What Really Worked — My Favorite New Plant This Year

September 8, 2013 | By | Comments (13)

Every year, I try out a number of uber-hyped plants in my home garden, so that I may report the truth to you, cherish readers. Most times, uber-hype translates to over-hype, but not in the case of this champ. Read on to see what Grumpy and 8 other garden experts from around the country picked as their favorite new plants for 2013.

Steve Bender

‘Kong Jr.’ coleus took no prisoners in Grumpy’s garden this year. Photo: Fay Wray

As his favorite new plant for 2013, Grumpy chooses ‘Kong Jr.’ coleus — and not because it scoops up pretty blond girls, climbs to the top of the Empire State Building, and knocks vintage WWI biplanes out of the sky.


Really — who HASN’T done this? Photo: 7th Street Theatre

No, ‘Kong Jr.’ coleus is the latest version of its big daddy, ‘Kong’ coleus, that appeared in 2004. ‘Kong’ astonished gardeners with gaudily colored leaves up to 6 inches across. But its stems were a bit brittle and it tended to get a leggy unless you pinched it from time to time. ‘Kong Jr.’ has smaller, 4-inch leaves, but it makes a tidy, dense mound about 18 inches high and 30 inches wide that needs no grooming. No monkey business.

Grumpy grew ‘Kong Jr. Scarlet’ (up top), but it comes in 3 other forms — ‘Rose’ (deep pink with green edges), ‘Lime Vein’ (lime green with crimson veins), and ‘Green Halo’ (light green with cream splashes). Plants seldom flower (a big plus, as coleus blooms look hideous). Ball Horticultural Company, the developer, recommends ‘Kong Jr.’ for shade, but it did just fine in sun for me. Our abnormally cool, wet summer may have played a role, as did its steady diet of bananas and blonds.

To sum up, ‘Kong Jr.’ has provided Grumpy with easy, nonstop color from April to right now. It is the one plant non-gardeners consistently notice in my garden. That makes it my favorite new plant for 2013.

Here are more great plants Grumpy’s gardening buds picked as their faves. (All of the plants will grow throughout the country.) Click on the links to their blogs to learn more. Then tell Grumpy what was YOUR favorite new plant!

Faves from Grumpy’s Partners in Crime
Pick One: From Champaign, Illinois, home of the world’s finest bubbly  — the very thoughtful and manly Chris Tidrick.

Chris Tidrick

What a handsome devil. Photo: Miley Cyrus

Gazania ‘New Day Bronze.’ An IT expert who is probably listening in on you right now, Chris explains his zany choice of orange flowers on his blog, “From the Soil.”

Pick Two: From Monticello, Florida, Thomas Jefferson’s beach home — Carolyn Binder. (Yes, Carolyn and I own the cutthroat law firm, Binder & Bender. Don’t cross us.)

Carolyn Binder

Carolyn is jubilant over this compact, new gardenia. Photo: Jimmy Buffett.

‘Jubilation’ gardenia. See how much money Grumpy had to pay Carolyn to get her to choose a plant in our Southern Living Plant Collection by reading her blog, “Cowlick Cottage Farm.”

Pick Three: From Raleigh, North Carolina, the incredibly confident Helen Yoest. 

Helen Yoest

Helen says you’ll bare your soul for this new dahlia. Photo: Bob Guccione

‘Pooh’ dahlia. Check out Helen’s debatable reasoning for not choosing dahlia ‘Eeyore’ by visiting her blog, “Gardening With Confidence.”

Pick Four: From Jacksonville, Florida, home of the always disappointing Jacksonville Jaguars — Steve Asbell. 

Steve Asbell

This hot basil has Steve’s number! Photo: S’hawnika La Quay-Quay Asbell

‘Siam Queen’ Thai basil. When not running from army ants, Steve writes about tropical, semi-tropical, and other plants on his soggy blog, “The Rainforest Garden.”

Pick Five: From Haviland, Ohio, where corn grows as high as an elephant’s eye — Kylee Baumle.

Kylee Baumle

Kylee must have been told about this great new coreopsis by her mom. Photo: MBT

‘Center Stage’ coreopsis. Kylee’s farm neighbors live pretty far away, so she’d love you to drop by her blog, “Our Little Acre.” Maybe you’ll meet Shoeless Joe Jackson on the baseball diamond she just built.

Pick Six: From Austin, Texas, where gardening is just one part of a strange, strange trip — Jenny Peterson.

Jenny Peterson

Jenny grows the best in Austin. Photo: DEA

‘Lemon Ball’ sedum. When she’s not feeding chickens and the neighbor’s donkey, she designs gardens for people. Read up on her inspired choice at J Peterson Garden Design.

Pick Seven: From Chicago, Illinois, where she learned to garden at the foot of Al CaponeShawna Coronado.

Shawna Coronado

Shawna can see Alaska from her front porch! Photo: James Cameron.

‘Alaska Variegated’ Nasturtium. Shawna actually lives in the Chicago suburb of Warrenville, where she outrages the local government by growing veggies in her front yard. Learn more about her pick and her campaign of insurrection at Shawna Coronado.

Pick Eight: From Renton, Washington, where she designs some of the prettiest plant combos ever seen on the Left Coast or any other coast — Christina Salwitz.

Christina Salwitz

Christina’s pick is just peachy. Photo: Willie Goodnyck.

‘Peachie’s Pick’ Stoke’s aster. You’ll find details about this plant and a ton of good ideas on her blog, the Personal Garden Coach. (Yes, I will have some more peach schnappes, thank you!)

Now It’s Your Turn
What has been YOUR favorite new plant in 2013?


  1. More about landscaping than I thought I had in me – The Befuddled Stepmonster

    […] One pot with Kong Jr. Coleus (scarlet) […]

    May 31, 2014 at 5:21 am
  2. Barbara Osborne

    My favorite plant this year is Calibrachoa, which I potted in April and it has been blooming ever since. We live in the shade and our sunniest spot is our deck, which only gets about three to five hours of sun during the day, so for something to bloom all summer like this and not flinch from the hot, dry, humid summers we get here in MD is awesome! It comes in several colors…mine are yellow, to brighten up the shade. Next year I plan to buy it in several colors…

    September 20, 2013 at 11:43 am
  3. Rebecca Reed

    I agree with Steve – out of the bounty of plants that we get to trial, ‘Kong Jr.’ coleus topped my list (I garden in Asheville, NC). Other top performers this season include the orange SunPatiens, ‘Silver Heart’ Brunnera, SummerWave Deep Blue torenia, and Surfinia Summer Double Pink petunias – my only petunia that made it through all of our rain, and still looks great.

    September 15, 2013 at 7:11 am
  4. Shawna Coronado

    Kong is a big one. A giant amongst plants. And you, my grumpy friend, are also a giant amongst gardeners. 🙂

    Thanks for sharing my plant addiction!


    September 11, 2013 at 4:34 pm
  5. Steve Bender

    Hey, I didn’t make up those photo credits! Everything on the Grumpy Gardener is absolutely true!

    September 9, 2013 at 12:10 pm
  6. Vivi

    I too am hooting over the photo credits 😂

    September 9, 2013 at 8:16 am
  7. Diane

    Your photo credits are a hoot. XD

    September 8, 2013 at 10:42 pm
  8. Cindy S

    My favorite plant this year is portulaca (old time rose moss) in yellow and orange shades. Why, oh why, did I wait soooo long to plant a pot of these fabulous troupers just like my grandmother and all her sisters did for decades!?!? They are still blooming strong after 3 months.

    September 8, 2013 at 9:46 pm
  9. Jenny Nybro Peterson

    Love coleus — and the fact that this one is a bit shorter and bushier is awesome. The colors are almost other-worldly.

    September 8, 2013 at 1:03 pm
  10. Carolyn Binder

    I thought you were going to choose tall corn as your favorite plant. You always surprise me.

    September 8, 2013 at 12:39 pm
  11. What Really Worked: My Favorite New Plant for 2013 — J Peterson Garden Design

    […] Living magazine, and writes about plants as The Grumpy Gardener on Southern Living’s blog, The Daily South. I started reading Steve’s articles in Southern Living years ago as a young mother and […]

    September 8, 2013 at 12:21 pm
  12. Arthur in the Garden!

    Beautiful selections. I love the Kong series of Coleus.

    September 8, 2013 at 11:10 am
  13. Kylee Baumle

    My favorite new plant this year was…wait…you already know. Never mind.

    September 8, 2013 at 9:43 am

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