Floral frontrunners

Features - Cover Story

Trial managers from around the U.S. reveal the top-performing varieties. Consider adding these stars to your production schedule for 2022.

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Best overall performance, Annual

Begonia I’Conia Costa Del Sol from Dümmen Orange, Raker-Roberta’s Young Plants

This Begonia looked great in all kinds of weather. We had torrential rains and blazing heat and it looked good throughout everything. Visitors really liked the color variation in the large, long-lasting blooms.

Begonia Viking Explorer Rose from Sakata, Young’s Plant Farm

Begonia Viking Explorer is a new hanging basket version of Viking Begonia. It is available in two colors – Rose and Red with green foliage. It makes a tidy rounded basket and at the peak of the summer it is covered in flowers.

Coleus FlameThrower series from Ball FloraPlant, Ball Horticultural

With a range from full shade to full sun, and the wide assortment of colors within the series, there is a FlameThrower for every occasion in garden design. If I chose to do it, I could have incorporated a variety from this series in every bed and not have to worry about them at all.

New Guinea Impatiens Spectra series from Syngenta, Michigan State University

Soon after these were planted outside, we unexpectedly had a day where the temperature dipped below 40°F. I expected our New Guinea Impatiens to abort their flower buds, but that didn’t happen! The series bounced back with an amazing season-long show of huge flowers smothering the plants.

Rex Begonia Jurassic Megalo ‘Reptile’ from Ball Ingenuity, University of Georgia

This series by Ball Ingenuity showed us all what begonias are capable of in the landscape, whether overflowing in a hanging basket, or adding a burst of colorful foliage to a woodland garden display. These plants are fun and easy to care for with minimal irrigation needed.

Rudbeckia Sunbeckia Ophelia from Flamingo Holland/Bull, Colorado State University

Gigantic yellow flowers glow in the sun and attracted attention from across the garden. The huge flowers create a near solid canopy of yellow color that creates enormous flower power. Foliage that is visible is very attractive and clean. Plants require no pinching and matures at a nice medium height. The long-lasting flowers keep a fresh look and stay low maintenance by “burying its dead.” Performance was excellent both in ground and in containers.

Best overall performance, Perennial

Brunnera ‘Queen of Hearts’ from Walter’s Gardens, Michigan State University

This huge Brunnera looked pristine all summer long. The eye-catching venation adds texture and brightness to shady corners of the garden.

Echinacea ‘Cheyenne Spirit’ and Artisan Collection from Kieft Seed, Ball Horticultural

The mix and individual colors are landscape-tough, large, and flower throughout the season. Even in their first season planted they perform admirably and will just continue to get better over time.

Artemisia SunFern Olympia from Darwin Perennials, Raker-Roberta’s Young Plants

This is the first year for this plant and its sister Arcadia. Olympia was one of our top performers and also a visitor favorite. It looks great in combos as a foliage element or in the landscape.

Nepeta Blue Prelude from Darwin Perennials, Colorado State University

We have trialed Nepeta Blue Prelude since 2019 and the plant was very fragrant and vigorous. It had large vibrant blue/violet flowers and many of them. It bloomed the entire season and attracted all kinds of pollinators.

Marigold Endurance Yellow and Sunset Gold from Syngenta, Young’s Plant Farm

Marigold Endurance is a new Marigold series from Syngenta. They are available in three colors – Orange, Yellow and Sunset Gold. Endurance Marigold has a large French marigold type flower with exceptional heat performance in the garden. Sunset Gold is an interesting two-toned flower that is yellow with a golden orange blush.

Best pollinator-friendly, Perennial

Agastache Kudos Mandarin from Terra Nova Nurseries, Raker-Roberta’s Young Plants

This was planted in 2020 and the whole series performed well. The plants produced dense mounding plants all summer.

Coreopsis Fall Sensation ‘Vermillion’ from Dümmen Orange, University of Georgia

The bright red burst of blooms on ‘Vermillion’ stands 12-18” tall and makes a dramatic statement in a perennial or prairie setting. A favorite of our local honeybees during the Great Georgia Pollinator Census.

Eupatorium Euphoria Ruby from Darwin Perennials, Colorado State

We have had Eupatorium Euphoria Ruby in trials since 2019 and the plant had strong stems and was tall and very vigorous. The many flowers attracted all kinds of pollinators throughout the season.

Origanum ‘Drops of Jupiter’ from Walter’s Gardens, Michigan State University

This versatile plant is heat-tolerant, drought-tolerant, a pollinator magnet, and just looked great all season. The chartreuse foliage will brighten up any garden bed, especially when other perennials are out of flower. The delicate pink flowers are an added plus, attracting pollinators of all kinds.

The Salvia category, Ball Horticultural

Just like the annual side, there are an incredible number of perennial Salvia that attract an overabundance of pollinators. Some varieties planted this season: S. greggii Mirage; S. nemorosa Rose Marvel; S. nemorosa Blue by You.

Best pollinator-friendly, Annual

Bidens Brazen Imperial Luck from Syngenta Flowers, Colorado State University

The vigorous plants were densely branched and created a solid mound of flowers from across the canopy which created an impressive display of color. Blooms maintained a uniform pattern and had a rich saturated red color that paired well with the dark green foliage.

Cuphea Hummingbirds Lunch from PlantHaven, Michigan State University

This Cuphea is both heat and drought-tolerant, as well as being an incredible pollinator attractor. This container was always fun to visit because it was always covered in bees of all types.

Heliotropium Augusta ‘Lavender’ from Proven Winners, University of Georgia

This old-fashioned favorite heliotropium hybrid is well-behaved and will fill a small space with light purple fragrant flowers all summer long. Pollinators will appreciate the aroma, and provide lots of activity in the garden.

Lantana Havana Sunrise from Dümmen Orange, Raker-Roberta’s Young Plants

This Lantana was a powerhouse of blooms all summer long. Bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds were constant visitors.

The Salvia category, Ball Horticultural

What can I say. If it sips nectar or collects pollen, you can find it on one of the Salvia scattered about The Gardens. The incredible variety within this genus caters to nearly every pollinator out there in some form. Some varieties planted this season: Interspecific Salvia Big Blue; S. splendens Lighthouse; S. cultivars Skyscraper; S. guaranitica Purple & Bloom.

Zinnia Profusion Red Yellow Bicolor from Sakata, Young’s Plant Farm

Zinnia Profusion Red Yellow Bicolor was an All-America Selections Gold Medal Winner. It has great summer garden performance but what makes this zinnia stand out is the flower color. It was covered in bees and butterflies all summer long.

Best heat-tolerant, Annual

Cleome Sparkler 2.0 series from Syngenta Flowers, Raker-Roberta’s Young Plants

These plants drew attention from everyone.Even after a torrential rain/windstorm, they bounced right back. They were very floriferous and were in bloom all summer.

Coleus Le Freak from Dümmen Orange, Young’s Plant Farm

Coleus is always a winner in our trial garden. Current breeding is working towards sun tolerance, bright colors, late flowering and compact habits. Coleus Le Freak fits this profile perfectly with a compact rounded plant habit and a nice foliage color that is contrasting deep red and green.

Catharanthus Soiree Kawaii ‘Coral’ from Suntory, University of Georgia

A knock-out in hot and humid weather and tolerant of clay soils, thiss ultivar provides a sea of color. The flowers are small but mighty, and the foliage is bright and eye-catching.

Ornamental pepper Black Pearl from PanAmerican Seed, Ball Horticultural

I don’t think this plant would mind whatever the temperature rose to. It seems just do its thing while the plants and people around it find the temperature unbearable.

Heliotropium Augusta Lavender from Proven Winners, Michigan State University

This is the first hybrid heliotrope I’ve ever seen, It filled the bed with a continuous bloom of lavender flowers, a color you don’t see very often in floriculture.

Lantana Hot Blooded Red from Syngenta Flowers, Colorado State University

Blooms had a good rich saturated red color with a touch of orange. Plants maintained a compact and uniform growth habit compared to many other red lantanas. The vibrant red flowers made a good choice for hot locations with minimal water demands.

Best heat-tolerant, Perennial

Gaillardia SpinTop ‘Orange Halo Improved’ from

Dümmen Orange, University of Georgia

There is a remarkable shape and powerful color on the ‘Orange Halo Improved’. A wonderful way to add seasonal interest in spaces where many flowers cannot endure the heat.

Iberis Summer Snowdrift from Darwin Perennials, Ball Horticultural

It definitely can’t take extraordinarily high temps as well as some other perennials, but the fact that it is an Iberis that flowers throughout the entire summer and keeps going strong in the dry heat of summer is rather remarkable. This one made it through with flying colors and that is something worth mentioning.

Nepeta Cat’s Meow from Proven Winners, Raker-Roberta’s Young Plants

Looked good all summer with pale lavender blooms. Once our season started the weather turned hot and dry and this looked great all along.

Perovskia CrazyBlue from Darwin Perennials, Colorado State University

We had Perovskia CrazyBlue in trials since 2019 and the growth habit is very compact and upright. It starts blooming early in the season and it is long lasting. It can tolerate intense summer heat.

Origanum ‘Drops of Jupiter’ from Walter’s Gardens, Michigan State University

This versatile plant is heat-tolerant, drought-tolerant, a pollinator magnet, and just looked great all season. The chartreuse foliage will brighten up any garden bed. The delicate pink flowers are an added plus, attracting pollinators of all kinds.

Best drought-tolerant annual

Aptenia Baby Sun Rose Red, Ball Horticultural

This class isn’t used all that often, but I have never seen it wilt or even struggle with heat or drought. It may not be the most floriferous plant out there, but it is damn tough and will perform throughout the season regardless of a high-temp or low-water environment.

Lantana Luscious ‘Marmalade’ from Proven Winners, University of Georgia

Largest flower clusters we have ever seen! Vibrant orange tones stand out among the rest. Healthy plants from spring to fall with excellent greenhouse performance. Tough under drought stress in the Southeastern heat.

Portulaca Mega Pazzaz Purple from Danzinger, Colorado State University

Intense violet flowers were abundant and held close to foliage to keep a very compact and uniform growth habit. Blooms were single and were very popular with the bees. It was very tolerant of the summer heat and looked great all season.

Scaevola Surdiva series from Suntory, Michigan State University

The Surdiva series of Scaevola performed great this summer. They provided non-stop color, an excellent container habit, and were just healthy, problem-free plants. While our summer was quite wet overall, the Surdiva series handled our early-season heat/drought just fine.

Best drought-tolerant perennial

Nepeta Prelude series from Perennials, Ball Horticultural

These new, large-statured Nepeta do not fail to impress. They flowered continuously all season even through the drought conditions we had this summer. Nepeta are known to be tough and these have even greater vigor bred into them.

Echinacea purpurea Prairie Splendor Compact Rose Dark Cone, Colorado State.

We have trialed Echinacea purpurea Prairie Splendor, since 2019 and have had a great survival rate with very strong stems and many vibrant magenta flowers. It is very drought tolerant.

Origanum ‘Drops of Jupiter’ from Walter’s Gardens, Michigan State University

This versatile plant is heat-tolerant, drought-tolerant, a pollinator magnet, and just looked great all season. The chartreuse foliage will brighten up any garden bed, especially when other perennials are out of flower. The delicate pink flowers are an added plus, attracting pollinators of all kinds

Rudibeckia Minibeckia ‘Flame’ from GardenChoice, University of Georgia

A winner according to both our public and industry visitors alike. This breathtaking beauty showed off for the entire season with good resistance to the elements. Highly abundant blooms for such a compact plant.