Published on 10/15/15

The Trial Gardens at UGA recognize this year's best performers with the Classic City Awards

By Merritt Melancon, John M. Ruter

Every summer, the staff of the Trial Gardens at the University of Georgia raises hundreds of varieties of new ornamentals, and the best of the best of those plants become Classic City Award winners.

Announced earlier this month, the awards are given to plants that are tough enough to thrive through the extreme heat conditions of a Georgia summer.

“We pick Classic City Award winners every year to recognize the 10 or 12 best plants in the garden,” said John Ruter, professor of horticulture at UGA and director of the Trial Gardens. “Breeders send us their plants because they want to see if they can grow in the heat and humidity of a Georgia summer … These plants did the best in that heat and humidity this year.”

Since 1982, the Trial Gardens on UGA’s Athens Campus have been used as a literal testing ground for plants from around the world. By evaluating new selections of annuals and perennials, the Trial Gardens’ staff helps to introduce new plants to the Southeast’s green industry and the general public.

The Trial Gardens’ plant evaluations are respected across the globe. Commercial nurseries across the country depend on the staff’s recommendations to determine what they will grow for sale the following season, which means many of this year’s hardiest plants will be available in garden centers next spring. Plants labeled “Classic City Award winner” have a better-than-average chance of surviving the typical Georgia garden and gardener.

“If you do a little soil prep, plant them properly and keep them watered, these plants should do well,” said Ruter who is also a researcher with the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. “The Classic City Award winners are low-maintenance plants that have a good chance of thriving in your garden.”

Gardeners who want to hear Ruter describe the 2015 growing season at the Trial Gardens and see pictures of this year’s award winners can watch an archived webinar at

For more information about the Trial Gardens and this year’s trial results, visit

About this year’s Classic City Award winners:

  • Begonia Baby Wing® ‘Bicolor’ – PanAmerican Seed Many of the Trial Gardens’ begonias performed well this summer, however Baby Wing® ‘Bicolor’ stood out as being brighter than the others. Its dark green foliage provides pleasant contrast to the unique flowers, which are rose with white centers.
  • Caladium ‘Debutante’ – Classic Caladiums All of Robert Hartman’s caladiums excel in the least desirable, shadiest spots of our garden. ‘Debutante,’ with its tough, white leaves with undulating edges and deep green veins, was exceptionally stellar this year. The leaves reddened as the weather cools. ‘Debutante’ makes a stellar public outing and should be used to fill gardens with its beauty.
  • Capsicum ‘Basket of Fire’ – Vegetalis Even though ‘Basket of Fire’ has been around for some time, it is still among the best of the ornamental peppers trialed at UGA. The plants are less than 12 inches tall and covered in 2-inch slender fruits that transform from yellow to orange to red. The plants produce countless, colorful peppers that withstand all of the summer’s weather conditions.
  • Catharanthus Cora® Cascade™ ‘Strawberry’ – Syngenta/Goldsmith Seeds This summer was not the best for annual vinca in the Trial Garden, but many did well. Cora® Cascade™ ‘Strawberry’ performed as well as its competitors, was far more rugged and thrived until the end. This spreading vinca fills in rapidly, with large, dark pink flowers with a rose center over the entire plant.
  • Impatiens Sun Harmony™ ‘Pink’ – Danziger Flower Farm Like other New Guinea impatiens (NGI) meant for the sun, Sun Harmony™ ‘Pink’ performed exceptionally well in our blazing hot Georgia sunshine. The plants, which grew to 20 to 26 inches and were covered with large, bright pink blooms, withstood heavy rains, wind and other impediments and outperformed all other varieties.
  • Lobularia ‘Lavender Stream’ – Danziger Flower Farm Like others in the Stream series of Lobularia from Danziger have before, this year’s ‘Lavender Stream’ proved to be one of the absolute best plants in the garden. Despite the weather, this variety continued to flourish, growing into a blanket of zillions of fragrant, tiny, lavender blooms. If history is any indication, ‘Lavender Stream’ and its siblings will thrive well into our winter.
  • Petunia Tidal Wave® ‘Silver’ – PanAmerican Seed The fact that any petunia survived our wet early summer followed by the extreme heat and drought of late summer is a miracle. Tidal Wave® ‘Silver’ not only survived, but it flourished for months. The plants grew into a nice mound, covered in flowers that were white-purple with a purple center.
  • Petunia Supertunia® ‘Violet Star Charm’ – Proven Winners For years, Proven Winners has produced many fabulous petunia varieties that have done well in trials. Supertunia® ‘Violet Charm’ quickly grew into a compact mound of small, white-with-violet-stripes flowers that blanketed the plants. It was in full bloom for months and it withstood our weather effortlessly.
  • Salvia ‘Mojave Red Improved’ – Floranova Several Salvia splendens varieties have been trialed in recent years, so it was good to see one as splendid as ‘Mojave Red Improved.’ The plants grew to a height of 18 to 20 inches and produced red, flowering stalks. It flourished regardless of miserably hot growing conditions. ‘Mojave Red Improved’ is an excellent reminder of salvia’s great qualities.
  • Trixi® Combos Fairy – Selecta Scaevola breeders have made huge leaps in developing cultivars that can withstand too much rain as well as tremendous heat. Trixi® Combos Fairy is a combination pot comprised of blue, pink, bicolor and white scaevola. The combination was absolutely perfect all summer. Too often one variety of a combination completely overwhelms the others in its mix. This was not at all the case with Fairy. Everyone behaved themselves and did not have to bully for space.
  • Scaevola ‘Scalora Jewel’ – WestFlowers ‘Scalora Jewel’ grew quickly into a compact mass of light violet, fan-like blossoms. Despite the early rains and later drought, ‘Scalora Jewel’ succeeded in wowing all summer. As with its sibling ‘Scalora Amethyst’ that won this high award last year, ‘Scalora Jewel’ is to die for.
  • Solenostemon ‘UF12823’ Campfire – Ball FloraPlant It was evident in early summer that this coleus would be incredible, but it continued to awe the staff throughout the summer. Campfire was maintenance free in that it seldom flowered. It grew to 3 to 3.5 inches tall and remained erect all summer. Its warm orange-red leaves shone quite brightly and it withstood long, hot days better than many other coleuses.

Merritt Melancon is a public relations manager with UGA's Terry College of Business and previously served as a public relations coordinator for the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and UGA Extension.

John Ruter is director of The Trial Gardens at the University of Georgia and professor of horticulture at UGA.

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