For the 2015 edition of the Penn State Trial Gardens, Trial Director Sinclair Adam had his land legs, unlike last year when he had just been hired and thrown into the situation while still getting his bearings.
His attire, totally appropriate for the day’s 82 degree temperatures, was reminiscent of a big game hunter guide’s clothing but with a hint of the bespectacled scholar. “We have some folks here today from most of the major seed companies,” he said, “and I’d like to encourage you to meet and chat with Proven Winners, Syngenta, Ball and whomever you wish to work with in the future.”
Also present were Chan Hood with the Henry F. Michell Company and Vice Chair of the Advisory Committee and Andy Brown with Ball Seed Company, and Chair of the Advisory Committee. “The vendors are always very generous with their donations,” said Hood. “The money is well used here on the farm. Those donations along with the monies realized from the silent auction are used to help build things, to help pay for the concrete floor in the greenhouse, to put in wells, for irrigation and things like that.”
“We rate the plants four times a year, hopefully,” Adam explained, “and we give them a score of 1 to 5 — 1 being mostly dead and 5 being of wonderful exceptional quality.” Those scores pertain to flowering, uniformity, foliar quality and overall growth, so there are four numbers put in on each plant. “Those numbers are averaged and subsequently over the course of the ratings, the total is averaged. At the end of the game, sometime in late September or early October, we put those numbers into the hands of the National Trials Database,” he added. That database is housed at the University of Georgia “and people can go in there to see how their plants did in Connecticut, in Pennsylvania, in Kansas, or wherever.” He also said that blue flags were prominent on some plants. That signified that the plants received a superior rating in the first rating period.
As the walking tour of the gardens began, Adam pointed out that there were more combinations showing up than last year. Often with the combos one plant has a tendency to outgrow the others by the end of the season. Stopping at Henry F. Michell – GreenFuse was an Angelonia identified as Actors Purple. “This is done very well,” Adam said. “It has a lot of color in it, rich color, something people will go into the garden center to snatch up. The two raspberry-colored ones are also pretty high sellers.” These were superior performers last year.
“We dead-head the dahlias one week before field day, and this year we had a pretty good display going on earlier. Now they are coming back fairly strong. This dahlia, yellow,” Adam pointed out, “is a new cultivar, and anything that’s new is going to have a little gold seal on it indicating that it is new to the program. It simply means this is the first year it’s been here.” Some cultivars stay in the program for two to three years; others come and go in one year. It depends entirely on the wishes and intentions of the submitter. Moving to the Labella Grande Red from Beekenkamp was a superior dahlia last year, and Adam noted its ‘nice’ performance with a lot of color and good flower form. It’s obviously a good plant with a ‘compact habit.’ Adam also thought well of the Dahlinova Hypnotica Sangria from Dummen Orange. “This is a two-toned flower that should find appeal with a lot of consumers.
“We have a new series of Gerberas in the program. Garvenias. These are given to us from D.S. Cole. They have shown a fairly good ability to reproduce.” Adam avers that this is also the year of the agastache. “We’re seeing some of this western/southwestern germplasm coming in the new cultivars, so you are getting oranges and pinks and yellows and shades thereof.” Adam also registered surprise to see Pericallis show up this year. “We run this program from June through September. From my previous experience, Pericallis just doesn’t like heat. It is often thought of as a greenhouse item for February and March, and by then you hope you’re out of it. However, they are actually blooming very nicely, considering that trait. This one has not thrown a single flower since it arrived from Danziger.”
Lobelias can also be problematic in July. It gets pretty hot at the trial gardens with temperatures on the south side of the containers attaining a cumulative 120°F, a state of affairs abhorred by any self-respecting lobelia. 60 to 70 degrees is infinitely more to their liking, maybe even 80. “Generally, they are doing pretty well,” said Adam, “but these two on the end are not. Out of all these cultivars, we should be able to develop some collectively as an industry that are going to fare better in the heat. Most breeders are working on that,” but how successful they’ve been is so far unknown. He singled out the Bella Mare by Dummen Orange, and the Magadi Indigo Blue, (the others have been in the program before). By the time August rolls around, most of the lobelias have gone completely brown and start to come back a bit in September. “If I was a consumer, I would want to put these in the shade.”
Insects eating other insects are becoming more mainstream in lieu of insecticides. One is reminded of this when spotting Japanese beetles on various plants. Several greenhouse operations have limited or reduced their chemical use dramatically while going forward with beneficial insects to control their pests. Aphidius wasps are being used along with pirate bugs, rove beetles and beneficial nematodes.
One of Adam’s personal favorites is the Foxlight Ruby Glow digitalis. “In California at the Spring Trials this was getting dive-bombed by hummingbirds. They have bigger hummingbirds on the California coast, with red heads instead of red throats. They were hitting this plant right and left, which was intriguing to watch. I haven’t seen the hummingbirds in Pennsylvania take advantage of it, but I’m sure we’ll get a chance to see it on a quiet day sometime.”