Survivors: Plants that made it through our tough summer

October 3, 2012 

Congratulations Mother Nature, you’ve made it easy for us this year. The cold, wet beginning of the summer and hot, dry end means our local weather conditions have provided the perfect opportunity to grade some new plants on their toughness and tenacity.

Listed here are my winners that did an outstanding job of surviving a challenging summer in Western Washington. Better clip and save this column — some of these plants are so new on the market you will have to ask for them in the spring and many – such as the yellow-striped mini petunia Calibrachoa “Lemon Slice” — will probably sell out at local nurseries.

And the new plant winners from my garden are:

Cordylines: Finally a spiky plant that adds texture to the rounded shrubby blobs in the landscape, but behaves itself by not going to seed and hopping into other beds, has no drinking problems and most importantly to me, all three of these colorful new cordylines showed zero damage from slugs and deer.

Festival Raspberry is a compact cordyline with deep red strappy foliage that is edged with a bright raspberry border. I grew this new variety in a partly shaded location and left the plants in their original gallon-size pots all summer long. The foliage kept its color, even in the heat. A hard frost will end the party for Festival cordyline, but I’m going to try and over winter the potted plants inside a garden shed. Go to my website at if you want to see a photo.

Two more new colors for cordylines: Cordyline “Can Can” has red and green striped leaves while cordyline “Cha Cha” is green and yellow. Again, neither showed any slug damage even when grown in the damp area near my waterfall.

Cleomes: Your grandmother called these spider flower because the stamens and petals explode out from the bud to showcase an airy flower on tall and dramatic plants — but these are not your grandmother’s cleome. New varieties are shorter, longer blooming and “Sparkler Rose” — the variety I tested — produced lovely lavender flowers that bloomed in May and never stopped flowering into October.

So here’s why this upright annual plant wins my praise: I never had to dead head, stake or give extra water to this free-blooming annual. And when the moles and voles invaded their bed, they ignored the underground assault. Did I mention they showed no slug damage during the wet month of June? The unusual bloom shape gives a whole new look to a bed or border — and save the plant tag because everyone will ask you the name of this plant.

Candytuft: This is a flower that blooms all summer. Iberis “Masterpiece“ has the snow white blooms and compact shape that makes the traditional candytuft a stand out in spring rock gardens. This new variety continued to bloom all summer and into the fall, and I didn’t even shear back or deadhead the plants. Any low-growing, sun-loving plant that flowers this long without demanding special attention is a winner.

Calibrachoa Superbells “Lemon Slice”: Also called mini-petunias, the calibrachoas are perfect plants for containers and hanging baskets. What makes “Lemon Slice” stand out from the rest is the intensity of the bright yellow set off by white stripes on the bi-colored blooms. We have a lot of gray days in early summer and this new color is a splash of potted sunshine. Calibrachoas play well with others in a container mix because they stay compact and won’t smother blooming annuals or grow leggy in a hanging basket.

Honorable Mention: The new lobularia hybrids, which look like giant alyssums, were outstanding in the heat and dry soil so look for the varieties “Blushing Princess” (a light lavender) and “Frosty Night” (a bright white).

The new generation of hydrangeas also deserve a shout out as they continue to impress. The pink flowering “Invincible Spirit” hydrangea even did well adapting to afternoon sun and soil that dried out a few times. The tropical-looking cannas steal the show as bold foliage plants in container gardens and “Tropicanna Black” and “Tropicanna Gold” add even more color choices to the selection of cannas that do well in our climate.

Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of several books. For gardening questions, write to her at P.O. Box 872, Enumclaw, WA 98022. Send a self-addressed stamped envelope for a personal reply. She also can be reached at her website,

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