<b>Trees, ornamental & bedding plant:</b> People behind the plants

Features - Supplement

Dan Heims travels the world in search of jaw-dropping perennials.

April 23, 2010

Begonia ‘Metallic Mist’
This begonia has heavily silvered, maplelike leaves and is hardy to Zone 7. It vigorously grows to form a striking 18-inch-tall specimen. Pink flowers in late summer extend the show. This was a Terra Nova breeding breakthrough.

Heucherella ‘Sweet Tea’
‘Sweet Tea’ is new for 2009. Huge cinnamon stars are surrounded by orange tea-colored borders. The big, palmately cut leaves darken in the summer and lighten up again in the fall. Its H. villosa breeding gives it a big bold habit and heat and humidity tolerance.

Pulmonaria ‘Trevi Fountain’
‘Trevi Fountain’ has silver-spotted foliage with profuse clusters of large, cobalt-blue flowers. It does well in the South due to its P. longifolia breeding. It’s hardy in Zones 4-9.

Scabiosa ‘Vivid Violet’
‘Vivid Violet’ has a low-mounding habit and large, vivid-violet pincushion flowers. It’s free flowering, and flowers continuously from late spring to frost. It has shown good mildew resistance in Terra Nova’s trials.

Tiarella ‘Sugar and Spice’
‘Sugar and Spice’ features shiny, lacquered leaves that are lacy with a heavily marked center in summer and winter. Spring brings lightly fragrant flowers that are frosted pink with a white interior.


You never know where the next introduction from Terra Nova Nurseries will come from – the Oregon breeder’s own greenhouse, Tasmania or a hobby hybridizer.

Company president Dan Heims is the Columbo of perennials. His plant investigations are thorough. He follows the trail of a potential new introduction until all the evidence is collected. He’s traveled the world looking for plants that make him shout, “Wow.”

He’s looking for selections with disease resistance, drought tolerance, better and longer flowers, reflowering, proportionate flowers, hardiness and vigor. It may seem like a long list, but Heims is determined to offer superior plants to the trade.

Heucheras, etc.
Terra Nova specializes in hardy perennials and is probably best known for its heuchera introductions. Heims’ love of begonias helped launch the heuchera program.

“My whole breeding program of heuchera was to create a ‘begonialike’ plant that could withstand USDA Hardiness Zone 4 winters,” he said.

Begonias certainly fall in the tropical category, but Heims introduced ‘Metallic Mist,’ which is hardy to Zone 7.
Last year—thanks in part to coleus introductions made by Rob Jansen, the stock-plant manager at Terra Nova—the nursery released 600 new plants to the industry. In 2010, the creative floodgates opened again, with an impressive array of coreopsis, echinacea, penstemon, sedum, hosta, heuchera and heucherella hitting the market.

Heims and his team use several methods of propagation, including hand-crossing, line crosses, masses and embryo rescues. Terra Nova performed more than 10,000 rescues last year.

The next Terra Nova introduction could come from someone’s backyard. On its Web site, the nursery has a call out to other breeders. When Terra Nova finds a new plant, the company first trials it against others in the market. Then the company will virus check and test the plant’s ability to reproduce.

Fabulous finds.
Terra Nova selections all come back to the wow factor – like the pumpkin color of echinacea ‘Tiki Torch,’ the masses of flowers on sedum ‘Mr. Goodbud’ and the sturdy stems of scabiosa ‘Vivid Violet.’

Heims is quick to credit his team members—Harini Korlipara, Janet Egger and Gary Gossett—for helping put Terra Nova introductions “to the forefront of horticulture.”

Most of Terra Nova’s selections are suitable for the garden or in containers. They also create some stunning combination recipes.

But there are some plants in the trade that Heims feels are overused, including echinacea ‘Magnus’ because there are “so many improved varieties”; daylily ‘Stella de Oro’; heuchera ‘Palace Purple’; rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’; and sedum ‘Autumn Joy.’

Among Heims’ favorites that are underused are all cultivars of hakonechloa, heucherella, penstemon, tiarella (foam flower) and Perovskia atriplicifolia (Russian sage).

Some of his favorite cultivars are brunnera ‘Jack Frost’; geranium ‘Rozanne’; and heuchera ‘Midnight Rose.’
What’s in store for the future? Heims sees a trend toward plants that are suitable for containers and smaller gardens, such as a smaller Ipomoea that doesn’t overwhelm a container.