From the Vancouver
Sun: April 2006
Gary Lewis shares
his pick of top performance plants for a new season
by Steve Whysall, Vancouver Sun
Published: Friday, April 21, 2006
wouldn't be doing this if I weren't passionate about
plants," says Gary Lewis, owner of Phoenix Perennials
cottage nursery in Richmond.
It's a simple confession but a meaningful one nonetheless.
It explains why Lewis is working so hard to make his
little nursery one of the best places to shop for new,
rare and unusual plants.
"I want the nursery to be the place where people
know they will find all the best plants," says
"We have three distinct focuses: cutting-edge cultivars
-- all the new stuff like fancy new sedums, Big Sky
echinaceas; stalwarts such as Alchemilla mollis (everybody
needs some lady's mantle); and rare and unusual plants
-- the other side of cutting-edge, including new species
that have come out of plant explorations."
It is his passion for plants that makes Lewis one of
the most knowledgeable experts in B.C. horticulture
at the moment.
So what plants is he particularly excited about this
season? And which ones does he think are undervalued
and deserve more attention from gardeners?
"My five top groups for 2006 are arisaemas, echinaceas,
sedums, hellebores and dahlias," he says, but he
also has a kind word for new cultivars of hardy geranium,
rodgersia, iris and gardenia as well as less well-known
species of kniphofia and climbing hydrangea.
Let's take a close look at each of Lewis's five top
"I found a source for these in India, which was
an exciting discovery. They are the best plants to add
a weird and wonderful look to your garden," he
Members of the Arum family, arisaemas are "botanically
intriguing plants" that have the classic spathe
and spadix-type flower similar to the peace lily and
calla lily, says Lewis.
Of the 18 different species and cultivars he has for
sale, he recommends A. galeatum, A. griffithii var.
pradhanii, A. consanguineum 'The Perfect Wave' and 'Poseidon',
A. tortuosum and A. utile.
Hot on the heels of the Meadowbrite Orange and Mango
out of Chicago, the Big Sky Series is capturing attention
and winning fans because of the reliability of the various
"Unlike the Meadowbrites, which have the look and
habit of its parent E. paradoxa, cultivars in the Big
Sky Series have more of the look and habit of the classic
purple coneflower, Echinacea purpurea but with outstanding
new colours," says Lewis.
The Big Sky echinaceas are also better for Vancouver-area
gardens, being more tolerant of wet than the Meadowbrites.
Names to look for are 'Sunrise' (citron yellow), 'Sunset'
(salmon-orange petals around a copper cone), 'Sundown'
(coral petals tipped in salmon), 'Harvest Moon' (gold
petals around a golden-orange cone) and 'Twilight' (rose
petals around a red cone). All of the Big Sky cultivars
"One reason sedums need more attention is that
the ones that are getting all the press are not necessarily
the best garden plants," says Lewis, who is particularly
enthusiastic about some of the new upright sedums that
have outstanding foliage.
As well as tried-and-true varieties like 'Lynda Windsor',
'Purple Emperor' and 'African Sunset', Lewis rates 'Black
Jack' with intensely dark-purple, almost black, foliage,
'Blade Runner', which has red purple flowers above remarkably
toothed leaves and red stems, 'Postman's Pride' with
thick, small, rounded, bluish purple foliage and rosy-red
flowers, 'Cloud Walker' with large mauve-pink blooms
and dark tinted foliage, and 'Xenox' with a dark brooding
(and bold) look brightened by pink flowers.
Although the flowering season for hellebores is coming
to a close, Lewis still rates these plants for their
foliage interest. It is also important to get them into
the garden for subsequent years.
"Hellebores continue to be hot, especially with
new cultivars and doubles coming available," he
'Heronswood Doubles' with "superlative double flowers"
are available in purple, pink and white. "I acquired
a plant of each of these a few years ago for my own
garden and they are simply exquisite," say Lewis.
Other top cultivars of hellebore worth discovering include
'Ivory Prince' and H. argutifolius 'Silver Lace'.
"These are due for a revival," says Lewis.
"The Bishop series is a classic with bright colours
over rich burgundy foliage. Totally luscious."
Names to ask for include 'Bishop of Llandaff', 'Bishop
of Canterbury' 'Bishop of Oxford', 'Bishop of York'
and, new this year, 'Bishop of Leicester'.
The 'Chic' and 'Happy' series are two other groups worth
getting to know.
'Chic' has double yellow flowers with amber centres
while 'Chic en Rouge' has double deep-red flowers with
darker centres. They both grow to 60 cm (2 feet).
Inspired by Romeo and Juliet, the 'Happy' series features
'Juliet' (lilac-pink with a dark centre), 'Romeo' (deep
red with a dark centre), 'Kiss' (salmon-rose with a
red ring around a dark centre) and 'Party' (bright yellow
with a brown centre).
MORE TOP SELECTIONS
Other plants that get a high rating from Lewis include
- Geranium 'Jolly Bee' (bright blue flowers with white-eye).
- Iris versicolor 'Gerald Darby'(dark purple foliage
and purple-blue flowers).
- Kniphofia northiae. "Unlike other red hot pokers
that have fine, somewhat disheveled leaves, this species
sports broad bluish green architectural foliage with
- Rodgersia 'Chocolate Wing' with chocolate-bronze
foliage. "The flowers are also dynamic starting
out pale pink and deepening gradually to burgundy-red."
- Gardenia jasminoides 'Kleim's Hardy': Hardy, evergreen
gardenia with fragrant flowers.
- Hydrangea integrifolia and H. seemannii: Two relatively
rare species of climbing hydrangea.
- Paris polyphylla: "Perhaps more than any other
perennial, this rare woodland treasure earns the right
to be called exquisite," says Lewis. The stem is
circled by a single whorl of glossy, green leaves. This
is echoed by the flower with its own whorl of green
bracts subtending threadlike yellow-green petals, golden
stamens and purple stigma.
For more information, contact Gary Lewis at Phoenix
Perennials, 3380 No. 6 Road Richmond, or (604) 270-4133,
or visit the nursery's website,
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