New varieties of blanketflower

y Peter Sleight

In the Garden

February 20, 2005|By Peter Sleight | By Peter Sleight,The Hartford Courant

As the nursery catalogs roll in this time of year, it's always amazing to see what busy hybridizers have been up to.

An interesting trend is how quickly breeders are making improvements to old-fashioned flowers.

For instance, All-America Selections, a nonprofit organization that tests seed-grown garden plants, has given its annual awards over the past few years to new varieties of such stalwarts as rudbeckia, celosia, vinca, cleome, zinnia and what seems like hundreds of new petunias.

Some of the most interesting work recently has resulted in fresh looks for one of the hardiest and easiest-to-grow garden classics: gaillardia, or blanketflower.

In the past, the principal attributes of gaillardia have been its toughness and ease of cultivation.

It grows readily from seed, performs well in dry, sandy soil and withstands drought once established.

But the old forms of gaillardia, with its cheerfully garish flowers of mahogany red and bright yellow, are gangly plants with a tendency toward floppy stems.

But breeders have been trying hard to tame the unruly gaillardia.

Gaillardia aristata 'Goblin,' now a standard, shortens the stems to a neat 12-inch clump with traditionally colored flowers covering the top.

'Summer's Kiss' takes gaillardia into new pastel territory. The coloration is predominantly light orange, but soft shades of salmon, gold and apricot blend in tastefully toward the tips.

'Burgundy' gaillardia is just that -- a single rich burgundy with an orange eye -- all the toughness of the species in a cooler tone that goes well with other summer-blooming plants such as marigolds, rudbeckia and tithonia.

'Arizona Sun,' offered as an annual, won a 2005 AAS award based on its ability to flower the first year from seed because it needs no winter chill. It also offers a uniform habit of about 10 inches high and wide, good for mass planting.

'Fanfare' gaillardia changes the blanketflower's traditional shape, surrounding the central disk with trumpet-shaped petals, yellow at the edge bleeding to light orange toward the base.

The Hartford Courant is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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