In the Garden:
Visitors to the University of Georgia Trial Garden, led here by Dr. Allan Armitage, relish the opportunity to discover outstanding new annuals and perennials that will perform well at home.
Trial Gardens Reveal Winners
Despite high hopes for every plant they bring home, gardeners know some are going to have problems with pests, diseases, or climate, and some will just turn out to be duds. What they might not realize, however, is that with a bit of sleuthing they can dramatically improve their odds for picking the best plants.
How? By discovering which new introductions have earned high ratings or awards such as "Top Pick" or "Crowd Favorite" at plant trials in their region.
Plant trials are the horticulture industry's way of measuring how a new variety will perform in different regions of the country. In general, there are two types of trials: University field trials where plants are usually grown in small plots (called row trials), and public garden trials where they are more likely to be grown in display beds and containers.
To facilitate the processes and hopefully create a buzz about their introductions, horticulture companies send samples of new plant varieties to both kinds of trials, as well as to garden writers such as myself and other industry professionals. They also conduct their own trials at various sites across the country.
Any gardener, by visiting a trial garden in their region, can see how new plants perform in environments similar to their own. For instance, whenever possible, I visit plant trials at the University of Georgia in Athens and the JC Raulston Arboretum at North Carolina State University in Raleigh.
I also frequently access Web sites to check trials at other Middle South locations, such as the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, and a few others just outside of our region, including Texas A&M University in Overton and the Dallas Arboretum (both in the Lower South), and Virginia Tech in Blacksburg (in the Upper South).
The program I follow most closely, though, is the one led by Dr. Allan Armitage at the University of Georgia Trial Gardens (http://ugatrialgardens.wordpress.com/). These gardens, known far and wide, produce ongoing information on annuals and perennials suitable for heat and humidity. Performance ratings of the varied plants, grown in plots and/or containers, are based on number of flowers, leaf color, uniformity of form and flower, resistance to insects and diseases, and overall appearance.
Plus, no do-or-die gardener can resist the sincere enthusiasm of Dr. Armitage, who is always eager to share his love and knowledge of plants.
Like many other plant research programs around the country, the Trial Gardens at UGA are periodically open to the public. At this year's June 25th Open House, more than 400 visitors wandered through the garden and picked their favorite plants by marking them with a small survey flag. In addition to being a barrel of fun, "Chasing the Flags" gives garden staff a chance to see what catches the public's eye, as well as a heads up on which plants are most likely to be purchased for home landscapes.
So, let's hear it for the 2011 winners!
The top fifteen UGA "Chasing the Flags" standouts, in order of popularity, are:
Caladium 'Pink Splash'
Rudbeckia 'Denver Daisy'
Dahlia 'Goldalia Scarlet'
Salvia Sallyfun Blue Emotion
Petunia 'Fortunia Purple Picotee'
Hibiscus 'Royal Gems'
Ruellia brittoniana, Texas Petunia
Petunia 'Surprise Black'
Celosia 'New Look'
Heliotropium 'Scentropia Dark Blue'
Echinacea 'Pure Green Jewel'
Coleus 'Two Egg'
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