If there was a pretty flower that could weather a rowdy party, it's a gomphrena.
Or so says Allan Armitage.
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"If you're a landscaper that is doing work with student dorms, beer cans and girls falling out of windows -- gomphrena, it works," Armitage said with a grin. "They're tough old birds."
For a professor of horticulture, Armitage sure can deliver the one-liners. His real mission, though, is to examine new plant varieties at the University of Georgia test gardens.
This year's crop grows stronger, faster. And many of them are ideal for hanging baskets or patio-side containers.
"The garden of tomorrow is the deck," Armitage said.
He recently walked through the top performers at the "iLandscape Show" in Schaumburg, just in time for green thumbs to start planning their spring gardens.
Here are some of his favorites:
• Mildew? What mildew? Impatiens have long dominated the shade scene. But an air- and soil-borne disease -- downy mildew -- has ravaged the staple. The New Guinea series resists the illness, Armitage promises. Another perk? It tolerates sun.
• The "tough old birds": So you want a no-fuss type. Try a gomphrena called Las Vegas Pink, a hearty annual with round blossoms. Not much bothers a geranium hybrid, Caliente Orange, either.
• Stop and smell: Heliotropes always demand a whiff. Scentopia Dark Blue blooms are even more fragrant.
• Hot, hot, hot: These plants like it warm, like 95-degrees-in-July warm. And they give your garden the tropical look -- still all the rage, Armitage says. Check out the eye-catching foliage of Black Coral, a colocasia with blue veins.
• The crazies: Some of these have been around, but they're hard to find. And every garden needs a surprise. So take a chance on Eyeball Plant (formal name: Acmella oleracea). It's the only plant -- sprouting with round yellow buds and red centers -- that looks back at you, Armitage said. Or try Bed of Nails (Solanum quitoense), dotted with purple thorns on green leaves. "You've got to have these fun things," Armitage said.
• No more deer, please: Hellebores are known for turning off the animal. Pink Frost blossoms with rose hues, while Champion displays large white flowers. They also flourish in containers.
• Big hair: New grasses hitting the market -- Panicum Cape Breeze -- feel like long tresses. "It's something you want to put your face into," Armitage said.
• Showstoppers: Phlox also is mildew resistant. For the cute factor, Peacock White gives pristine, compact flowers.
• Short stature: Whirling butterflies, native to the southwest, are a good bet for stifling summers. The best dwarf variety? Karalee Petite Pink, Armitage said. When they do stop flowering, give them a good trim.
• Autumn accents: Yes, fall seems far away. But gardeners must be prepared. Many of the coral bells hold their color as temperatures cool. Armitage recommends Buttered Rum or Georgia Peach.
To find rare varieties, sift through Armitage's handy smartphone app, where users also can look up retailers and gardening tips. It's available by searching for "Armitage" in the Apple Store or Google Play for Androids.