Published on 05/20/03

Top 10 new superstars at UGA Trial Gardens

By Paul A. Thomas
University of Georgia

Allan Armitage and the staff in the University of Georgia Horticulture Department have been evaluating new plants for two decades. Folks always ask for each year's top 10 plants.

The UGA Trial Gardens are on the UGA Athens, Ga., campus. It's open from dawn to dusk year-round. Get the best pictures in the summer before 10 a.m. and after 7 p.m. Many photos are on the garden's Web site (

For a knockout garden, keep this list handy as you visit garden centers.

Tradescantia 'Sweet Kate.' Several native Tradescantia species live happily in Georgia spring gardens. But none has the impact Sweet Kate will have. Its incredibly fluorescent yellow-green, upright leaves glow in morning sun. The deep, purple-blue flowers are a perfect contrast. You could plant 'Sweet Kate' in a garden on the moon and clearly see it from Earth.

Aster 'English Countryside.' The usual comment? "That can't be an aster." The sky-blue flowers are tinged in pink, and the overall effect is, well, "wow." English Countryside colonizes well. If you provide space for the foliage to grow uncrowded, the late-summer-through-fall blooms will be the talk of your neighborhood.

Silene 'Clifford Moor.' Clifford Moor has variegated leaves that look almost golden yellow. The mid- to late-spring flowers are a nice, solid pink that, with the foliage, makes you look twice. Silenes do best in well-drained soils in full sun. "Keep close to the home" is the best advice on care.

Tiarella 'Spring Symphony.' "Spring Symphony is the first to bloom and last to finish," says Meg Green, who has grown every Tiarella ever planted at the UGA gardens. "It has the best flowers and is the most profusely blooming of the Tiarellas." The flowers last the longest, too. The delicately green foliage contrasts well with the white flowers.

Eucomis 'Sparkling Burgundy.' Eucomis is one of many subtropical plants making their way into Georgia gardens. This pineapple lily produces a beautiful, pinkish white flower when grown in full sun with adequate moisture. Why "Sparkling Burgundy?" It has bright, maroon-red leaves in spring.

Geranium x 'Rozanne.' Roxanne may change your mind about geraniums' usefulness in the perennial garden. It flowers all summer, producing shades of magenta on a strong, green background of leaves. Good organic soils and partial shade, or at least shade in mid to late afternoon, are best. As with most geraniums, don't ignore it in a drought.

Dianthus 'Garden Spice.' This series will add an interesting touch of texture to an already crowded dianthus pallet. Garden Spice is a series of colors, with carnation-like flowers more compact and upright than the traditional "carnation" dianthus. The series is excellent for mass planting or as accent plants in small beds or rock gardens.

Lychnis 'Jenny.' Like most Lychnis, Jenny will flower well in partial shade and full sun, with a beautiful, wispy presentation of rosy pink flowers. It's easy to grow but lives for only two or three years. Jenny's real value is in a mass planting. A sea of pink is hard to get in Southern gardens, but with careful spacing at 6-inch centers, Jenny can do it.

Gaura 'Leah James.' Gaura is one of our more drought-tolerant perennials. Leah James has white-pink flowers and interestingly variegated foliage. It requires well-drained soil, full sun and some irrigation when first established. It will rebloom if you remove the top half of the spent flower stalks. Don't give it a crew cut, just a trim.

Scabiosa 'Samantha's Pink.' Scabiosa must be the most promoted perennial in the United States. The blue pincushion flowers have made it a mainstay already. Samantha's Pink has slightly larger flowers than the blue form and produces more of them. The pink flowers look stunning in front of Salvia guaranitica and any solid green shrub.

(Paul Thomas is a horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

Paul Thomas is a horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.