The classiest from Classic City: trial garden winners revealed



A post from contributing Ranter Allan Armitage:

I am in charge of an intense trialing program at the University of Georgia in Athens, in the UGA Gardens. Athens is in the northern part of the state, geographically considered to be in the foothills of the Smokey Mountains. It has been around for quite a while and thus is known as the Classic City.

We work with nearly all the flower breeders in the world, including those from Japan, Australia, United States, Canada, Israel, and other nations. Chosen from thousands of plants, the Classic City award winners exemplify plants that displayed the best performance throughout the entire season. For annuals, plants have to be eye-catching all season, in both foliage and flowers. Perennial foliage also has to look good, on a plant that knocks our socks off when our socks least expect it.

We chose 10 annuals and 9 perennials in total. (Here’s where you can see all the plants.) I have included the name of the breeders or distributors, because the people who bred the plants love to know you are reading this. All of the plants are available through mail order or at better garden centers.

By the way, the UGA gardens are great to visit, and Athens is a wonderful college town, with lots of good restaurants, theater and southern charm. You’re invited any time—no charge for gardeners. Here are some of the winners in the category of annuals:


Geranium ‘Calliope Dark Red’ – Goldsmith/Syngenta
Every year we receive about 60 new geraniums to trial, and it can be quite difficult to get excited about one more red geranium. In general, most zonals struggle in the heat of the summer here, although ivys fare considerably better. Last year we awarded ‘Caliente,’ the first of the ivy-zonal hybrids, this award, and this year we are proud to do the same with its cousin, ‘Calliope Dark Red.’ In a hanging basket, it performed well all season but so did many of the other ivys in the trials. It pulled away from the leaders, however, with its persistent color and quality in the ground beds, where it far outshone its zonal competitors. Brilliant dark red color, persistent dark foliage, and season-long performance.


Begonia ‘Ikon Blush White’ – Floranova
Every year we are surprised by plants that quietly catch our eye every time we pass them. Sometimes when such a plant is pointed out, you wonder how you missed it. This was the case with this spectacular basket begonia. The soft light green leaves contrasted with blushes of pink and white from the flowers. It was always in flower and never did we see any problems with the foliage. We trialed plants in a basket and a container, and both performed wonderfully. We are looking forward to continued breeding in this series.


Scaevola ‘Surdiva White’ – Suntory
Suntory has always been on the cutting edge of new introductions, and their fan flowers have always impressed us. In the heat and humidity of the Southeast, good fan flowers are important. Last year we presented ‘Cajun Blue’ with this award; this year, halleleujah, we have a non-blue fan flower we can get excited about. The Surdiva series was particularly eye catching this year (the pink came close to an award), but ‘Surdiva White’ won hands down. There were many excellent blues, but having a white scaevola which we could use in combination plantings made all the difference. Lots of flowers all the time, no legginess and no maintenance. What’s not to like?


Capsicum ‘Purple Flash’ – Pan American Seed
During our open houses in June, we asked industry visitors and consumers alike to flag the plants that most caught their eye. With incredible color, impressive vigor and drop-dead show-offs throughout the garden, we were more than a little surprised when, at the end of the day, the most flags had been stuck in this planting of capiscum. But we weren’t surprised long, because as we paid more attention, the beautiful multi-colored foliage, the attractive flowers and the dark fruit just kept getting better and better. The disease resistant foliage and easy-to-maintain dwarf habit sealed the deal, with the fruit as an added bonus. A pepper—who’d a thunk it!


Colocasia ‘Diamond Head’ – Plant Haven
During and after the 2008 pack trials, so much fuss was made over this group of plants, bred by Dr. Cho at the University of Hawaii, that we had to have them. Thanks to our colleagues at James Greenhouse down the road, we obtained the entire series in June (later than we wished). They took a little while to get up to speed, but they soon became the foliage beacons in The Gardens. While they were all good, ‘Diamond Head’ was spectacular. It soon was 5’ tall and equally wide, with impressive deep black shiny foliage that stood up on its own—seldom falling over as taros are wont to do. This was another plant that just got better as the season progressed.

Congratulations to the all the breeders of these exciting plants.

Definitely plants to be thankful for. I have my eye on that colacasia!—Elizabeth

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. My pet peeve here is that we actually have a trial garden for all-america-selections in Buffalo (or some name like that). I see all these way cool annuals at the end of every summer, but then they never appear in stpres!!

  2. Colocasia esculenta ‘Diamond Head’ is a hands down winner ! I’ll be looking for this plant this spring, or sooner !
    The Scaevola ‘Surdiva White’ also caught my eye.
    I installed a white and blue garden this past fall and hope to add this plant to the border when it comes available.

  3. Helleborus ‘Ivory Prince’ is incredible. Every client whose garden I’ve used it in for the passed two years has flipped for it. I’ve also used Heuchera ‘Caramel’ and found that it adds a hot punch of color in places where that’s color range can be difficult to find.

  4. White scaevola’s sold a couple of years ago reverted to blue. If the new ones are truly white and unleggy this would be grand. Tolerant of heat, drought, and neglect will they surpass suturas
    as the number one white trailing companion in hanging baskets?

  5. Parks has the pepper seeds now, not that I would enable or anything. That never happens here. But, they are pricey at close to $5.00 a packet.

  6. I love learning about new plant introductions, but I also have trouble finding them in garden centers. I think I will try to consider this an opportunity for treasure hunting. I’m sure to find something I love, though not necessarily what I was looking for. Life is often like that.

  7. This looks so similar to “Black Magic”, has anyone tried the upside down, waxy coverered “plumbae” ? I am trying it next year as one of my water gardn plants. Most Colocasia make for decent marginal pond plants.

  8. God, I’m a good speller, but I had to check myself. Please — it’s SMOKY Mountains, not Smokey. I think Smokey is the bear. I live just on the other side of them, in the Cumberlands, but even after 6 years, I had to check.

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