20 Annuals Worth Selecting

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Allan Armitage

We take great pride in the trial garden at the University of Georgia. We don’t trial for the sake of trialing, to make us look good or to give us something to do. We trial in the steadfast belief that what we do makes a difference.

When we provide real data under real-world conditions, we do so in the belief that someone–breeders, growers, retailers and consumers– will pay attention. That they are, as seen by better plants being put in front of my daughters, speaks to quality of selection and freshness in the marketplace. Quality is not limited to fertility standards and spacing; quality is also what consumers, from landscapers to buyers, see when they have a little money to spend.

So, in the steadfast belief that what we do does make a difference, here are the Classic City Award-winning annuals for 2011–the very best plants in the trial gardens based on year-round performance and eye-clutching beauty. Of the 2,000-plus plants in the garden, being a Classic City Award winner is equivalent to the Oscar and Tony rolled up in one.

Group 1: Short, Relatively Compact Plants Suitable For Fillers In Containers Or Groundcovers In Landscape Beds

1 Alternanthera ‘Little Ruby’ (GroLink). It’s one of the finest new alternantheras in many years and one that every broker should be pushing.

2 Angelonia ‘Carita Purple’ (Syngenta Flowers). Of the two dozen or so angelonias, this one was flagged (we give all visitors flags to mark their favorite plants) more than any other, all the time.

3 Angelonia ‘Serena White’ (Ball Horticultural Co.). Man cannot live by purple alone–and ‘Serena White’ was also constantly flagged. A little slower to show off than ‘Carita Purple,’ but a plant easy to recommend.

4 Heliotropium ‘Scentropia Dark Blue’ (Syngenta). Oh my, what a nice surprise this was! Heliotropes can be like birthday parties, all dressed up one moment but fading away almost the next day. Scentropia looked wonderful from May to November.

5 Ipomoea ‘Sweet Caroline Bewitched’ (Proven Winners). We are well known for our sweet potato trials, and this year was no different. In fact, we constructed a sweet potato wall with about 10 cultivars. ‘Bewitched’ was one of the least aggressive. This, in fact, is a good thing–a sweet potato with fabulous, lustrous purple leaves and a well-behaved countenance.

6 Scaevola ‘Surdiva Light Blue’ (Suntory Flowers). Light Blue has shone all season and has been a particularly good container plant.

Group 2: Upright Plants Suitable For Thrillers In Containers Or Eye Candy In Landscape Beds

7 Argyranthemum ‘Flutterby Yellow’ (Ecke Ranch). The South African daisies have been getting better every year, but it is still difficult to recommend argyranthemums for hot, humid climates. However, I have been looking at this introduction for a couple of years and have been impressed for at least that length of time.

8 Begonia ‘Whopper Red’ (Ball). Wax-type begonias are difficult to distinguish from each other, but the large-leafed, large flower forms have been popular this year. The Whoppers grew well in the trials and flowered in deep
shade all season. This one’s an excellent choice for something a little different in wax begonias.

9 Celosia ‘New Look’ (Benary). This is simply a great plant, bright and flamboyant and easy to grow and maintain. We planted it beside ‘Scentropia Dark Blue,’ and what an extraordinary combination that was.

10 Clerodendrum ‘Starshine’ (GroLink). There is no one who saw the plant in flower that did not flag it. Everyone asked, “What is it, where do I get it?” Without a doubt, it was the most pleasant surprise in the gardens this year.

11SunPatiens ‘Compact Deep Rose’ (Sakata). Why people would not be planting this by the acre is beyond me, assuming bright sun is available. It doesn’t really matter when one views them. They are always incredibly eye-catching. We were struck by the compact habit and the last flowers of this selection.

Group 3: Basket & Container Material

12 Calibrachoa ‘Callie White 11′ (Syngenta). There are so many new calibrachoas it’s hard to tell one from another. But when we look at them all for six months, a few stand out. I have written about some of my favorites in the past, and it is nice to be able to talk about this one. The Callie series consists of many colors but few whites really shine.

13 Capsicum ‘Basket of Fire’ (Floranova). I have no arguments with vegetable gardens but I believe the movement in the marketplace is for many more “vegetables in the garden.” So we have embraced the trialing of patio vegetables and were impressed with some and disappointed with others. This pepper provided excellent multicolored fruit perfectly designed for containers. The fruit, if anyone is crazy enough to taste, is very hot. So be a little careful!

14 Geranium ‘Caliente Orange’ (Syngenta). I guess the rest of the breeders should fire me because I keep coming back to this cultivar when I am recommending basket geraniums. This vibrant hybrid is visible across the garden and has been an all star for the last two years, outperforming the other ivy-type geraniums. No one has yet to come up with something better than this.

15 Hibiscus ‘Haight Ashbury’ (Proven Winners). We have looked at a couple of fantastic foliage-type hibiscus, but this multi-colored form made people stop and stare and stop again. It is a wonderful hippy-type plant, kaleidoscopic and psychedelic in color.

16 Mimulus ‘Buttercup’ (GroLink). For mixed containers, one of the finest plants we trialed was this brilliant yellow mimulus. Mimulus? I never had mimulus live for more than six weeks, so when first planted I was highly skeptical and waiting for it to pass away quietly. However, it flowered all season, never fading and was never attacked by disease or insects. Few of you know this plant. I recommend you try it before everyone else does.

17 Petunia ‘Purple Ray Vein’ (Danziger). We had at least 50 cultivars of petunias, from papaya to black, from bicolor to yellow, from mini to maxi size. There was no shortage of excellent petunias, but this one kept everyone coming back to admire it. ‘Purple Ray Vein’ was stunning in all mixed containers.

Group 4: Vines

18 Jack & The Beanstalk vine. All you have to do is ask any shopper about the boy taking his cow to market and disappointing his mother when all he brought home were big colored beans. If you ask the question in front of containers of Jack’s beanstalk and have a photo of the huge fruit filled with red beans, they would fly off the bench. What great fun and what a way to get kids excited. What are we doing ignoring these weird, wonderful plants?

19 Rex begonia vine. We do dozens of vines and invariably, consumers want to know where to get them. My reply is usually “online,” because no one really grows them in numbers. This is one of the very few vines that tolerate shade–all the more reason for us to start growing more unusual plants and fewer geraniums.

20 Sky flower vine. We all know Black-eyed Susan vine, T. alata, but its cousin is far more spectacular than Susan, to be sure. The dark green leaves are indestructible but the gorgeous, large blue flowers are favorites for all who come across them. They flower on and off in late summer but far more heavily in the fall. It takes your breath away.

Allan Armitage (allan@greenhouse grower.com) is a professor in the Department of Horticulture at the University of Georgia, Athens, Ga.

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