Top four ‘favs’ from each Michigan Garden Plant Tour site

Michigan State University Extension picks four plant cultivars or combinations at each trial garden participating in the Michigan Garden Plant Tour.

Photo by Heidi Lindberg and Jaden Gimondo, MSU Extension.

The 2023 Michigan Garden Plant Tour was from late July through early August. This year, there were seven trial gardens throughout central lower Michigan: DGI Propagators, Four Star Greenhouses, Mast Young Plants, Michigan State University Trial Garden, Pell Greenhouses, Raker-Roberta’s Young Plants and Walter’s Gardens. Our Michigan State University Extension educators, Heidi Lindberg and Jaden Gimondo, picked their top four favorite cultivars or combinations at each site.

DGI Propagators

DGI Propagators returned to the trials in 2023 and showcased their plants in 300 containers. Two combination plants and two plant varieties caught my eye at their trials (clockwise from top left):

A closeup of four featured plants at a nursery.
Photos by Heidi Lindberg and Jaden Gimondo, MSU Extension.
  • Rudbeckia hirta Sunbeckia ‘Juliana’- Bull Plant Genetics
  • Solanum aethiopicum – ‘Pumpkin on a Stick’
  • Bronze combination:
    • Calibrachoa ‘Calitastic Cappuccino’
    • Canna ‘Cannova Bronze Peach’
    • Coleus ‘Under the Sea King Crab’
    • Ipomoea ‘Sweet Georgia Heart Chestnut’
    • Petchoa ‘Supercal Premium Red Maple’
  • Blue and white combination:
    • Angelonia ‘Serfina White’
    • Calibrachoa ‘Calitastic Violaceous’
    • Dichondra ‘Silver Falls’
    • Draceana (spike)
    • Petunia ‘Splash Dance Moonwalk’

Rudbeckia ‘Juliana’ was extremely floriferous, like a ray of sunshine. The ‘Pumpkin on a Stick’ is actually an eggplant that would be an awesome addition to the back of a border or a container that would be a real conversation starter. The fruits of the Pumpkin on a Stick ripen to miniature orange pumpkins and make fun dried flower arrangements. It’s a fun alternative for those who do not have space in their gardens for traditional pumpkins.

The bronze combination and the blue and white combination planters were eye-catching and would make great additions to any porch. The ‘Bronze Peach’ canna and the ‘Heart Chestnut’ ipomoea dominated the container with red-bronze foliage, and the ‘Red Maple’ Petchoa (new variety from Sakata) provided a fantastic pop of color. The blue and white combination planter was excellent for consumers looking for a container with a cool color palate; the ‘Serfina White’ Angelonia contrasted with the ‘Moonwalk’ purple petunia.

Four Star Greenhouse

Four Star Greenhouse offers the most formal garden design of any of the trial garden sites including water features, pavilion, and dozens of containers and hanging baskets. The one-acre display garden features award winners, new releases and the Classics Collection. Three varieties and one combination stood out (clockwise from top left):

Four Star Slide.jpg
Photos by Heidi Lindberg and Jaden Gimondo, MSU Extension.
  • Petunia Supertunia ‘Bermuda Beach’ Improved (2024 new variety) – Proven Winners
  • Evolvulus ‘Blue My Mind’ – Proven Winners
  • Clementine Combination Planter:
    • Double Calibrachoa Superbells ‘Double Amber’ – Proven Winners
    • Calibrachoa Superbells ‘Dreamsicle’ – Proven Winners
    • Cuphea ‘Vermillionaire’ – Proven Winners
  • Senecio ‘Angel Wings’ – Proven Winners

The salmon-pink of the ‘Bermuda Beach’ Improved was eye catching and a usually bright color in the garden. Evolvulus ‘Blue My Mind’ is a heat-loving plant that is increasing in popularity because it is one of the rare truly blue flowers. There were many striking planters, but the orange ‘Clementine’ combination mix was appealing because of the different textures and habits of the calibrachoas and the cuphea. One of our favorites was the display of Senecio ‘Angel Wings,’ which is not new to the industry but is a favorite for its broad leaves, silver color, and interesting texture.

Michigan State University Trial Gardens

The MSU Horticulture Gardens include 14 acres of beautiful landscapes highlighting annuals, perennials and woody plants. The Amien Carter Annual Gardens house their annual trials. They evaluated over 300 varieties, including annuals, perennials and vegetables this year.

A closeup of four featured plants at a nursery.
Photos by Heidi Lindberg and Jaden Gimondo, MSU Extension.
  • Leonotis leonurus
  • Supertunia ‘Hoopla Vivid Orchid’ – Proven Winners
  • Helianthus ‘Desire Red’ – Burpee
  • Basil ‘Everleaf Thai Towers’ – PanAmerican Seed

You cannot walk through MSU’s trial gardens this year without being drawn to the 5-foot-tall Leonotis leonurus with its bright orange flowers. The same could be said for Supertunia ‘Hoopla Vivid Orchid’, the magenta-colored flowers with a crisp white edge draw you in from across the garden. Basil Everleaf ‘Thai Towers’ is dense foliage, columnar basil cultivar that can hold its own in a flower garden. Helianthus ‘Desire Red’ is a dwarf sunflower that packs a punch with its red flowers and burgundy stems.

Mast Young Plants

The 2023 trial garden featured more than 1,500 varieties in raised landscape beds, hanging baskets, deco pots, saddle planters, window planters and 500 unique, custom-designed combination planters. With so many excellent varieties and combinations, choosing four was particularly difficult. These were some that caught our eye (left to right):

A closeup of four featured plants at a nursery.
Photos by Heidi Lindberg and Jaden Gimondo, MSU Extension.
  • Peach combination planter:
    • Petunia ‘Fun House Papaya’
    • Calibrachoa ‘Carmel’
    • Alternanthera ‘Brazilian Red Hots’
    • Verbena ‘Lascar Mango Orange’
  • Blue and silver combination planter:
    • Salvia farinacea ‘Velocity Blue’
    • Artemisia ‘FanciFillers Sea Salt’
    • Lobularia ‘Stream Violet’
    • Scaevola ‘Bombay Dark Blue’
    • Petunia ‘Itsy White’
  • Begonia ‘Fragrant Falls Peach’ – Beekenkamp
  • Osteospermum ‘Blue Eyed Beauty’ – Ball FloraPlant

Two ‘Deco Boxes’ – or combination planters – caught our eye: one peach two-layer combination pot and a striking white and blue mixture. In the peach combination planter, the ‘Papaya’ petunia and ‘Carmel’ calibrachoa blended beautifully, providing depth of color, while the ‘Mango Orange’ verbena lightened up the colors with the light peach. Once again, a blue and white container captured our attention with the ‘Velcoity Blue’ salvia as the thriller in the pot. The ‘Sea Salt’ artemisia and ‘Itsy White’ provided excellent contrast and spilled from the container.

We are already big fans of tuberous begonias, and the rose-like scent of the ‘Fragrant Falls Peach’ begonia was pungent when leaning down to photograph the large peach flowers. The clean yellow flowers with the blue center of the osteospermum was striking and memorable.

Pell Greenhouses, INC

The Pell Greenhouses trial garden includes a large hanging basket structure, fence plantings and hanging baskets. One hanging basket combination and three plant varieties were the most striking (clockwise from top left):

A closeup of four featured plants at a nursery.
Photos by Heidi Lindberg and Jaden Gimondo, MSU Extension.
  • Durabella mixes Ombre Sundown – Danziger
    • Calibrachoa ‘Ombre Yellow’
    • Calibrachoa ‘Ombre Pink’
    • Calibrachoa ‘Ombre Blue’
  • Rex Begonia ‘Bewitched Night Owl’ – Greenfuse
  • Colocasia ‘Black Magic’ – Greenfuse
  • Bracteantha ‘Cottage Orange’ – Westhoff

There were a few different calibrachoa mixtures, but Durabella Ombre Sundown from Danzinger was our favorite with its combination of yellow, pink and blue flowers. Rex begonia ‘Bewitched Night Owl’ had striking silver foliage with pops of burgundy. It was a showy asset to the shade garden. ‘Black Magic’ Colocasia had dramatically large black leaves and was a favorite at this trial garden and the MSU trial garden. ‘Cottage Orange’ bracteantha had very showy, large orange-red flowers. It is an underutilized plant for spring and fall production.

Walter’s Garden

Walter’s Gardens provides a living landscape performance trial of the perennial Proven Winners collection. As with all of the display and trial gardens, many plants caught our attention, but we chose four plant varieties that topped the list (right to left):

A closeup of four featured plants at a nursery.
Photos by Heidi Lindberg and Jaden Gimondo, MSU Extension.
  • Echinacea ‘Double Dipped Watermelon Sugar’ (2023-2024 new variety) – Walters Gardens
  • Alstroemeria ‘Golden Tiara’ – Walters Gardens
  • Hibiscus ‘Watermelon ruffles’ (2023-2024 new variety) – Walters Gardens
  • Buddleia ‘Lilac Cascade’ – Walters Gardens

Two of our favorite plants were bright pink and new for 2023-2024: ‘Watermelon Sugar’ echinacea and ‘Watermelon Ruffles’ hibiscus. The echinacea was very floriferous and had a nice tidy mounding habit, while the hibiscus had interesting, ruffled flowers. The ‘Lilac Cascade’ buddleia was uniquely grafted into a tree habit providing late summer color to the garden. The ‘Golden Tiara’ alstroemeria had prolific mounds of beautiful yellow flowers.

Raker-Roberta’s Young Plants

The trial garden at Raker-Roberta’s Young Plants consists of more than 6 acres with 3,000 plant varieties. The most notable varieties from the 2023 trials were (from left to right):

A closeup of four featured plants at a nursery.
Photos by Heidi Lindberg and Jaden Gimondo, MSU Extension.
  • Ornamental pepper ‘Black Pearl’
  • Petunia ‘Slingshot Burgundy Bliss’
  • Coleus ‘Talavera Moondust’ (2023-2024 new variety)
  • Dahlia ‘Lubega Dark Velvet’

The coleus trials played a dominant role at the Raker-Roberta’s Young Plant trial gardens. One that stuck out and is new for 2023-2024 is ‘Moondust’ from the Talavera series. Its deep burgundy foliage flecked with yellow and non-bolting habit would make an out-of-this-world addition to any garden. Another new variety that stood out is the petunia ‘Burgundy Bliss’ in the Slingshot series. This petunias color combination of burgundy with a delicate white edge drew us in, but its form in a hanging basket makes it a standout. Dark foliage is in, and the dahlia ‘Dark Velvet’ from the Lubega series does not disappoint with its fuchsia flowers set against a deep burgundy leaf. This year, the ornamental pepper ‘Black Pearl’ has caught my eye at several trial gardens. This deep-pigmented variety stands out because of its bushy and well-balanced form.

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