The perfect flowers and plants to create a beautiful landscape

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Drawf purple fountain grass (similar appearance to Korean Feather Grass)

You resolved to have a beautiful landscape this year, and we’d like to help you achieve that! In response to our search for the newest and brightest bloomers being sold in 2014, local plant experts have offered a host of recommendations.

Landscape Resolution #1:
A lawn that’s not a yawn
The lawns of Atlanta homes have historically been Bermuda or Fescue, according to Jutt Howard, director of sales and scheduling at North Georgia Turf Inc. (NG Turf). But in recent years, locals are seeing the benefits of Zoysia lawns. Because of this trend, turf breeders are developing new varieties of Zoysia, including one brand-new variety that’s gaining attention as the turf being installed on the Rio de Janeiro golf course for the 2016 Summer Olympics first-ever golf event. It’s called Zeon Zoysia, and “it has quickly become the industry leader for an all-around turf,” Howard says. The turf variety features a fine, thin blade, a very low fertility requirement, a beautiful, natural color and excellent shade tolerance.

Also, NG Turf’s partnership with Texas A&M University has recently resulted in a new variety of Texas Bluegrass turf. “It’s a variety we feel can better handle the climate of Georgia,” says Jutt Howard with NG Turf. “This gives users who want a year-round green lawn a new option that is better adapted to our heat and humidity than fescue.” He adds that the new Bluegrass will recover more easily from traffic, and overall maintenance is much improved when compared to fescue. Howard says, “The variety is currently having seed-production evaluations done in Oregon to see if it can be grown from seed, as well.”

Landscape Resolution #2:
A blooming spring
One of the most prominent, ubiquitous flowers is the petunia—so it’s difficult for a new variety of petunia to garner excitement when there are hundreds of varieties already available. But the new Cha-Ching Cherry Petunia has done just that: generated a lot of buzz, recently earning the 2013 Reader’s Choice award by Greenhouse Grower magazine. “New for 2014, Cha-Ching Cherry Petunia is something special,” says Phyllis Long of Redbud Lane Nursery in Holly Springs. “We produced a small crop of this petunia for the fall [2013] and we were surprised at how much we liked it despite our ho-hum weariness with petunias overall.” Kellie Bowen with Full Bloom Nursery in Clermont agrees. “In a market saturated with beautiful vegetative petunias, this one from Ball FloraPlant is a remarkable standout,” she says. “The flower’s rich, wine-red color with creamy-white pinwheels and a kiss of almost chartreuse in the center make it a versatile container-garden component or a lovely hanging basket.”

The Southern Living Plant Collection’s newest hydrangea, the Dear Dolores (Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Wyatt LeFever’), first produces its pastel blooms in spring, then reblooms throughout the summer and fall months. A fast-growing deciduous shrub (plan for it to grow 5 feet tall and 5 feet wide) with bright-green foliage, the Dear Dolores Hydrangea’s flowers are blue in acidic soils and pink in alkaline soils. “It’s an excellent choice for shady border planting,” say the experts at Plant Development Services Inc., creators of the Southern Living Plant Collection.

Another hydrangea to check out is the Fire and Ice (Hydrangea paniculata) shrub from Ball Horticultural Company. This new panicle hydrangea changes bloom color every few weeks—from cream-colored flowers in the late spring to cotton-candy pink in midsummer to deep magenta/burgundy in the late summer and throughout the fall. “It makes a stunning focal point!” Bowen says, adding, “Unlike the old-fashioned blue/pink ‘mophead’ hydrangeas, all panicle hydrangeas need several hours of sun to bloom, and they bloom on new wood.”

Do you love pink? Then watch your garden burst into your favorite color with the new Pink Explosion Azalea. Offered by the Gardener’s Confidence Collection through McCorkle Nurseries, the unique variety features a compact habit of 3 to 4 feet in height and width, with repeat blooms in both the spring and the fall. “The evergreen foliage makes it an ideal choice for planting in mass or incorporating into a shrub border,” says Jaydene Reardon with McCorkle Nurseries. “With little need to prune, it is low maintenance and perfect for naturalized areas such as woodland gardens.”

If, by the time the winter is over and spring rolls around, you’re longing for that fresh-flower smell every time you step outside the house, the Scentsation Gardenia (Gardenia jasminoides ‘Leetwo’ PPIP) is the plant for you. Another member of the Southern Living Plant Collection, this shrub is compact (it grows approximately 3.5 feet tall and 4 feet wide) and offers tiny, fragrant white blossoms over its dark, evergreen foliage from late spring through fall. 

Landscape Resolution #3:
Fall flowers
By the time autumn rolls around, your landscape is ready for a refresh of color. Check out the Ornamental Onion (Allium senescens ‘Blue Eddy’)—it provides interesting foliage in addition to great flowers. “Alliums are fabulous for tucking into nooks and crannies throughout the perennial garden, rock garden or in container compositions,” says Kacey Cloues, store manager for Garden*Hood—Plant Atlanta. She notes that the Ornamental Onion’s bluish-green leaves “grow in whimsical whorls that swirl in a compact clump,” and that in late summer/early fall, the plants are “topped by globes of lilac-lavender flower clusters,” growing about 8 to 12 inches tall in areas of full to partial sun.

A new addition to the ever-growing sedum lineup is Proven Winners’ Garnet Brocade. Blooming August through October, this plant grows 16 inches tall, “but trimming it in the spring will allow it to branch,” advise Ken Hall and Marie Forrester with Hall’s Flower Shop and Garden Center in Stone Mountain. The best part: its burgundy stems, foliage and blooms. “It makes a beautiful red statement,” Hall and Forrester say.

Landscape Resolution #4:
Fill in the gaps
One of the more difficult landscape elements to plan is the in-between spots, where you need a “filler.” These spots are perfect for tall grasses; Cloues points to two new offerings: Big Bluestem Grass (Andropogon gerardii ‘Indian Warrior’) and Korean Feather Grass, also known as Diamond Grass (Calamagrostis brachytricha). “Big Bluestem is a native American prairie grass with a strongly upright habit,” she describes. “Its blue-green foliage takes on hues of dusky maroon in mid to late summer, and its feathery inflorescences are borne on distinctive red stems—extremely eye-catching, even from a distance!”

As for the Korean Feather Grass, Cloues exclaims: “Finally, a tall, plumy grass for shade! If you’ve been coveting airy, ethereal, waist-high grasses but don’t have a sunny spot in the garden, this is the grass for you.” This variety grows 4 feet tall (when in bloom) and has bright-green foliage with wispy plumes of pinkish-tan inflorescences in late summer. “Leave the foliage standing through winter, as it provides valuable shelter for birds and wildlife, and it looks beautiful with a light dusting of frost,” she adds.

Landscape Resolution #5:
Resist pests, attract butterflies and hummingbirds
To resist deer and gain a striking, star-shaped floral aesthetic in your landscape, check out the Southern Living Plant Collection’s Miss Scarlett Illicium. This dense-growing shrub’s brilliant, uniquely shaped crimson blooms appear in spring against  a background of glossy green leaves, growing as large as 4 feet wide and 6 feet tall.

Another new deer-resistant shrub is the Florida Sunshine Anise (Illicium paryiflorum), an evergreen that typically grows to 5 feet tall by 3 to 4 feet wide. “It has chartreuse gold foliage during the spring and summer, and in the fall, the leaf color turns to a bright yellow and the stems turn vivid red,” Bowen describes. “Florida Sunshine is a wonderful evergreen for adding interest and color to shady gardens—a great way to brighten up dark places!”

To resist rabbits, the scented foliage of geraniums work well, and Garden*Hood—Plant Atlanta is introducing a new variety to its shelves this year. “We’ve long been fans of Geranium ‘Biokovo’ and Geranium sanguineum, but now we’re excited to add a new purple-leafed variety of hardy cranesbill to the mix: Geranium pretense ‘Dark Reiter’,” Cloues says. “Vibrant bluish-lilac flowers cover the plant in late spring/early summer—and sometimes sporadically through the fall—but the real treat with this plant is its distinctive plum-colored foliage. The highly dissected leaves provide fantastic texture and look smashing paired with golden-leafed hostas and coralbells, blue Carex ‘Hobb’, leathery-leafed hellebores and delicate ferns.” She adds that in the Atlanta area, the plant performs best in spots that get strong morning sun and afternoon shade, or filtered light all day. It will grow 8 to 10 inches tall and about a foot wide.

An old-fashioned shrub making a comeback is the weigela, providing season-long interest. Its newest variety by Proven Winners is the Sonic Bloom, available in both pearl and red colors. “The red is a lipstick color that attracts hummingbirds all season,” Hall and Forrester say. The shrub’s biggest bloom time is in May, but it reblooms through the summer and fall until frost.

“One of the most exciting and popular introductions is the release of miniature butterfly-bush varieties,” Bowen says. “They will truly change the way you think about the butterfly bush—no more taking over the whole flower bed or smothering other plants nearby!” Bowen points to Proven Winners’ Lo & Behold Blue Chip and Purple Haze butterfly bushes—both of which grow to just 3 feet tall and attract butterflies and hummingbirds. “The unique, horizontal low-spreading habit and feathery deep-green leaves hold loads of dark-purple flower spikes that radiate outwards like purple pinwheels,” she describes.

Whatever your landscape goals are, this year promises to be full of budding beauty!

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