The dramatic variegated Fatsia japonica named “Spider’s Web’”stopped attendees in their tracks at MANTS. (Photo by Kathy Jentz)

Do you ever wonder how new plants and products make it to the shelves and nursery benches at garden centers near you? Many gather in winter to do their ordering at the Mid-Atlantic Nursery Trade Show in Baltimore.
At this year’s event more than 11,500 total registrants (including exhibitors), representing 46 states and 15 foreign countries, came to place orders, network, and learn.
The show is technically only open to the horticultural trade, but the garden media is allowed access and I was excited to visit the more than 1,536 booths — covering 300,000-plus square feet of contiguous exhibit space. I always head straight to the very back row of the hall. That is where the newest companies have their booths and I always find unique new product introductions.
A unique-raised vegetable planter for urban, small-space growing from City Farmer USA was the first thing that caught my eye.
Other gardeners were also crowding the booth. This is the perfect solution not only for those who have small space gardens, but also for those with mobility issues.
They are also light weight and easy-to-assemble.
As I walked the aisles of the show, I often run into fellow garden writers.
One of those was Ruth Rogers Clausen, a garden book author who now lives in Easton. I asked her the best thing she saw at the show this year and she said, “I have worn Womanswork gloves for more than 25 years. At MANTS lots of serious lady gardeners were attracted to the
The Womanswork Gloves booth. Their top quality gloves are made for women’s hands, by women and for women.” So I ran over to their booth to try them out myself.
Next, I chatted with Sharee Solow, a garden designer from Philadelphia, Pa. She said that the biochar marketed by Organic Mechanics Soil Company was the coolest thing she saw at MANTS.
“This new blend from my long-time favorite media-maker is the new best thing that I will be adding to my gardening arsenal to make everything from annuals to tomatoes bigger and better. “
“But what exactly is it?” I wondered. So I asked company founder Mark Highland. He explained, “Biochar is a highly porous carbon that improves nutrient adsorption and provides a practically permanent home for beneficial soil biology. Proper use will boost yields and increase the effectiveness of your growing mediums.” While the use of biochar is not new, the latest research into applications for both agriculture and horticulture is proving it to be a game-changer in plant nutrient management.
Tools, plants, and soil amendments are terrific to see, however, I really wanted to see what plants were being introduced. Even though it was still the dead of winter, the show did not disappoint in that aspect.
One plant that not only caught my eye, but made me reach out to pet it repeatedly was Senecio ‘Angel Wings’ (Senecio candicans).
It is a new tender perennial bred by Floricultura Novazel S.A. from Lampa, Santiago, Chili. It has long, broad, velvety leaves of dazzling matte silver with toothy edges. It would look great edging a border or in a mixed container.
The next plant that made me stop in my tracks was Buddleia ‘Wisteria Lane.’ This butterfly bush was container grown and has a dramatic weeping habit that makes it look just like a wisteria vine. Best of all, it is sterile and will not re-seed about your garden.
The final plant that left an impression on me at MANTS was a variegated Fatsia japonica named “Spider’s Web.”
This is a “wow” plant that deserves a showcase spot in your garden border. It is marginally hardy for us here in the Mid-Atlantic, but should survive with some extra winter protection.
This preview of the growing season is always a treat to attend and MANTS puts you in the mood for planting and dreaming about the garden to come.
(Editor’s note: Kathy Jentz is the Editor/Publisher of Washington Gardener Magazine. A life-long gardener, Kathy believes that growing plants should be stress-free and enjoyable. Her philosophy is inspiration over perspiration. She can be reached at or 301-588-6894.)