Les Lutz

At the risk of causing untold problems outside, I’m going to say that with a few exceptions, we’ve had a mild winter (so far). This means that we can be outside pruning and working in the garden. It also means that we may be able to get an early start with spring cleanup.

Hopefully you’re already thinking about spring and what new plants you may want to add to your palette. Each season there are plants that are new and hot, and this year there are certainly a few that I’m planning to add to my own garden.

Kniphofia (Red Hot Poker) has never been high on my list of plants to use in a garden (although I’ve known it for years), but last season I decided to try several of the new cultivars that look interesting. I’ve been impressed. There are lots of new cultivars of this herbaceous perennial, including a group called the Poco Series. This group is generally shorter than the older cultivars and, from my experience last year, seems to be great at flowering the entire season. I tried all three in the series, including “Poco Orange,” “Poco Red” and “Poco Yellow.” All three are listed as hardy to zone 6, and all three flowered until we had a hard freeze in November. The colors are nice and clear, and they’re typically 18 to 24 inches tall when flowering.

But there are many other cultivars on the market now beyond the Poco Series. “Rocket’s Red Glare” is red with a white “tail,” and “Hot and Cold” is a peachy orange with pale white tails. Walter’s Gardens lists 14 cultivars, not counting the Poco Series, so there are lots of choices available in this species. Keep in mind that they need full sun and prefer well-drained soil. The foliage is somewhat like a coarse ornamental grass and is semi-evergreen.

I’ve also talked about interest in plants produced by a longtime friend and day lily breeder, Darrel Apps. I’ve had a glance at his new introductions for 2020, and there are several that are quite nice. The 2017 introduction cultivar Hemerocallis “Calypso Coral” is truly stunning. The coral color is deeply saturated with ruffled edges. We’ve grown it here at Heritage and we plan to add several other cultivars to the collection this season. Another cultivar of Darrel Apps that I love is “Once Again Red Mittens.” He’s developed a series of “Once Again” cultivars that are reblooming (“Happy Returns” is a Darrel Apps reblooming cultivar).

Annuals are always a way to add easy color to any garden, and Scaevola is a great annual. It works well as a basket plant as it trails, but it can also be used as a summer ground cover because of the trailing habit. They are typically blue or pink, with several cultivars of each available. More on this plant in a future article.

Winter will eventually end and summer gives us the opportunity to try new and interesting plants in our gardens.

Les Lutz is the director of horticulture and facilities management at Heritage Museums & Gardens in Sandwich.

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