More than a pretty face, they must be easy to grow
BY LAURA C. MARTIN
America loves a winner. We are all fascinated with contests and winners. So it’s not surprising that we like to hang gold medals around other things too, even plants.
The tremendous boom in popularity of gardening over the last couple of decades has gone hand-in-hand with the burgeoning number and varieties of plants available through the trade. With so many plants to choose from in every category imaginable, it’s helpful to find out which ones the experts consider outstanding.
The following list of winners was compiled from many different organizations, both state and national, that have selected these plants as being beautiful (or delicious!) and easy to grow. But don’t depend on the advice of the experts—you’re the best judge of the winners in your own garden. Keep notes about the plants you’ve grown this year and make your own list of prizewinners for 2004.
Georgia Gold Medal (GGM) winners
In 1994, a group of landscapers, flower growers and horticulturists formed a committee to choose plants they felt deserved special attention. The plants had to be more than just a pretty face; they also had to be easy to grow. With the ever-increasing need for water conservation, this year the committee chose flower winners that are all drought-tolerant. The 2003 winners are:
• Mexican zinnia ‘Star Series.’ Chosen as the best annual, Mexican zinnia offers fresh, beautiful flowers from just past frost until the weather cools in autumn. Easy to care for, these plants do not suffer from mildew and bacterial leaf spots like other zinnias. This plant is native to hot, dry regions of Mexico and, once established, is able to withstand long periods of drought. Though they will grow in almost any soil, Mexican zinnias perform best in full sun and well-drained soils enriched with organic matter. This series includes ‘Star White,’ ‘Star Gold,’ ‘Star Orange’ and ‘Starbright Mixture,’ offering gardeners a wide variety of colors.
• Lantana ‘Miss Huff’ is the GGM perennial winner. Although there are many different lantanas, ‘Miss Huff’ has proven to be not only beautiful and free-flowering but hardy to Growing Zone 7 as well. In fall, this will die back and re-emerge the following spring—if the winter has not been harsh. Producing dense florets of yellow and orange, this plant is drought-tolerant and blooms continuously from spring until frost. Butterflies are attracted to this shrub-like perennial, which can grow 6 feet tall and 10 feet wide by the end of the growing season. It grows in all types of soil but prefers fertile, enriched soils.
Other GGM winners include: Crossvine, a flowering vine; Henry Anise-tree, a shrub with dark green glossy foliage; and Chinese Fringe tree, which has white, slightly fragrant flowers.
The Perennial Plant Association 2003 winner is the daisy ‘Becky,’ named for Becky Stewart, a Georgia landscape designer. It has sturdy 3-foot stems and flowers 3 inches across. Grown in full sun, it does not need to be staked, and it blooms from July through September.
The All-American Selections (AAS) committee chooses winners in different categories based on trials in all parts of the country. The 2003 flower gold medal winner is ornamental millet ‘Purple Majesty.’ This unusual annual produces rich purple leaves and stalks of interesting flowers. The seeds are cherished by many varieties of songbirds. Some of the other flower winners are carnation ‘Can Can Scarlet,’ petunia ‘Merlin Blue Morn,’ rudbeckia ‘Prairie Sun,’ petunia ‘Blue Wave’ and vinca ‘Jaio Dark Red.’ AAS display gardens in Georgia are found at the State Botanical Garden in Athens, Berry College, Callaway Gardens and the Cloister’s garden at Sea Island.
AAS 2003 vegetable winners include summer squash ‘Papaya pear’ and the sweet, Mediterranean-type melon ‘Angel.’
All-American Selections in the rose category include ‘Hot Cocoa,’ ‘Whisper,’ ‘Cherry Parfait’ and ‘Eureka.’
The Georgia Native Plant Society has not yet chosen a 2003 winner, but past winners include oak leaf hydrangea and wax myrtle.
Laura Martin, of Atlanta, is the author of 18 books on gardening and nature crafts.
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