Peggy Hill is a garden consultant, writer, speaker and plant ho. She blogs about her garden shenanigans at Peggy is also working to preserve 435 acres and 25,000 feet of magnificent shoreline on Smith Lake in North Alabama as part of the Forever Wild Land Trust. For more information and to register your support, visit


2015 Spring Plant Trials and Ball Horticulture
by Peggy Hill - posted 06/04/15

I’m doing a series of blog posts about the plants that I saw at the 2015 Spring Plant Trials. In my last post I mentioned that one of the reasons that Ball Horticulture was my favorite stop is that they send me free plants. But other companies send me free plants too, so that’s not the main reason that Ball was my favorite stop.

The story begins when I saw the April issue of Alabama Gardener with the picture I took for the Titillating Textures article on the cover.

On a side note, Titillating Textures was a Main State Feature, which means 8 other writers had the same assignment for 8 other state gardening magazines. Because I’m slightly competitive, I asked for a copy of the other magazines, so I could compare the articles. I was surprised to find that all the other writers wrote about Tantalizing Textures. I wondered if I misread the assignment. - That sounds like something I might do. - But no, I double checked the email. I think it’s funny that I’m the only one who got the Titillating Texture assignment. I wonder why. Hahahahaha!

Anyway, back to my original story. I felt bad that it didn't have a caption like, "Imagine this combination of Persian shield (Strobilanthes) and Compact Lilac SunPatiens™ without the Red Threads Joseph’s coat. It’s attractive, but needs more texture." The reason for the oversight was my lack of internet in the week before that issue went to press. I didn’t see the email asking about the plants until it was too late. To make it up to the readers, I decided to write the June Hot Plant article about Red Threads.

Researching for the article, I contacted Katie at Ball Horticulture. Whenever I contact a new company, I always end by explaining all my Plant Ho qualifications, and asking for free sample plants. Since I write two blogs and all the Hot Plant articles for Alabama Gardener, my qualifications are fairly impressive, if I do say so myself. Katie must have thought so too because, in addition to all the fabulous plants she sent me, I think she made a note that I was going to be at Spring Plant Trials.

With that bit of background, I can skip ahead to plant trials. My travel companion for the trip was none other than Dan Heims, president of Terra Nova Nurseries. Dan’s a nice guy, and I really like him. But he’s a big cheese in the horticultural world, and the whole trip I was completely ignored, while everyone sucked up to the great and powerful Dan Heims. Except when we stopped at Ball Horticulture, which is the main reason that it was my favorite.

As Dan and I approached the table where you sign in, Dan stopped to talk to someone. After a minute or two, I felt I was awkwardly eavesdropping on their conversation and decided to go sign in. The next thing I knew, I was whisked away by two private tour guides who showed me Ball’s line of shrubs, explaining the breeding breakthroughs and answering all my questions.

Acacia Cousin Itt

I'm in love with Cousin Itt Acacia (Acacia cognata 'Cousin Itt'). It doesn't need much water, which is probably why I saw lots of it in California, and why San Marcos Growers said it's their best seller. My problem is that it's only hardy to 15 degrees, but I think I have to have one anyway. Here's a few more of Ball's shrubs:

Indian Hawthorn, Rhaphiolepis 'Oriental Pearl'

Abelia Bella Donna

Then Katie, the nice lady I interviewed about Red Threads, showed up and took me to the greenhouse with their annuals, where another private tour guide joined us to explain the improvements.

2015 Spring Plant Trials

Flip Side coleus

When the leaves of Flip Side coleus blow in the breeze, you get a nice two-toned effect. 

Glamour Euphorbia

Here they paired Flip Side with their new Euphorbia 'Glamour', the first landscape euphorbia from seed. And get a load of the size of the bloom on this next one.

Titan Cotton Candy Mix Vinca

When Dan texted that he was having lunch at a table near the front, I told my guides that I should probably go eat too. Katie came with me and sat me at a table with the other media people. After lunch, she showed me the perennials. Southern gardeners will be happy to learn that Ball is breeding new coral bells (Heuchera) that can handle our heat and humidity.

Heuchera, coral bells at 2015 Spring Plant Trials

coral bells, Carnival Rose Granita, Heuchera

The perennial that impressed me the most was Dianthus 'Jolt Pink'. It's an All American Selections winner, and the judges said, "Best of the Trials! We wish all Dianthus performed this well."

Jolt Pink Dianthus

In the article that I wrote for the July issue of Alabama Gardener, I talk about the Jolt series of dianthus, and I'm not going to repeat myself here, but I will show you a picture of Jolt Cherry. 

Jolt Cherry dianthus

Katie showed me the prettiest cardinal flower (Lobelia) that I've ever seen. It comes in two colors, Starship Scarlet and Deep Rose.

Starship Scarlet and Deep Rose Lobelia

Dan texted that we should leave in 15 minutes, and Katie picked up the pace, blazing through the last of the plants. When I got to the car Dan said, “What happened to you back there? I was going to introduce you to Ball’s owner, but when I turned around, you were gone.” After all that individualized attention, I was feeling like a big shot myself, and I just told Dan, “It’s a long story.”



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Eva - 09/29/2015

I would appreciate any help anyone would give meon planting.I have a 25ft by4ft area that gets sun all day.Any suggestions on what to plant that would bloom all season?Iwould like to have color all season as much as possible.I live in winston county al.
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Peggy Hill (Alabama (Zone 7b)) - 10/08/2015

Hi Eva,
I'm right next door in Cullman County, so what grows well for me, should do good for you. Usually, annuals bloom the longest. Some good choices are: Angelonia, bat-faced cuphea, SunPatiens Impatiens, pentas, fanflower and petunias. I also love the new cleomes 'Senorita Rosalita' and 'Senorita Blanca'. If you don't want to purchase new plants each year, these annuals return from seeds set the previous year: 'Lady in Red' Salvia, tassel flower and floss flower (Ageratum houstonianum). I hope that helps.
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