Nurserymen who sell plants, people who plant them, and anyone growing so much as a container of annuals want to select high-performing plants that will last a long time in the landscape. Many times we as gardeners and consumers have no clue which are the best plants, so we turn to the professionals for advice.
The University of Georgia's "Classic City Awards" program helps gardeners select from the best of the best. In this program, over 2000 plants are rated throughout the summer. Every two weeks an evaluator rates the plants using a scale of 1 (nearly dead) to 5 (exceptional). At the end of summer, these scores are averaged. Evaluations are based on number of flowers, the uniformity and habit of the flowers, leaf color, insect and disease resistance, and overall appearance. The "Classic City Award" winners are the ones that perform best in the UGA trial garden throughout the summer season.
From these trials, the highest performers are sent to retail outlets across the country for distribution to the public. Consequently, UGA is one of the professional entities upon which we gardeners depend. According to UGA, this award is the Oscar and the Tony of the plant world, so gardeners throughout the South and in many other parts of the country can have confidence that the Classic City Award winners will perform well in their gardens.
Here are six of the Classic City Award winners for 2011. Included are the scientific name, the cultivar name, the score, the common name, cultural requirements, and tolerances. The other ten winners will be discussed in a future article. As you study your catalogs this winter, plan your gardens for next summer and visit nurseries this spring, keep this list of high-performing plants handy.
Angelonia angustifolia 'Carita Purple 09' (4.81) (summer snapdragon) flowering annual 20 to 24 inches tall; full sun, moist, well-drained soil, attracts hummingbirds and butterflies; bedding plant or mounding filler in containers; water frequently and feed regularly for best growth
Calibrachoa hybrida 'Callie White 11' (4.81) (million bells) heat-tolerant annual growing about 7 inches tall and spreading to 16 inches; great selection for a spiller in a mixed container and for hanging baskets; attracts butterflies and hummingbirds; keep well watered, especially when grown in containers
Impatiens 'SunPatiens Compact Deep Rose' (4.56) (New Guinea impatiens) large flowers, lance-shaped leaves; blooms continuously with no deadheading; heat and sun tolerant; big, sturdy plants 20 to 24 inches tall; excellent front-of-the-border plant that is a high perfomer almost anywhere in the garden; use as groundcover, in containers, and in hanging baskets.
Petunia hybrida 'Purple Vein Ray' (4.88) (petunia) trailing habit works well as a spiller in a mixed container; thrives in part to full sun, blooms from planting until frost; hardy to 20°F, Zones 9a-11; good in landscapes and containers
Clerodendrum 'Starshine' (4.44) (pagoda flower) an erect, semi-woody shrub; large evergreen leaves in frost free areas; huge clusters of tubular orange-red to scarlet flowers in a pyramid-shaped cluster like a Japanese pagoda; blooms summer through fall; evergreen in frost-free areas but killed to ground by frost; Zones 8-11
Angelonia angustifolia 'Serena White' (4.63) (summer snapdragon) carefree flowering annual with continuous bloom; use in landscapes, gardens, and containers; best in full sun and in moist but well-drained soil; 10 to 14 inches tall; very heat tolerant; great cut flower
This is not the only program of the University of Georgia that helps gardeners choose great plants for their gardens. In UGA's "Athens Select" program, outstanding plant varieties are chosen and distributed to retail outlets across the country for sale to gardeners just like us. Some members of this group are in the Southern Living Garden Collection that was begun in 2008 to introduce gardeners to worthy new plants. With help like this, selecting plants for our gardens is no longer the hit-and-miss proposition it once was. Listening to experts like UGA can save us money and increase our chances of selecting plants that will excel in our gardens.
All photographs used with permission of the photographer, Meg Green, of the University of Georgia.
About Marie Harrison
Serving as a board member for Valparaiso Garden Club, the Florida Federation of Garden Clubs and the Deep South Region, and National Garden Clubs takes a chunk of my time and attention. Being a Master Flower Show Judge, a Floral Design Instructor, instructor of horticulture for National Garden Clubs, and a University of Florida Master Gardener crowds a bit more into my busy days. In addition to these activities, I contribute regularly to Florida Gardening magazine and other publications. I am author of four gardening books, all published by Pineapple Press, Sarasota, Florida. Read about them and visit me at www.mariesgardenanddesign.com.