US (GA): Plants shine in Trial Gardens' Classic City Awards

Georgia summers can be tough on landscape plants. That's why the University of Georgia Trial Gardens wait until the end of the summer to release its annual list of best-performing varieties. 

Each year the gardens’ staff recognizes the plants that best weathered Georgia’s heat and humidity with the Trial Gardens’ Classic City Awards. This year, after a soggy start to the summer and a very dry end, the staff selected 12 plants that were tougher than most, said Brandon Coker, manager of the gardens.

In addition to being a place to showcase new plants for the gardening public, the gardens serve an important purpose in the research and development of new ornamental varieties.

Gaillardia SpinTop, 'Red Starburst', from Dummen Orange, is among the Trial Gardens' Classic City Award winners.

The facility provides variable, real-world conditions for testing new varieties developed by commercial nurseries and academic breeders. This testing provides third-party, verified data for consumers, retailers and plant breeders.

Trial plants are planted every spring and are watched carefully throughout the summer to determine which plants will make the cut and be sold to Southeastern gardeners the following season.

Each summer presents its own unique challenges, and this year, the season provided a mix of abundant rain followed by almost no rain at all.

“This year we had heat quick in the season, and then during the month of May, it rained 18 days straight. I just knew everything was going to die, and we would be left with just a bunch of weeds in the garden,” Coker said. “But thankfully, these plants were so strong, the vast majority pulled through fine.” 

The staff did have to be diligent about watering the plants during the second half of the summer. 

When searching for Classic City Award winners, Coker said he looks for plants that can still wow him, and the gardens’ visitors, between bloom cycles. 

“Some of the standout groupings of plants this year were coleus, calibrachoa, salvia and geranium,” Coker said. “Each of those four groups had an assortment of very high ratings. But in the end, the plants that we choose to win the Classic City Awards are the plants that give us the most beauty over our very long growing season.”

This year's award winners include: 

  • Begonia ‘Canary Wings’, Ball Ingenuity
  • Calibrachoa Superbells ‘Holy Smokes!’, Proven Winners
  • Calibrachoa Lia ‘White’, Danziger
  • Echinacea Sombrero ‘Tres Amigos’, Darwin Perennials
  • Euphorbia ‘Crystal White’, Green Fuse Botanicals
  • Gaillardia SpinTop, ‘Red Starburst’, Dummen Orange
  • Impatiens New Guinea Harmony Radiance ‘Hot Pink’, Danziger
  • Pelargonium Calliope ‘Large Rose Mega Splash’, Syngenta Flowers
  • Petunia Dekko ‘Star Coral’, Syngenta Flowers
  • Portulaca Hot Shots ‘Tangerine Glow’, Green Fuse Botanicals
  • Salvia Skyscraper ‘Pink’, Selecta
  • Solenostemon ColorBlaze ‘Torchlight’, Proven Winners

For full descriptions of this year’s Classic City Award winners and information on next year’s trials, visit

Source: University of Georgia (Merritt Melancon)

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