Wow! There are over 1,500 varieties of sun-loving coleus available today! I was curious to find out how the vegetative coleus was discovered (previously coleus was available only from seed and preferred shade) so I talked to the “Father of Coleus,” Allan M. Armitage, retired professor of horticulture at the University of Georgia.
Dr. Armitage started trial gardens at the university in 1982, “Just another thing I was doing in addition to teaching and writing.” Those gardens became proving grounds, not only for plants but for him as a plantsman. Industry hallmarks like Homestead Purple Verbena and Sweet Potato Vine Blackie and Marguerite were developed and tested there. With those hits, people started sending him plants. A person who worked at the university brought back 10-12 different coleus that he had found growing in someone’s garden in Louisiana. Those were planted in the trial garden in full sun, and six of those did great. Dr. Armitage was delighted and trialed the coleus for two more years in full sun. At an open house for commercial people, the coleus was introduced as the Sun Loving Coleus series which included seven varieties, including Rustic Orange, Olympic Torch, Gay’s Delight and Alabama Sunset, still available today. A generous soul, Dr. Armitage let companies take cuttings instead of patenting his discoveries. Another series called the Solar Series, developed by George Griffin of Hatchett Creek Farms followed. In the next two years, other companies jumped on the Coleus Bandwagon. Although new coleus introductions have slowed, there are a few new ones that will be introduced next year that Dr. Armitage thinks are spectacular. I have samples for 2024 introductions. Look for them at this year’s “New Flowers for 2024” at the Dutchess Country Fair and vote for your favorites.
Although retired, Dr. Armitage’s enthusiasm hasn’t waned. “Lots of fun,” he says of the industry and the plants that are offered. He is still visiting trials, writing and speaking. Dr. Armitage has written 14 books to date – check out Amazon. In the meantime, I’ll be checking in with what he’ll be saying about the new 2024 flower introductions!