The Classic City Awards
A baker’s dozen of the best from the Gardens at UGA—Annuals
Athens is known as The Classic City of the South. Many of you have visited this lovely college town. The Classic City awards are based on garden performance over the entire season in the Gardens at UGA, where spring is glorious, and summers are hot, often dry, and rather miserable.
Every year we discuss, we debate, and we fight over the best plants in the Garden. Well, not really, because the best plants, like cream, seem to rise to the top. When I ask Meg, BJ, or the student workers what plants they think have performed the best over the entire year, we tend to agree.
We choose no one-week wonders; cultivars must impress us week after week after week. We try to choose mainstream bedding plants as well as a few off-the-wall plants that should be grown more. Ideally, you will agree with some our choices and disagree with others; regardless, get them on the shelf so the consumer can have a fair chance of success. These are in no particular order.
Begonia ‘Ikon Bronze’ (Floranova) I have always been impressed with ‘Ikon Green’ begonia, in fact, I have highlighted it occasionally in past columns. I was pleased when ‘Ikon Bronze’ was introduced at the 2012 California Spring Trials and hopeful it would perform well in the real world. That it did, flowering all season, holding its excellent silver-green foliage, and competing well with more colorful neighboring begonias. A perfect plant for a basket or container, but it did well in the ground as well. A bit more subtle, but an excellent addition to the begonia palette.
Caladium ‘Blushing Bride’ (Classic Caladium) We have just started getting serious about caladiums, for the obvious reasons of shade performance and color, and the not so obvious reasons concerning substitutions for bedding impatiens. We had over a dozen quite wonderful entries and they all could have won blue ribbons. However, our eyeballs kept going backto ‘Blushing Bride’ with its subtle colors, moderate stature, and its ability to comport with its neighbors. Growers can obtain excellent growing instructions and proper scheduling to make these look good at retail. It was a fight to select between this plant and ‘Candyland’.
Calibrachoa ‘MiniFamous Double Rose Chai’ (Selecta First Class) The breeding of some crops is vastly improved, and calibrachoa is a good example. It was so difficult to select one or two blue ribbon cultivars but ‘Double Rose Chai’ emerged as one of the finest new plants in the garden. Plants flowered all season, the foliage remained fresh, and as one got nearer to the plant, the details of the color and the double flowers could not help but enthrall. With over 75 calibrachoas in the garden, it was quite amazing how people always commented on this one.
Calibrachoa ‘Superbells Lemon Slice’ (Proven Winners) As mentioned above, we had our fair share of calibrachoas. I first saw ‘Lemon Slice’ at the California Trials; it looked wonderful but I didn’t believe any of the hype until I trialed it. We kept waiting for the yellow color to fade, it did not; we kept waiting for the pattern to break up, it did not; we kept waiting for the plant to fall apart, it maintained a great habit all season. Of course, I was not the only one impressed, lots of industry and garden people commented on this basket. As the Monkees once sang, “Now I’m a believer.”
Evolvulus ‘Blue my Mind’ (Proven Winners) Few people will argue about the desirability of blue, and the need of good fillers for containers and baskets. The latter is not too difficult to find, but the former is. ‘Blue My Mind’ was a little slow to fill out, and initially I was not as impressed as I hoped to be. Over the season, however, it simply got better and better. Plants held up well to the rigors of a southeastern summer and produced flowers until frost. There is a tremendous demand from designers, landscapers and gardeners for blue fillers—if shown off properly, this should be a real winner.
Combination S4 basket (Suntory) Nothing has changed so rapidly as the combination basket – how fortunate is this industry to have access to combinations such as TRIXIs, CONFETTIs, and others yet to come down the pipe? We trialed them all and many were quite brilliant but the one with perhaps the most boring name was the one people kept staring at. Combination basket C3 is not a name to make one write home about, but the combination of petunias was outstanding all season. We loved the colors, the ability to grow well together, and the persistent performance. Here’s hoping Suntory continues their excellent combo research and perhaps comes up with a wee bit more exciting name in the future.
Celosia ‘Intenz’ (Ball Ingenuity) There are celosias and then there are celosias. ‘Intenz’ is unlike any we have ever trialed. Its flowers are similar in shape to the old “wheat” celosias that came and went a number of years ago, however, at 2-3’ the height is one half of the older forms. Far more brilliant are the electric intense rose-colored flowers that bloom continuously, attracting oohs and ahs like magnets. Plants have looked good much of the season and only got better over time. All I can say is “Wow”.
Pentas ‘Graffiti Red Lace’ (Benary) The Graffiti series has always performed well, and we have always been pleased with the diversity of color and strength of stems. This year ‘Graffiti Red Lace’ left all the competition behind, flowering consistently, persistently, and making everything around it even better. Pentas is an up-and-coming plant, but still not enjoying the success it should be having. This one will change your mind.
Pelargonium Caliente series (Syngenta) There are not enough adjectives to allow me to tell you how much I love these plants. I have been saying this for three years now, and every year, I figure I will get tired of them, but they continue to light up the garden. While ‘Caliente Orange’ is still tops on my list, the entire series is simply a no-brainer. Many other ivies and hybrids are catching up, but the Calientes still lead the pack.
Portulaca ‘Sundance Yellow’ (Sakata) I have long since stopped being excited by the purslanes. As spectacular as they can be, they continue to disappoint with their slow-to-open, quick-to-close ways. They are all pretty during the day, but colors aside, there have really been no differences between them. Until now. The Sundance series as a whole stayed open significantly longer than did its competitors, and ‘Sundance Yellow’ was the best of all. It provided excellent color, good vigor, and stayed open about an hour longer than others. This is not yet long enough, but I will shout it to the rooftops nevertheless.
Lobularia Lavender Stream (Danziger) Ask me how pleased I was to trial this group of plants. The Stream series, consisting of 4 colors, was excellent, but ‘Lavender Stream’ was the biggest hit. As I watched plants flower right through the hell days of summer, stay compact and never fade, I thought they must be made of plastic. Color, habit and persistence, what more could I ask? Oh yes, the fragrance was glorious.
Phlox ‘Phloxy Lady Cherry Red’ (Dummen) The annual phlox are just keep getting better. Ten years ago, they were terrible, 5 years ago, they were fair, and today receive this prestigious award. The Phloxy Lady series has earned considerable kudos since it was introduced, and my recommendation is certainly not needed. However, they performed as advertised, they maintained their compact habit, and ‘Cherry Red’ was brilliant. If I have changed my mind about annual phlox in this part of the world, it has been because of great genetics.
Capsicum Basket of Fire (Vegetalis) We were pleased to receive so many new ornamental peppers, and none disappointed. Fat and round, long and narrow, black, red and yellow fruit appeared in the garden. Dark foliage—even variegated foliage—was part of the landscape this year. However, the pepper that just awed everyone almost from the day it was planted was ‘Basket of Fire’. The fruits were ornamental from the get-go, the foliage was handsome, and flowers and fruit were always present. Of course, all I had to say was, “You probably don’t want to taste this, it may be too hot.” and the brave and stupid couldn’t help himself or herself. And yes, they are hot! At least the pepper gene pool is strong.
So close, but not quite enough votes. Some of these such as SunPatiens and Alternanthera ‘Little Ruby’ were winners last year (designated with *) and we felt others needed a little loving as well.
Sakata Impatiens ‘SunPatiens Compact Electric Orange’ *
Athena Alternanthera ‘Little Ruby’*
Ball Ingenuity: Begonia ‘Whopper Red Bronze’
Proven Winners Cyperus ‘Baby Tut’
Petunia ‘Vista Silverberry ‘
Benary Gomphrena Las Vegas White
Syngenta Petunia ‘Sanguna Light Blue ‘
Dummen Petunia ‘Peppy Lavender’
Fides Petunia ‘Fortunia Purple Picotee’
Vegetalis Tomato ‘Sweet & Neat Cherry Red’
Please go to our website www.ugatrial.hort.uga.edu for more information on other great Plants of Distinction. And as always, please visit the Gardens in person. We’ll give you a Classic City welcome.