There Will Be Blooms

Athens Select touts sure bets for planting now.

Annual salvia ‘Victoria’Yes, there will be blooms for sure but the question is which, where and how many?

Many people who love to garden, do not, unfortunately like to plan ahead.

And most will succumb to the prettiest thing they see in the nursery with only the vaguest, if any, idea what or where they will plant it.

This approach leads to a less desirable effect than is hoped for, since a garden is not just a collection of plants but a work of art, a composition with all attendant joys and challenges and not to be undertaken carelessly. It also involves the extra dimension of time because it constantly evolves. However, along with the short lecture, help is at hand and may be found, where else but online at the Athens Select Web site.

Athens Select is a program of plant evaluation inaugurated 10 years ago at the University of Georgia in Athens, Ga., by eminent plantsman and author, Dr. Allan Armitage.

It evaluates all the newest and the best of garden annuals and perennials in its introductory and experimental Trial Gardens at the university. It particularly concentrates on how well plants handle the heat and high-humidity environment of most of the Southeast.

Does that speak to Hilton Head Island gardeners? Well, you betcha! The Web site showcases the newest and best plants for this particular area, with stunning pictures of new introductions which were tracked in 2008 and are now presumably on the market. It also lists the top 10 of the very best.

Plantings are evaluated every two weeks over 2-3 years for development and ability to take the heat and still thrive, then scrupulously graded on a scale of 1-5.

It is highly recommended that you visit Athens Select’s Web site. You will come away with some very good ideas about plants you would like and should look for.  Surely, All-America Selections, Perennial Plant Association, the National Garden Bureau and the renowned White Flower Farm, along with many other tempting resources, are highly reputable and dependable but they address the whole country, not our particular area.

Among the 10 best of the Athens Selections are a white scaevola and a white angelonia. Although both are locally familiar, these are newly improved for exuberance of bloom and sturdiness of stature plus resistance to the worst weather the Lowcountry can dole out. A coleus is selected although I am pained to say that its botanical name is now Solenostemon. Don’t be put off – it is still coleus, cultivar “Henna.” Acalypha “Bronze Pink” is another foliage plant of stunning color while a colocasia, or elephants’ ears, cultivar “Diamond Head,” sounds appealing as does colocasia “Black Magic,” with enormous smoky-purple leaves and maroon stems. One can imagine the outstanding and varied combinations to be achieved with these seductive hues playing off one another.

One must not abandon the old tried and true in spite of the newest arrivals, no matter how highly acclaimed. Our garden notes should tell us what to expect of some returning perennials – what, no garden notes? A pity because a record of your garden successes and failures, no matter how sketchy, is a valuable asset in garden
making. It helps tremendously in planning for succession and compatibility of blooming times in order to achieve all season color.

However, remember that in this area, not all perennials thrive to return year after year, bigger and better, as they do in the north… something to do with the stress of our climate and the fact that our plants do not enjoy an extended season of dormancy for rest and reconstitution during the winter. Since our gardens are never finished, that’s part of the fun and the challenge. “Just wait ‘til next year” is not limited to the optimistic cry from the bleachers.

So a short list of the known survivors (and everyone will have his favorites), would have to include salvias, both perennial as well as the blue annual “Victoria,” begonias, impatiens (although not for the deer-challenged), vinca, pentas, coneflower, angelonia, snapdragons, dusty miller, coreopsis, sunflowers, geraniums, gomphrena and so many more. These can be counted on for long season color while you joyfully incorporate the new.

Make no mistake. There will be blooms!