1. The Knock Out Rose
Before Knock Out came along, who would have guessed a rose would become the most important plant for garden retail? David Austin Roses had made some progress in erasing roses’ reputation as fussy and unattractive garden shrubs. But The Knock Out Rose debuted and gained a reputation as indestructible in just about all climates. It was the highest grossing plant for many retailers for several years. Other varieties in the series have had success, but nothing like the phenomenon of that first Knock Out.
2. Petunia ‘Purple Wave’
This is the spreading variety that launched the petunia craze. Wave petunias not only captured consumer interest, but set the stage for the popularity of all the mini-petunia baskets that took off after ‘Million Bells’ calibrachoa hit the market. It’s hard to imagine an industry not dominated by petunias.
3. Endless Summer Hydrangeas
Endless Summer’s huge success just goes to show you what can happen when innovative breeding — old growth branches producing blooms and serious cold hardiness — meets great marketing.
4. ‘Stella d’Oro’ Daylily
Daylilies were a quiet part of the garden center mix before the revolutionary ‘Stella D’Oro’ came along. This tough, dwarf variety had spectacular success with landscapers and consumers, appearing in highway plantings and home gardens alike.
5. Super Elfin Impatiens
Many credit the Super Elfin series with making impatiens the industry’s No. 1 commodity plant. Its fast-track production, uniformity and reliable performance dominated small-sized bedding annual sales for both growers and retailers. And that dominance is why the impact of impatiens downy mildew is so profound. If the disease continues to spread in the coming years, it’s likely several plants will have to fill in rather than any one species being able to replace impatiens.
6. Heuchera ‘Palace Purple’
I’m going to cheat on this entry and sneak in two other shade-loving, fascinating-foliage plants under the ‘Palace Purple’ listing. ‘Palace Purple’ put heuchera on the map and is now a deer-resistant staple. Likewise, Helleborus ‘Ivory Prince’ was a breakthrough in hellebore breeding that made the species a commercially attractive option. Kong coleus made consumers and retailers look at coleus in a whole new way. Plantsman Allan Armitage says no list of most influential plants can hope to have any credibility without ‘Palace Purple’ and ‘Ivory Prince.’ His choice of coleus, however, would have been ‘Rustic Orange,’ which was part of the original Sunlover series.
7. Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’
‘Goldsturm’ was one of the first perennials (and the most widely used perennial) in commercial plantings, says Plants Nouveau’s Angela Treadwell-Palmer. The variety was so successful, it’s what many consumers think of for all rudbeckias.
8. ’Bloodgood’ Japanese Maple
‘Bloodgood’ is the best-known Japanese maple, mainly because so many varieties are sold under that name. Although Japanese maples were first introduced to the West in the 1700s by a protégé of Linneaus, they took off as a popular ornamental tree in the U.S. only in the past two decades.
9. Echinacea ‘Orange Meadowbrite’
‘Orange Meadowbrite’ isn’t sold much anymore, Treadwell-Palmer says, but it was the first orange coneflower introduced. That led to a race for more orange, then yellow, then double echinaceas.
10. Ipomoea ‘Margarita’
Another surprise success, ‘Margarita’ became a staple for combo planters when sweet potato vine was on no one’s radar.