I Killed the Lavender

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This past spring several growers sent me free samples of their 2012 introductions to try out in my garden. Many wholesale growers send their newest plants to garden writers, bloggers and editors for feedback and in hopes of spreading the word about up-and-coming varieties. Over the next few weeks I'll be blogging about the samples I'm tending this year—how they are doing and what I'm excited about.


In this post I'll cover the perennials I received from Green Leaf Plants and Blooms of Bressingham. They sent me three samples each of five kinds of plants. I opened up a new section of garden just for them (shown at top). These are both wholesale growers, so you can look for these varieties at your local or mail-order retail nursery next spring. (Although I believe 'Lollipop' verbena is already available at retail.)

First a word about my garden's conditions, climate, etc. I garden in USDA Zone 6. The garden where all of these plants are growing faces south. It's pretty much full sun, though there are deciduous trees west and east of the garden, and our house to its north—so at some points in the season it gets about a half a day of shade. The soil is good, a touch sandy. Drainage is good. I pulled up a good amount of lawn to expand the garden this year, so there was ample space for these new plants. When I planted them, I followed the spacing suggested on the labels, so this section looks a little sparse.

This year the weather stayed fairly cool and rainy (at least an inch a week) right up to July 4; since then it has been mostly sunny, warm and humid with little appreciable rain.

Now a word about the plant shipment. It arrived in a hot spell a few days before we were due to leave for a long weekend away (Memorial Day). I didn't have time to get them in the ground right away. They arrived as very small, somewhat bedraggled-looking plants in "clamshell" packaging—black plastic trays, roughly two inches square in width and five inches deep. I felt the clamshells would dry out as soon as we left, so I quickly potted the plants up into bigger plastic pots that I had in the shed. I put water in the kiddie pool and put all the pots in it to thoroughly wet the soil while I packed for our trip. Then I took them out and set them in the shade and hoped for the best. They looked OK when we returned—uh, except the lavender—and I planted everything in the garden the next day.

So, they've been in the ground for about seven weeks now and here's what I have to say. (Click the images for a larger view.)

1. Lavandula angustifolia 'Oxford Gem'—billed as a compact lavender, 15 inches tall and wide, with dark purple flowers from June through August; Zones 5–8. More info from Blooms of Bressingham.

I can't comment further or show a photo because I killed all three. I take complete responsibility! I believe dunking them in the kiddie pool did them in. They became too wet; the potting mix did not drain well. They looked like they were already starting to rot when I put them in the ground. Two bit the dust immediately; one hung on for a week or so then it died. If you've had success with lavender, you may want to look into 'Oxford Gem'. I was excited about them; they had lovely, soft, narrow silvery green foliage and at their mature size would have been perfect in the front of my small garden. I don't recommend taking yours for a swim.

2. Echinacea 'Mistral'—a sport of 'Kim's Knee High', this coneflower reaches 20 inches tall and 12 inches wide, with pink-petaled flowers from midsummer into autumn; Zones 5–8. More info from Blooms of Bressingham.

Echinacea 'Mistral'

I've been impressed with 'Mistral'. They looked a little peaked in a dry spell but I threw water on them and they bounced back fast. Anyway this was to be expected since they are still getting established. Two of the three plants started blooming July 11. I was surprised because the plants are so young and puny (about five inches tall); I did not think they would bloom at all this year. The flower has a nice reddish brown center; the petals are medium pink and stand fairly straight out from the center instead of flopping downward. I would say this feature and the smallish mature size of this coneflower sets it apart.

3. Verbena bonariensis 'Lollipop'—a front-of-the-border verbena, at two feet tall and wide at maturity, with tall, airy, "see-though" stems hoisting clusters of tiny purple flowers spring through fall; Zones 7–11. More info from Blooms.

Verbena 'Lollipop'

I love this plant, to the point where I might takes pains to overwinter it since it is not hardy in my zone. My three plants are only about four inches tall, foliage wise, but they've been blooming for several weeks now, on stems over 10 inches tall. I would love to see them in maturity. The flower color is a really vivid purple that contrasts well with the green foliage and yellow flowers blooming simultaneously (as well as the big stretches of mulch in this young garden). I planted these at the front of the garden, and I love how their stems sway in the breeze and allow you to see through to the plants behind them. All kinds of bees, bee flies and butterflies visit them regularly. 'Lollipop' seems to be loving the hot (90˚) weather we are having here lately, and it did not flag at all in the few dry spells we've had.

4. Hypericum Hypearls Olivia—one of the Hypearls series of Hypericum. These are touted as shrubby perennials that offer a long season of interest via their summer flowers and color-changing berries that last into fall. Olivia has yellow flowers and berries that begin yellow but mature to salmon. Three feet tall and wide; hardy to Zone 5.

Hypericum Hypearls Olivia

My three plants have put on a good amount of growth since our temperatures heated up. They are even showing flower buds right now. About three inches tall at planting, they are now about twice that size. New foliage is a nice bright green. They look a little slouchy at the end of a hot, sunny, dry day, but recover overnight. I think these will provide some nice structure where I've put them—at the driveway end of the garden.

5. Geranium 'Blushing Turtle'—forms a two-foot-tall, three-foot-wide mound at maturity, with maple-leaf foliage that turns reddish in fall. Blooms in early summer and again in autumn (more sparsely). Flowers are light pink with hot pink veins. Zone 6–9.

Geranium 'Blushing Turtle'

My three samples haven't given me much to report; they are alive but seem to be frozen in time. I'm guessing they're just putting down the strong root system that will make them fairly drought tolerant next year. I highly doubt they will bloom this year, but I've been enjoying their foliage. The leaves are nearly round, almost two inches wide, with maple-like lobes. It is a dark green; the stems are reddish. My plants are just about two inches tall and four inches wide. I'm cheering them on. My toddler tends to step on these when she's "helping" in the garden. I have to admit I also stepped on one yesterday while watering. I got tangled in the hose and went stumbling like a drunken elephant! Moments like those I wish it was a backyard garden. Anyway, all this stepping-upon has earned 'Blushing Turtle' a soft spot in my heart.

So, to sum up, these varieties show a lot of promise, in my opinion, and have performed well for me—some better than expected—so far this summer. I will keep you posted!

Next week I'll tell you about the tomato samples I'm trying. In the meantime, let me know if you have any questions about the above plants; or if you are a writer who also received these samples, let us all know how you like them!