When you don’t get out much, even eggplant is exciting

I have been in another garden.

Ordinarily declaring such an event so dramatically in mid-August wouldn’t be necessary because I would have toured several gardens. But a trip to Ball Horticultural’s display gardens in Illinois a couple weeks ago was notable because it was the farthest I’ve driven since February as well as being the first garden other than my own that I’ve stepped in all year.

In a typical year, the trip would have been part of media event with a large group of garden writers, but this year it was a brief socially distanced tour hitting on the high points of the garden. After I got over the euphoria of exploring an impeccably maintained garden full of creative ideas, I focused the little time I had on some of the new plants heading to garden centers soon.

Every time I look at shiny new plants, I remind myself that new isn’t necessarily better, but I admit it’s exciting to dream about growing something that is different from the usual fare.

And I haven’t stopped thinking about a few of them.

My favorite new plant by far is the annual salvia called White Flame. The plants I saw were 2 feet tall in the landscape and a bit more compact growing  in containers and full of long spires of small white flowers, that, like most salvias, attract hummingbirds in droves. The foliage is slightly gray, and although most of the plants had recently bloomed and hadn’t been cut back, they still looked great with just the white-gray calyxes on display.

So many new petunias are introduced every year that it takes something special to turn my head, but the new Bee’s Knees petunia is remarkable for its true lemon color, a rarity in petunias. It has a slightly darker throat that fades to a soft yellow on the edges and looked equally good in containers as it did in the sea of yellow I saw mass planted in the landscape.

Compact plants often garner a lot of attention in garden centers, which is not necessarily a good thing. Gardens that use too many small plants tend to look a bit disjointed without taller plants to bridge to gap to trees and provide a bit of looseness. But I can get behind mini vegetables, which are just plain fun. Siam tomatoes are cherry tomatoes grown on plants that are less than a foot tall and produce fruit in lower light situations. They will be perfect for a patio table or even a kitchen windowsill and may be sold in supermarkets much the way potted basil is.

Asian Delite Eggplant was so laden with foot-long, skinny fruits in the most amazing shade of purple that I was surprised the 3-foot tall plants were still upright. They were pretty enough that I’d grow these just for looks, but with non-bitter eggplant that has tender skin that doesn’t need to be peeled, you can bet I’d be eating them too.

I can honestly say that I’ve never been excited about an eggplant before. Maybe all the missed garden tour opportunities this year has really gotten to me after all.




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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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