In the classic city of Athens, there is an oasis of plants in a lovely garden located in the middle of the bustling UGA campus.
This garden is called the Trial Gardens.
You may be surprised how many of the plants we choose to grow in the warm season are actually researched and tested at this garden to see how well they perform in our Georgia climate.
The Athens Trial Gardens originated in 1982 when two young, ambitious horticulture professors, Allan Armitage and Michael Dirr, plowed up some ground in a flat area within the UGA campus and began recruiting seed and plant companies to share their goods with them for research.
Their primary goal was to research, teach and evaluate new plant growth and hardiness and include students in their quest. As time went on, plant breeding companies, plant nurseries, individual growers and plant material found from Armitage’s travels around the globe were introduced in the gardens.
Every year since the gardens’ inception, Armitage and his faithful student worker’s discuss, debate and ultimately choose by extensive research what the best plants are in the garden based on certain performance standards.
Armitage and the students working in the gardens choose cultivars that impress week after week, and they carefully choose mainstream bedding plants as well as a few off-the-wall, unique plants they feel should be grown more. This gives seed and plant growers an idea of what is best to stock the garden shelves with come growing season.
These Classic City Awards go to a baker’s dozen of the best performing plants that have lasted through the current growing season. They are called the Plants of Distinction.
Standards include tolerance to heat and humidity, ease of propagation, resistance to disease and insects, greenhouse production time and cutting efficiency. This method of research helps the growers choose what plants can be distributed nationally. This has been a successful program for introducing many new crops in the last 10 to15 years in the professional growing industry.
Thus every year, the UGA Trial Gardens compiles a list of the best plants that survived the entire spring, the area’s hot and dry summers and fall. Many of the plants chosen there are annuals that we purchase and plant in our landscapes every year from our local garden nurseries.
The Classic City "Plants of Distinction" for 2012 include the following:
Begonias, "Ikon Bronze"
Caladiums, "Blushing Bride"
Calibrachoas, "Double Rose Chai"
Caliroachoas, "Superbells Lemon Slice"
Evolvulus, "Blue on my Mind"
Pentas, "Graffiti Red Lace"
Portulacas, "Sundance Yellow"
Lobularia Lavender Stream
Phlox "Phloxy Lady Cherry Red"
Capsicum "Ornamental Peppers"
Runners up include Sun Patiens (impatiens) and many types of petunias.
Look for these plants when you go to purchase annuals for next year’s gardens. They have been tested, tried and true, by our wonderful friends in the gardens at UGA.
Plan a trip to Athens and visit these lovely gardens, which are open to the public and professionals alike. Go the website www.ugatrial.hort.uga.edu for more information on other great Plants of Distinction.
Knowing and selecting plants that have been tested for their hardiness and resistance is great knowledge when designing your garden. The Trial Gardens offer the consumer a good resource to go to find out ideal plants for the Georgia landscape.
Wanda Cannon serves as Master Gardener coordinator and horticulture assistant for the Hall County Extension office. Phone: 770-535-8293. Her column appears biweekly and on gainesvilletimes.com/life.