This week I attended the Mid-Atlantic Nursery Trade Show. Known as MANTS, this trade show is always held in January at the Baltimore Convention Center. There were more than 900 exhibitors, and there is nothing for the public to purchase, it is all wholesale. I learn about new plants and products that will be on the market for gardeners. Although it was open last year during the pandemic, this year it felt like pre-covid, like we were back in business. The event was well attended – there were crowds of attendees and exhibitors plus many local garden communicators.
Here are few new plants and products that I discovered at MANTS. You will see them at local garden centers this year, or you may be able to order them online directly from the company.
Southern Living Plant Collection
As a Virginian, I have always been a fan of the Southern Living Plant Collection (SLPC). They are focused on plants for the home: from shrubs to vines to edibles. You can easily find their plants in distinctive brown containers at the nursery, but you can also order online. The SLPC is a partnership between Plant Development Services Inc. and Southern Living to provide innovative new plants selected for their ability to solve specific landscape challenges. However, they are not just plants for the south. I can grow them in zone 7 but my neighbors in Maryland, Zone 6, can find plenty of selections hardy to their area.
Of the SLPC, the award goes to Colocasia Royal Hawaiian Waikiki. A compact plant, about 3 feet wide and tall, with foot long “elephant ears” in pink, cream, and green. I don’t know if it is the foliage’s size or the pink blaring through, but this plant caught everyone’s attention. A perfect container plant, this fantastic tropical is a 2023 All America Selections national winner and a National Garden Bureau Green Thumb winner.
I also thought that SLPC’s Agapanthus Ever Series was a stunner, especially when two colors are combined. The series includes Amethyst (purple), Midnight (dark blue), Sapphire (blue), Twilight (bicolor white and violet), and White. I grow agapanthus (also known as lily of the Nile) as a container plant because they are heat and drought tolerant. They grow to about 2 feet tall with very large clusters of flowers above the strap-like foliage. A bonus: the flowers attract hummingbirds!
For low maintenance shrubs, SLPC has a new Abelia called Suntastic ‘Peach’ with tiny, variegated green and cream leaves, peach colored new growth, and small cream flowers. These deer resistant shrubs grow to about 3 feet tall and wide and are evergreen (the foliage remains during the winter). I have seen abelia shrubs on median strips along very busy roads and they perform well despite the cars, blooming well into the fall.
If you are plagued with boxwood issues, you may want to try the Lonicera Garden Clouds series. These shrubs have green foliage and a compact growth habit similar to boxwood. There is ‘Green Breeze,’ ‘Copper Glow,” which has copper colored new growth, and ‘Purple Storm,’ which has purple colored new growth. I really like ‘Purple Storm’s soft texture and dark glossy leaves.
SLPC is introducing three hollies, two of which are very compact. There is the 2 feet tall Mini-Touch with very small green foliage and ‘Touch of Gold’ with yellow-gold foliage. These hollies have such small leaves they don’t even look like hollies. For a narrow space, there is ‘Red Sky,’ a columnar form that can reach 8 feet tall and 3 feet wide. They also have an Osmanthus ‘Misty River’ that has cream and green variegated foliage with burgundy new growth and Distylium ‘Bayou Bliss’ which has green foliage and very small red flowers along the branches giving it a red hue when blooming.
I am sure you have heard of the Endless Summer line of hydrangeas that bloom repeatedly in the summer. The original introductions were mopheads but Bailey Nurseries has managed to extend this repeat blooming capability to the lacecap type. New this year is ‘Pop Star,’ a bright blue lacecap that develops buds faster, so you have more frequent repeat blooms. Compact at 2-3 feet tall and hardy to zone 4, ‘Pop Star’ also was bred to have thicker leaves enabling it to perform better in warmer climates. Look for ‘Pop Star’ in the nurseries in the distinctive blue containers.
New Houseplants and Products
The Proven Winners’ leafjoy line of tropical houseplants are grown on a wholesale level by a relatively new company here in Virginia, The Plant Company. The Plant Company recognized that people like to purchase houseplants to beautify their homes and bring a touch of nature indoors but did not know how to take care of the plants. The company solved the problem by creating a large plant tag with the plant’s botanical and common name, an in-use variety specific photo to provide inspiration, why to buy and where to use information, and a QR code to obtain more information on plant care. They also categorized their plants by collections: Atrium (high light), Cocoon (low light), SpaScene (warm and humid), and WorkLife (space saving). Plants are in containers, from medium to large heights.
But the series I like best is leafjoy H2O which is foliage plants grown in water. They are small plants with roots in water in glass cylinders, bowls, test tubes, or colored glass vases. These are great desktop plants, perfect gifts for the mother or mother-in-law who have everything, and even great dorm plants for college kids. These are available at garden centers and online through Proven Winners Direct.
For houseplant-related products, I like Mossify which is a relatively new, small company that promises to plant one tree with every order, through their partnership with One Tree Planted. I am sure you have seen their award-winning bendable moss or coir poles that provide support for vining houseplants. These are often used with tall houseplants in the garden centers. Mossify has produced more products, including wire supports, but I particularly like the wooden trellises. They are 17 inches high and 4 inches wide with a geometric, lattice like appearance. Simply insert in a container and weave the plant though the spaces for support.
They also have a unique plant mister called Mossify Mistr. This is an automatic, continuous water mister — just press the button and it mists for several seconds. Best of all, you just re-charge it, no need to worry about cords and batteries. You can order from Mossify online or through certain retail locations listed on their website.
In addition to abelias, weigelas (Weigela florida) are work horses here in my Virginia garden. They are long lasting, deer resistant, “low maintenance” compact shrubs that attract bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. I have never had issues with my plants so I was pleased to learn that Spring Meadow is growing two new weigelas for the Proven Winners ColorChoice line of shrubs. Wine & Spirits has very dark foliage and unusually large cream flowers that are more open and not as tubular as the species. Great contrast between the foliage and the flowers. Bubbly Wine is completely different, variegated cream and green leaves with red stems and smaller, pink tubular flowers. Both of these are compact at 3 feet tall and wide. These should be available in the garden centers or order from Proven Winners Direct.
The Garden Debut booth introduced me to their Bloom-A-Thon azalea collection. These are small azalea plants that re-bloom. In the spring there is the expected burst of flowers, followed by sporadic blooming in the summer, and then a wave of blooms in the fall. They remind me of the white azaleas I saw last fall at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond. Small azalea bushes were against a stone wall, along the perimeter of the Fountain Garden. They all were blooming white flowers against the green foliage in late September, creating a simple yet stunning contrast of white and green. I don’t know if they were a Bloom-A-Thon variety but that visit made me realized that yes, Virginia, there is a place for fall blooming azaleas. The Bloom-A-Thon flower colors are available in the white, pink, coral, red spectrum. The plants top off at 3 feet, making them perfect for a townhouse garden.
A Garden Wall Kit
A new gardening product that marries vertical gardening with landscape design is the AgroSci GardenWall Kit. The AgroSci company specializes in green walls for commercial buildings but has brought its expertise to the home gardener by making the GardenWall Kit available for people to create their own garden wall. The kit has a black plastic framework and then small plastic buckets that attach to the framework. The buckets can be attached vertically or horizontally. Using a power drill or ties, simply attach the framework to walls, mail posts, fences, posts, or banisters. Then fill the containers with the plants and insert the containers on to the framework. Each bucket has a funnel so if it were a vertical construct, you would water the top bucket through the funnel, and excess water drips to the container below. There are three different kits: five-pot, 10-pot, or a 20-pot kit. The website has a video to explain how they are constructed as well as ideas for placement. Although you cannot order from them online, they list major online retailers.
It takes me two days to visit all the exhibitors and of course, there are other new plant introductions and products but these are the ones that stood out for me as truly new and helpful to gardeners in this area. Have a great 2023 gardening year!