Classic City Awards For Annuals

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Classic City Awards For Annuals

We recently discussed, argued and finally voted on the top 12 annuals and a similar number of perennials in the Trial Gardens at UGA. These plants exemplified the highest performance for the longest period of time in our challenging environment in Athens, Ga.
 
We used our own eyeballs but also asked visitors to flag the plants they liked best. We collected data every two weeks on all the annuals in the garden, and such records were also important ingredients in making our list. The data are based on flower performance, foliar health, disease and pest resistance, and outstanding performance regardless of weather. 
 
These are the Oscars, the Emmys, the Tonys and the Obies all wrapped in one. If the plant wins a Classic City Award, take it to the bank. I’ve categorized the annuals as thriller, fillers and spillers, and grasses. And the winners in annuals are:

Thrillers

Acalypha ‘Showtime.’ Copperleaf has become a far more important plant group in recent years. In the landscape or in a mixed container, ‘Showtime’ from GroLink caught everyone’s interest. Big, bold and colorful, this plant makes a statement.
 
Begonia ‘Big Rose Bronze Leaf.’ We have been tiring of wax begonias in the last decade. It’s not that they aren’t functional, but only that they are common. It is difficult to stand out in such a crowded field, but the large leaves, flowers and stature of this begonia from Benary made it a winner. I categorized this as a thriller for the mixed container, comporting well with many of our fillers on this list. 
 
Coleus ‘Two Egg.’ Once again, the age divide came to light in the choosing of this coleus from GroLink as a Classic City award winner. There was lots of arguing about which colei were deserving of this award, and ‘Two Egg’ was a wonderful performer. I hated the name and argued against it, but was outvoted by the Gen Xers around the table who thought the name was “awesome.” No argument from our visitors, either: It received more than its fair share of flags. 
 
Coleus ‘Mariposa.’ As busy as ‘Two Egg’ is, this Athens Select coleus exudes a classic elegance in the container or landscape. Its colors were eye catching, its performance was excellent and people came back to it time and again. 
 
Gomphrena ‘Fireworks.’ I often write that gomphrenas are underappreciated, perhaps because they don’t have any real bright yellows or oranges, but mainly because they kind of blend in with the rest of the landscape. Not so any longer. We debated about including this big, tall Pan American selection in this prestigious group of winners, but it did all we asked and more. 
 
Usually, globe amaranth would be a spiller or filler, but this one stood 4 feet tall and flowered continuously. It was a little too tall in our climate but the flower color and the buzz it created made it impossible to ignore. It is nice to see a company finally shrug off the chains of “short and compact” and take a chance. 

Fillers & Spillers

Lobularia (Alyssum) ‘Snow Princess.’ As a skeptic of unfounded claims, I was not at all impressed with the rhetoric coming out of Pack Trials this spring about how wonderful this plant would be in the heat. Yada, yada: Heard it all before. 
 
When we received ‘Snow Princess’ from Proven Winners, I planted it in the shade hoping it would survive, and in full sun, knowing it would burn up. Not only did it not burn up in full sun, it lit the place up with its large clean white flowers. And just to make me feel even worse, it looked very good in the shade as well. How wonderful to be wrong!
 
Portulaca ‘Pizzazz Salmon Glow.’ The portulacas are a bit like relatives: They come and they go. The Pizzazz series compares favorably to many of the other better-established series of purslane, but visitors and staff always commented on the color of Danziger’s ‘Salmon Glow.’ None of the cultivars of purslane can boast of flowers that remain open as long as we would like, but the combination of flower power, color and vigor made ‘Salmon Glow’ a winner. 
 
Calibrachoa ‘Mini Famous Yellow.’ Talk about a crowded class of plants! This year we had about 75 calibrachoa cultivars, nearly all of which were new in the last year. To find a series that stands out is difficult enough, but to find a cultivar that stands out from the rest is surprising indeed.
 
The Mini Famous series from Selecta First Class performed well, but the lemon-colored form always attracted eyes and flags. The pastel color is understated but the flowers occur so heavily that it is always visible in a crowded field. All the doubles are better viewed up close where the subtle doubleness can be truly appreciated. 
 
Angelonia ‘Carita Raspberry.’ Of the dozen or so angelonias we trialed this year, many of them performed very well. Two stood out, ‘Spreading White’ from Ball Horticultural Co., and ‘Carita Raspberry’ from Syngenta. The compact habit and the continuous flowering – even through the hot summer months – caught our eyes, but it was the unique color that made this cultivar the top vote getter among angelonias. 
 
Geranium ‘Caliente Orange.’ The dark green ivy-like leaves, the long flowering time and the self cleaning features of the Caliente series made me a fan since it was first introduced. The orange flowers on this selection from Goldsmith Seeds were almost iridescent, and plants could easily be pointed out from a distance. 
 
Of all the classes of geraniums, the ivy series and the hybrids have made exceptional breakthroughs in a thoroughly confused and crowded stage. Like a beacon on a rocky shore, ‘Caliente Orange’ stood out.

Grasses

Pennisetum ‘Fireworks.’ The breeding of pennisetums has been nothing short of spectacular in the last 10 years. From feather grass (Giant Burgundy grass) to millet (‘Purple Majesty’ and ‘Jester’) to napier grass (‘Prince’ and ‘Princess’), these plants just keep getting better. 
 
All stood out in the gardens this year, but it was impossible to ignore the flags in this and the last winner: They were both stabbed to an inch of their lives. 
 
‘Fireworks’ provides a mélange of leaf color, vigorous (but not aggressive) growth and handsome flowers.
Pennisetum ‘Jade Princess.’ What an outstanding introduction. Even at Pack Trials, this one stood out. So I was anxious to see what it would do in the real world. 

It did not disappoint. Of all the plants in the garden, this plant from Ball Horticultural Co. received the most attention throughout the season. The chartreuse foliage combined with sterile dark flowers was an excellent combination, resulting in oohs, aahs and dozens of flags. In the interest of full disclosure, plants declined badly in September, both foliage and flowers falling apart. However, it provided immense pleasure when we needed it and I expect it to be around for some time. 

Allan Armitage was a professor in the Department of Horticulture at the University of Georgia for 30 years. He recently retired and remains an active consultant, author and lecturer.

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