From beneath the broad brim of his signature white canvas hat, Allan Armitage leads a mighty army on a quest of discovery. He’s on a mission to demystify nature and reveal its beauty and gifts to the beholders.
He’s labeled this legion of students, now more than 2,000 strong, “Armi’s Army.” They aren’t simply shadowy figures in fond distant memories of a throng of student recruits who slept through lectures; they’re bright, eager faces whose photos line his office walls. They often visit for a fresh dousing in his legendary enthusiasm—that effervescence that sustained them through hot Georgia days studying local gardens.
There’s no doubt that Armitage, a UGA professor since 1980, is a respected expert on the horticulture front. His text, Herbaceous Perennial Plants, a Treatise on their Identification, Culture and Garden Attributes, is standard in university classrooms nationwide. He’s in demand around the world as a speaker with encyclopedic knowledge of most things you can propagate. By all accounts, there are three traits that make Armitage a cut above: his enthusiasm, generosity and gift for sharing both inside and outside his classroom.
His common catch-phrase, as recognizable as his hat, is “You’ve got to love this stuff!”
One letter of support says the phrase “is not a command but an exhortation with which Dr. Armitage cajoles and propels his students to join him in his excitement.”
And join him they do, repeatedly reporting that he’s the best there is and they left his classrooms with renewed appreciation for plants. Armitage teaches by example. Often imploring his students to “get out of Georgia,” he travels the world, too, studying plants and gardens.
His teaching talent earned him awards like the Most Outstanding Teacher in the Nation from the American Horticultural Society, the Medal of Honor from the Garden Club of America and Environmental Sciences and Educator of the Year from the Georgia Commercial Flower Growers Association. UGA even has an endowed horticulture chair in his honor.
But, he’s no general commanding class and collecting stars. He’s a pied piper of plant lovers.
Whatever he touches blossoms into something more interesting and lasting that it was intended as a seed of an idea. He designed the decade-old New Crop Introduction program to usher UGA crops to market. That project bloomed into ATHENS SELECT™, a cooperative program between Armitage, the UGA Research Foundation and national commercial propagators that delivers heat- and humidity-tolerant plants to the marketplace. A portion of sales goes to further UGA plant research.
The UGA Trial Gardens, which Armitage nurtures, are a living classroom where new plants from most of the world’s flower breeders are evaluated. But, it’s the seeds he sews in his students spirits to seek knowledge, love nature and shout it from roof tops that move his followers to say: “He’s the best teacher I’ve ever had. Come on, he’s Armitage. The man’s a legend!”