Private, ornamental gardens change just enough from year to year to keep garden center workers on their toes. Gnomes are still the top seller at Sprague’s Nursery & Garden Center, but this year, the fantasy creatures have bobble heads. It’s one of several new arrivals to the 2011 gardening scene, which is all about new colors, hardy plants, sustainability and edible embellishments.

New annuals and perennials

“I try to get every color under the rainbow,” said Meagan Irving, greenhouse manager of Phil’s Florist and Greenhouses in Caribou. “They’re always crossing different varieties to get a new color or a new sort of growth.”

Irving is excited about her hardy, tall ‘Orange Perfection’ phlox and ‘Red Cardinal’ clematis climbing vine, which are less common colors in their respective genera.

Windswept Gardens in Bangor is offering a wide selection of new flower variations such as ‘Limelight’ hydrangea with bright green blooms, ‘Strawberry Parfait’ hydrangea, and new and improved self-cleaning petunias that don’t have to be deadheaded.

New colors of echinaceas remain popular from last year at Hoboken Gardens in Rockport. ‘Tomato Soup,’ ‘After Midnight,’ ‘Fatal Attraction,’ ‘Green Envy’ and ‘Green Jewel’ are among the favorites.

“As far as annuals go, [‘Pretty Much] Picasso’ was a petunia that was new last year, and people are still loving it. It’s a kind of a variegated, purple-magenta flower, and the outer rim is lime green. I’m looking at it now, and it’s beautiful,” greenhouse manager Gretchen Richards said during a phone interview as she stood in a Hoboken Gardens greenhouse.

Ball Seed Co. has come out with three new petunias this year, and the ‘Black Velvet’ petunia is the first black petunia ever produced, said Melissa Higgins, retail manager at Sprague’s Nursery & Garden Center in Bangor. The new ‘Pinstripe’ petunia is deep purple with a striking cream star pattern along the petals, and the ‘Phantom’ petunia is black with a yellow star pattern.

All three are available at Sprague’s Nursery & Garden Center, along with the ‘Magical Encounter’ iris: a new vivid pink flower highlighted with warm shrimp tones with bright salmon-pink “beards.”

Native and sustainable plants

“The new trend is a sustainable landscape, which is using native plants that can live in the landscape without using excess water; plants that can survive in this climate. We don’t know what can be invasive 10 years down the road,” said Richards at Hoboken Gardens.

Native Maine plants such as junipers are hardy and low-maintenance. Wintergreens, ferns, low- and high-bush blueberries, birch trees and maple trees are being used in landscaping. Sometimes plants that are hybridized versions of native Maine plants also prove to be hardy.

The black-eyed Susan, native to eastern United States, was a top-seller at Sprague’s Nursery and Garden Center last year.

People care about whether their plants last, said Meagan Irving. She pays close attention to the hardiness of the plant, how much maintenance it requires and its resistance to insects.

“I think a lot of people are leaning more towards perennials these days,” said Irving. “It’s a bit more in price than an annual, but they come back whereas the annuals don’t.”

Mixing food with flowers

“The biggest trend of the entire year is growing your own food crops and using that stuff in your landscape,” said Melissa Higgins at Sprague’s. “Strawberries, potatoes, anything that can save you money. We have a huge demand for blueberries and fruit trees.”

These plants help reduce grocery store costs, and a lot of them — such as blueberries — continue to add color to fall gardens.

Organic (not treated with chemicals) and heirloom (not genetically altered) plants are in especially high demand.

“Old is new,” said Higgins. “These are things we haven’t seen in a long time, but if these plants are still here, it means they’re strong.”

Whether in ground beds or raised gardens, gardeners are mixing vegetables with flowers. Feathery dill and purple-leafed basil, kale and low-lying lettuces add variety, texture and scent to an ornamental garden.

A splash of color is all it takes to turn a necessary structure into decoration. Trellises for tomato plants and other plants that need support to grow properly now come in pink, yellow, orange and green.

“All of your vegetables have flowers on them, it’s just about appreciating a different kind of flower,” Higgins said.

Container gardens prove to be rewarding because they don’t require the usual weeding or a lot of space. Tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and herbs often can be grown right on the doorstep. At the recent Bangor’s Garden Show, displays showed just how creative you could get with mixing plants in a 3-by-3-foot space for the “Outside the Box Container Garden Contest.” Even people without a yard can experiment with mixing their favorite flowers and eatables.

Renovation of the outdoor living space

An architectural trend that started in warmer states is gaining popularity in Maine. Outdoor kitchens — complete with a bar, stove and refrigerator for beverages, poolside snacks and meat to grill — are increasingly being requester by the customers of Windswept Gardens in Bangor.

““It’s making outdoor living rooms more than just a patio with a couple of chairs,” said Bob Bangs, owner and landscape designer of Windswept Gardens in Bangor. “I have [an outdoor kitchen] myself. It just makes being outdoors a lot easier and a lot more enjoyable.”

Water gardens, waterfalls and fountains are also becoming more popular as companies refine and improve filtration systems and make ponds easier to maintain. And while ponds aren’t getting less expensive, they are becoming easier to install.

“Buy a kit, liner, filtration system and skimmer, and once you get the hole dug and get friends together to move some rock, you’re ready to go in about a day,” said Bangs.

These big projects are pricey and therefore impractical for many Maine residents, but people are finding other, less expensive ways to create a landscape that is engaging at all hours.

Some of the usual garden decorations, such as gazing balls, have been infused with sparkles and glow-in-the-dark paint. While whimsical objects such as oversize mushrooms and enormous butterflies have found their homes in flower beds for years, the once daytime embellishments now start shining at twilight; they have been upgraded with solar lights.

Yet in the midst of new solar-lit statues, black flowers, one-day-assembly ponds and ornamental tomato displays stands the traditional metal pink flamingo. Sprague’s Nursery & Garden Center ordered a flock of these lawn ornaments — invented by Don Featherstone in 1957 — for this year’s Bangor’s Garden Show — and it sold out.

Independent nurseries and garden centers across the state invite people to visit and help celebrate gardening in Maine for Maine Greenhouse & Nursery Day on Saturday, April 30. At participating businesses, there will be demonstrations, fun events and giveaways. For information, visit


Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn Sarnacki is the BDN Act Out editor, focusing on outdoor recreation and Maine wildlife. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter: @1minhikegirl, and Instagram:...