Last week I?discussed flower seeds new to the market this year, primarily additions to the cutting garden. This week, I’d like to share some varieties that would be colorful additions to an edible landscape as well as in a pollinator garden. Before I do, I thought I’d share some information on how and why these new varieties come onto the market. Seed companies, it turns out, don’t just come up with novelties for novelty’s sake (and the high prices garnered by new introductions); they breed them in response to customer demands and preferences.

Johnny’s Select Seeds, for example, in Albion, Maine, says they “keep a close ear to the ground on the fresh market — listening for consumer preferences, trends, new products spotted elsewhere, and emergent research.” Growers let Johnny’s know what they need: better heat-, drought-, wind- or frost-tolerance, increased disease resistance, longer storage life, or other attributes. A lot of this feedback is gathered by the company’s sales representatives, who reach out far beyond Maine borders, covering all of the U.S., including Alaska and Hawaii. While the sales team provides information about emerging trends, customer feedback, and top-performing varieties, Johnny’s breeder team discusses the plants they are developing and outside vendors bring their new commercial and experimental varieties for inclusion in field trials. Trial technicians discuss newly published research and the results of previous trials, and suggest additional varieties they’ve learned about through their own research.

Once the trialing team has decided on varieties that can be grown on the research farm in the coming year, it sends lists to seed-breeding houses large and small, in the U.S. and abroad. The new seeds are grown along with well-known varieties that are used as checks or controls and evaluated throughout the growing cycle for flavor, disease development, color, size, shape, yield and other characteristics. By early fall, the decisions for catalog inclusion are made, catalog descriptions written and the seeds ordered.

Some of these new varieties will go on to become instant classics. For example, there’s “Bright Lights” Swiss chard, with its lightly savoyed (wrinkled) green or bronze leaves with stems of gold, pink, orange, purple, red and white and strong bolt resistance across all colors. The late New Zealand amateur breeder John Eaton developed “Bright Lights,” but Johnny’s selects and maintains the different color stocks and produces the seed, which you’ll also find in many other seed catalogs.

We can’t know for certain what new introductions will go on to be perennial favorites, but here are a few for 2019 as promised. For the edible landscape, in which “Bright Lights” has been a standout since its introduction, there’s Garnet Red Amaranth, whose fuchsia-pink stems and bright burgundy leaves are tender and nutty, making for splashy micro greens and adding great contrast to salad mixes. As eye-catching as any ornamental blossom, Garnet Red Amaranth is a standout in the edible landscape or cottage garden, quickly reaching six feet tall or higher. The upright feathery flower heads are followed by a generous yield of tasty seeds.

For kale lovers, there’s “Scarlet,” an extremely winter-hardy kale with tightly curled, violet-veined, deep blue-green leaves that turn an intense red-purple in cold temperatures. It’s a nutrition-packed addition to your vegetable garden, but decorative enough to take its place in the flower border. “Scarlet” can be harvested as early as 30 days for baby leaves, with 60 days until mature leaves.

For the edible landscape, pollinator, or vegetable garden, there’s “Swallowtail Fennel,” an ornamental plant with four-to five-foot feathery plumes of filigreed blue-green, copper-tipped leaves and lacy golden flower umbels. A striking addition to flower beds and a major nectar and pollen host for many butterflies and beneficial insect species, the aromatic, anise-scented leaves are delicious in salads and make a soothing tea. The flowers are wonderful in bouquets, while their edible golden pollen is a gourmet seasoning.