I've never gone along with the plant fundamentalist mantra of "the only good cultivar is a dead cultivar," nor the view that we should adhere to natives and only natives.
There's a great big world of fabulous plants out there, and as long as we're mindful of "right plant, right place" - matching plants to environmental needs so that they'll thrive with as few resources as possible - why not experiment? Playing around with plant possibilities is one of the great gardening arts, with breeders and plant explorers constantly feeding the frenzy.
And yet sometimes, oftentimes, the tried-and-true older species and cultivars prove more durable, long-lasting, thrifty and sturdier than the newer versions, no matter how much smaller, more brightly colored or heavily marketed the updates may be. Old-fashioned, fragrant sweet peas like the 'Spencers' are a good example...
And take the case of 'Annabelle' hydrangeas (H. arborescens "Annabelle') that have been around for ages. My column in Pacific Northwest magazine yesterday pictured a newer version with pink blossoms. Then there's H. arborescens 'Incrediball', billed as a beefier, less floppy 'Annabelle'. I'd probably never grow it just because I dislike the silly name (who names these new plants anyway?). I admit 'Annabelle' can be floppy, it's huge, round flowerheads weighted down by rain. But because 'Annabelle' is one of the hydrangeas that blooms on new wood, you can cut it way down in early spring and cage it with chicken wire, strategies that keep it upright through the worst of summer storms.
Here's why I can't believe any of the new, improved versions is better - Look at these 'Annabelle' blossoms cut at the end of September, just before they mellow from creamy white to soft chartreuse...really, could anyone improve on the perfection of these gorgeous flowers?
See the faint handprint on the vase? It's by Whidbey Island ceramicist Inge Roberts (see more of her amazing work here) I bought it for sweet peas, but it's one of those vases that compliments a wide variety of flower forms and colors with its slim shape and creamy gleam.