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Gardening: Shake up your plant picks

I’m spending a lot of time going through plant catalogs looking for treasures for the OPC garden in Rochester. Last year was the hottest and driest weather we’ve experienced in the seven years since I began as steward, so we are making some changes.

The good news is there are a lot of plant introductions this year and hybridizers are focusing on plants with heat tolerance, disease resistance and easy care.   

How about a red delphinium? Most Michigan gardeners I know have a passion for blue delphiniums. Though they are classed as a perennial, they’re lucky if they get a second year. However, many gardeners just bite the bullet and grow the beautiful blues as annuals. If red is on your must-have shopping list, you’ll be pleased to note that Darwin Perennials has introduced ‘Red Lark’ delphinium, a sterile hybrid that produces scads of coral-red clad spikes to decorate a full sun, part-sun gardens and stems to cut for bouquets. I've got to try it.

Another newbie on my want list is the ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ astilbe from Proven Winners. 

This pretty was developed by Walters Gardens in Zeeland, Michigan. The elegant black foliage is topped by rosy, purple blooms from mid – to late summer. The dramatic leaf color provides three season interest to full sun or part-sun gardens filled with green. 

‘Summerific Holy Grail’ Hardy Hibiscus, rising 5 feet in height and sporting dark, near-black foliage, is another must have for me. Deep red blooms open in summer and bright green calyxes remain after the bloom is finished, adding additional contrast and color.

Another dark-leafed wonder is ‘Timeless Night’ Heuchera sporting deep black-purple leaves and said to produce lovely rosy-pink florets atop of 18-inch scapes through the summer. I’m sold!

‘Sun Sparkler Dream Dazzler’ sedum is also on my list. New foliage emerges a collage of pink, white and purple before turning dark purple with hot pink edges. It bares magenta -pink flowers in fall.  It will look great at the feet of the black leafed hardy hibiscus.

In case you think I’m planting an all-dark garden, I also found a gorgeous fragrant climbing rose called ‘Rise Up Amberness’ from Proven Winners. Hardy to zone 4 it’s called a mini-climber because it can be trained to a support or grown as a shrub. The best news is that it produces a profusion of blossoms throughout the summer that will look great in front of a dark-leafed shrub. 

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and a Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. To ask her a question go to and click on Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at