In Athens, Georgia, champions conquer in many venues. Sanford Stadium at the heart of campus, is the home of the National Champion University of Georgia Bulldogs. If you walk six-tenths of a mile south of Sanford Stadium, you’ll discover an arena where horticultural pros test new varieties of plants, the UGA Trial Gardens.
Each year, plant breeders and seed companies send annual and perennial plants to trial at venues all across the country. The UGA Trial Garden is one of the top trial gardens, testing plants in the famous Southeastern hot and humid conditions.
The trial garden operations are not top-secret. It’s a public garden on a college campus, with paths and benches throughout. It’s a pleasant place to rest during the day to take a break from screens, or eat lunch al fresco.
The trial garden folks invite horticultural pros and the public to two events each June to vote on their favorite plants. I attended the industry event this month and walked and talked with the plant nerds. It was a great day in the gardens.
Plant a Flag at the UGA Trial Garden
The June visit days are special because you can participate in the Classic City awards. Just pick up the orange flags at the sign-in desk and stick them by your favorite plants. The criteria for your favorites is highly individual. Pros say they choose plants they think will perform well in home gardens. My strategy is to pick my favorite plants, like zinnias and coleus, and see what looks good. Some plants, like the sunny bidens pictured below, beg for a flag.
I’m unable to resist zinnias. This “Zesty” series came in orange, red and purple.
I’m equally unable to resist coleus. The colors and foliage hold so much promise for my future gardening adventures.
See What’s New…
There’s always something new to view in the trial garden. Whether it’s the bidens, above, putting on a show, or this ruffly-edged vinca, below. I like the pink color and the ruffle is sweet. The puckery foliage is a distraction, I think.
This eye-catching petunia earned a lot of orange flags. It’s called “Petunia SureShot™ ‘Blueberries & Creme’” by Ball FloraPlant. It placed at the top of both the pro and public events. Here’s the enthusiastic review from the Trial Garden newsletter:
“With those dark centers and creamy white rings around, this petunia had everyone screaming for ice cream! A great Georgia flower that would pair up nicely with a deep red for a UGA display!”
Trial garden plants are not babied. They’re watered and fertilized just like in a home garden. If they don’t make it, well, that’s what trialing is all about. Every two weeks, the trial garden experts evaluate annuals for horticultural performance with these criteria:
- Number of flowers
- Leaf color
- Uniformity of habit and flower
- Resistance to insects and diseases
- Overall appearance
Perennials stay in the garden for three years and are evaluated on these criteria:
-Time of first flower
-Duration of flowering
(source: UGA Horticulture Trial Garden)
This data is sent to the plant breeders and helps them decide on the plants that you purchase at the Garden Center. The plants you see in the trial garden may show up in your local garden center in just a few years.
Visit the Trial Garden
When/if you’re in Athens, visit the Trial Garden on the University of Georgia campus. There’s plenty of parking nearby. Follow the Trial Garden on Facebook. You can sign up for their newsletter by emailing email@example.com.