Cooperative Extension Demonstration Garden trials the newest flowers
It's like getting a sneak peek or a
backstage pass, a preview of what promises to be next year's stars. And
what a line-up.
There's a geranium called Black Magic Rose and an ornamental pepper
dubbed Chilly Chili. The "supertunias" of petunias — Blushing Princess
and Priscilla — make an appearance, as do the Dark Star and Red
Petticoats varieties of coleus.
In The University of Maine Cooperative Extension Penobscot County Master
Gardener Demonstration Garden, field trials of annuals introduce the
newest flowers and foliage.
The one-acre garden is in full color from early July through
mid-September. A public field day is Aug. 17.
In 2001, almost 70 new vegetative annuals were planted in a trial garden
at the University's Rogers Farm, a research facility dedicated to
sustainable agriculture. The plants are all new varieties being
considered for commercial introduction. The display and trial gardens
are designed to give home gardeners to horticulturists a chance to
evaluate the annuals a year before they're commercially available.
Performance data are collected on all the plants grown in the
demonstration garden, and commercial growers and home gardeners
attending field days during the summer are surveyed about their
"In the last five to 10 years, there's been a shift in what gardeners
want. It's not just marigolds and petunias any more, but plants that
were not part of our industry until a decade ago," says Lois Stack,
Extension's ornamental horticulture specialist who co-coordinates the
demonstration garden with Penobscot County Extension Educator Gleason
The demonstration garden actually is made up of "gardens within a
garden," including a "moon garden" and "pollinator garden," designed by
master gardener volunteers.
Stack conducts field trials of vegetative annuals (annuals propagated by
stem cuttings rather than seed) and a garden of All-America Selections (AAS),
plants that the international testing organization has cited as winners
for next year and in the past five years. In addition, Stack conducts
hardiness trials of shrub roses. In cooperation with the University of
Vermont, 130 varieties of shrub roses have been growing since 1997;
recommendations about the best varieties for northern New England climes
are just starting to be made.
"The flower industry has changed," Stack says. "People are looking for
plants that do well all season or in containers, foliage plants for
accent, and more perennials and tropical plants as annuals. People also
want a bonus — flowers that attract birds or butterflies."
What's important to remember, Stack says, is that gardens are more than
a collection of plants.
"Plants don't make the garden. It's how you use them, put them together,
that makes a garden come alive. An idea makes a garden."
Some of the most popular garden "ideas" in recent years incorporate
old-fashioned plants, vegetables and herbs as ornamentals, flowers and
foliage to achieve sophisticated use of color and texture, and even
aspects of garden humor and personality, such as "zoo gardens,"
containing plants with animal names (i.e. snapdragons).
by Margaret Nagle
for more stories from this issue of UMaine Today Magazine.