Magnolia Eden
Athens Select Plants
Giving the Southern Gardener a Fighting Chance
Sometimes gardening in the South is not for the faint of heart. Conditions vary from one microclimate to another, creating a volatile environment for many plants and frustrating the folks who faithfully tend them. While some individuals garden with ease in spite of the challenges, others have expressed disappointment over failed attempts to prosper with plants they may have successfully grown up North or even transplanted from just two counties away. Since gardening isn't always an inexpensive venture, the investment in plants that do not meet expectations can be a very costly mistake.

Fortunately, southern gardeners have an ally in Athens Select, a line of plants evaluated by Dr. Allan M. Armitage at the University of Georgia Trial Gardens in Athens and propagated by members of the Athens Select Marketing Association. Dr. Armitage, one of the world's foremost horticulturalists, indicates the American South has the "most difficult climate, but also the easiest," referring to the region's hot, humid summers as well as its long growing season and mild winters. At the forefront in its field, Dr. Armitage says the Athens Select collection is not only aesthetically appealing with unique colors or foliage, but also heat- and humidity tolerant "so the southern gardener has a fighting chance."

Working with new and virtually unknown plant varieties, all Athens Select introductions have been vigorously tested. Though plants are virus-indexed to ensure health and overall quality, Dr. Armitage emphasizes that "heat- and humidity performance is the nail on which we hang our hat." He also points out that it's one thing to determine which plants can survive southern gardening conditions, but he adds, "We want to find plants that look good in the summer time, too." While Athens Select has debuted a number of annuals and perennials, Dr. Armitage acknowledges the "largest growing segment in the herbaceous world is specialty annuals," and the program aims to cater to that market. Among the thousands of plants tested, a relative handful make the Athens Select cut. Feauturing just a few of the program's offerings, the following overview is indicative of Athens Select's ability to offer a line of beautiful, quality plants from which consumers can choose for lining sunny borders, sprucing up shady spots, filling patio containers or gracing hanging baskets.

The Bottom Line

In more ways than one, each Athens Select plant is a worthwhile investment. Gardeners browsing the greenhouse tables of Athens Select dealers can buy with confidence, and a portion of the sales proceeds benefits the University of Georgia in its ongoing plant research.

New Varieties for 2005-2006

Alternanthera 'Red Threads'

An excellent choice for containers such as baskets, pots and window boxes, this burgundy-colored foliage plant is low-growing at 5-7".

Begonia 'Bonita Shea'

Add interest to drab, boring shady spots with this compact (6-8") foliage plant.

Other Athens Select Varieties

Verbena 'Homestead Purple'

Always a welcomed sight beginning in late spring, this superb performer is now easily obtained everywhere from your favorite nursery to the neighborhood Wal Mart. Interestingly, it was first found in a backyard in Georgia!

Hypericum x moserianum 'Tricolor'

Today, even commercial landscape professionals are incorporating St. John's Wort into their plantings, but this is no ordinary selection. Distinguished by its foliage, this low-growing plant's leaves, with their white and pink varieagation, contrast nicely with the bright yellow flowers.

Cleome 'Linde Armstrong'

Probably referred to as "Cat Whiskers" by your grandmother, no southern garden is complete without a row or two of Cleome specimens. This variety is thornless, grows only 12-18" tall and is long-lasting.

Ruellia elegans 'Ragin' Cajun'

Not exactly a commonly planted flower, this vigorous Ruellia offers versatility. Locate it in beds or containers, and enjoy its crimson flowers and 12-14" habit.

Lantana 'Athens Rose'

A virtual kaleidoscope of color, this multi-colored Lantana is an ideal groundcover or bedding plant. (Editor's note: I planted a few Lantana 'Athens Rose' specimens in my garden in the spring of 2006 and, so far, I'm very pleased.)


Telephone conversation with Dr. Allan M. Armitage on May 16, 2006

Author:  Greg Freeman.  Published May 24, 2006.

Southern Edition

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