoticed. It’s an All-America selection. If you can’t find plants, will fix you up with seeds.

Beat the heat

Many of today’s “designer annuals” drop when temperatures climb toward the triple digits. Heat-loving verbenas won’t flag. These annuals just keep pumping out fat clusters of tiny flowers in saturated shades. ‘Royale Plum Wine’ is a handsome new entry from Proven Winners; visit

The humble prairie wilding known as purple coneflower has gotten a glamorous makeover in recent years. We have to revert to the genus name, Echinacea, since yellow, scarlet and orange have boldly moved into the palette. ‘Cantaloupe Supreme’ is another winner, bred by wholesaler Terra Nova Nurseries and introduced by Blooms of Bressingham. For “where to buy” information,

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‘Touchdown Teak’ sedumTerra Nova Nurseries

Fancy foliage

More and more, I rely on colorful foliage to provide continuity through the season. I love sedums as utterly reliable perennials for sunny spots — nothing troubles them, not even deer. I have lust in my heart for ‘Touchdown Teak,’ newest in the low-growing (8-inch tall) Touchdown series. Rosy red flowers appear in late summer. Visitterranovanurseries.comand click on the “Home Gardeners” section to find a retailer.

Shade gardeners always feel color-deprived, yet there are spectacular foliage plants that bring joy to dimmer garden spots. ‘Garden Angel Blush’ is a good example of a begonia grown for leaf, not blossom. It makes an upright mound, 18 inches to 24 inches tall, and can be brought in for the winter. Also find information on this plant at

Up and up

Make the most of limited patio space by heading for the heights with flowering vines. Schizophragma is a mouthful, but it’s a refined perennial vine related to climbing hydrangea. It appreciates shade, as along a woodland or on a north-facing wall. In June and July, ‘Rose Sensation’ produces flower clusters with long-lasting, mottled-pink sepals.

Love honeysuckles, but hate the tendency of some to go rogue? ‘Scentsation’ is a new, extremely fragrant variety that blooms heavily from mid-spring to late summer. This is a hybrid of the European honeysuckle Lonicera periclymenum; however, it is not related to the rampant Japanese honeysuckle. Both vines are from Proven Winners; see website for retailers.

Carefree color

Ornamental grasses and compact shrubs make great additions to the patio garden, in the soil or in a pot. Could you ask for a more dramatic plant than ‘Fireworks’ pennisetum? An annual grass, it grows up to 30 inches tall and makes quite a statement. It’s completely trouble-free.

The big disappointment with many mop-head hydrangeas is the iffiness of bloom — plants are cold-hardy, but buds often are not. Meet Hydrangea serrata, which doesn’t have this issue. ‘Tiny Tuff Stuff’ grows 18 inches to 24 inches tall and reblooms through the summer, with pink or blue blossoms. Charming! Both selections are from Proven Winners.

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‘Bam’ basilNational Garden Bureau

Taste treat

You’ve got to have a pot of basil tucked into a sunny corner of the patio — what’s a tomato to do without it?

The basil ‘Bam’ from Burpee Seeds is a breakthrough because it will not bolt and go to seed, becoming unpalatable, no matter how hot it gets. It’s an All-America selection. For seeds, visit