Top trial performers

Top trial performers

Features - Plants

Trial managers weigh in on the year’s best varieties.

October 17, 2013
NM Staff

Nursery Management asked trial garden managers from very different growing climates to pick their top performers from the 2013 growing season. Here’s what they had to say.

Rodger J. Schanz,
trial garden manager at the University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada

Echinacea ‘Sombrero Salsa Red’

The number one perennial (from an industry and public voting perspective) is Echinacea Sombrero Salsa Red from Ball. We planted this cultivar in spring 2013 and it was looking especially fantastic by the middle of August. Since it was only planted this year, I do not have any data on its winter survival. But its rich orange-red color and compact habit was captivating to all who saw it.

Heucherella ‘Buttered Rum’
(Blooms of Bressingham)

This is another perennial that received a lot of attention in its first year in the garden. Growing under full sun conditions, it developed intensely colored leaves (maroon top to an orange/bronze base). Winter hardiness is still to be determined at our site.

Carex ‘Firefox’
(Jelitto Seeds)

We started this seed-propagated brown colored Carex from seed in the greenhouse in early 2011 before transplanting to the field. This plant has come through two winters in the Guelph trial with only moderate dieback. Other, similarly colored Carex cultivars did not survive the winter.

Rudbeckia ‘Cappuccino’
(Clause/Tézier Home Gardening)

This seed-propagated rudbeckia is a 2008 Fleuroselect winner but has only been in the Guelph trials since 2011. Although it is not used as a perennial in southern Ontario, we have found it to be winter hardy in Guelph. The long bloom period (from early summer to early fall) and its large bicolored bloom (bronze-brown) combine to give incredible showy garden performance.

Sedums ‘Garnet Brocade’ and Maestro
(Proven Winners)

Both of these sedum cultivars came through the winter of 2012-2013 without any losses. After two growing seasons, these cultivars have very showy flowers and seem to be maintaining an upright growth habit (no lodging), late into the season. Sedum lovers who have visited the trials have been very impressed with these selections.


Pam Bennett,
State Master Gardener Volunteer Coordinator and Horticulture Educator, Ohio State University Extension

Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’
This has performed well in our gardens ever since it was planted in 2006. It’s in a location where it receives morning sun and afternoon shade. It’s performed in both wet and dry seasons, and has had few pest problems. We have noticed the hydrangea leaf-tier moth, but it has not caused considerable damage to the foliage. We treat ‘Limelight’ as a perennial and cut it back to the ground each spring, which helps to keep the plant from becoming leggy and top heavy; it ends up with large blooms (about 10 inches long) on sturdy stems.

Schizachyrium scoparium and Panicum virgatum
We are participating in the National Grass Trials where we are evaluating all of the cultivars of Schizachyrium scoparium and Panicum virgatum. This is the second year of the trial and most of the plants are already established and thriving. Go to this blog ( to learn more about the national trials and for details as to how these genera performed around the country. The following are the top two performers in this trial in Ohio. In our trials in Springfield, Ohio, S. scoparium ‘Minn BlueA’ (BlueHeaven) and P. virgatum ‘Warrior’ rated at the top. None of the grasses were watered this season and we had a dry spell in August; however, all of them performed without additional water.

BlueHeaven has light blue foliage that grows to 1 foot tall and about 1½ feet wide. The flower inflorescences appear in early August and have a reddish cast. They eventually grow to around 4 feet tall and turn to bronze in September after bloom is completed. The fall color for this plant is an outstanding golden and lasts until a hard freeze. ‘Warrior’ has light green foliage during the summer that is around 3 feet tall and wide. The foliage ends up with reddish edges giving the plant a slight reddish cast in September. The flower inflorescences appear in early August and start out with red buds, turning to reddish-bronze flower heads.

‘Warrior’ is a nice compact plant with no lodging and an airy appearance when in bloom.


Jenny Wegley,
director of trials and greenhouse, Dallas Arboretum

Caryopteris ‘Blue Fountain’
(Proven Winners)

We had ‘Blue Fountain’ in trials for two years and expected little to nothing from it with our summer heat. It showed us wrong. It reaches 3 feet by 3 feet in a season and is covered in quarter sized puffs of sky blue flowers. Grey-green foliage allows for perfect contrast. We love a plant that not only has a great name but one that describes what it does and ‘Blue Fountain’ is just that, flows of blue flowers. This herbaceous plant will die to the ground in the winter and come back in early spring.

Carex oshimensi ‘Everillo’
(Skagit Gardens)

‘Everillo’ stands out due to its bright yellow foliage. We have found that it can’t take full sun in the South, but in part- to full shade it continues to grow and thrive. At maturity ‘Everillo’ reaches 10 inches by 10 inches with airy straps of yellow blades.

Hypericum ‘Hypearls Olivia’
(Green Leaf Nursery)

‘Hypearls Olivia’ flowers in the summer and produces berries in the fall. It also handles the Southern regional heat with ease. It is a perfect habit for both the landscape and container at 4 feet by 4 feet. Small yellow flowers cover this plant early summer, followed by large grape-shaped berries that start light orange and color to red.

Salvia guaranitica ‘Amistad’
(Sunset-Southern Living Plant Collection)

‘Amistad’ is bred to be more compact than other guaranitica’s on the market and it delivers. It grows 3 feet by 3 feet in a season. And dark violet-blue flowers cover ‘Amistad’ from mid-summer until frost. For the best foliage color I plant in part sun. It does well in full sun but the leaves can be a muted green instead of dark green.


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