Sinclair Adam, who leads the Trial tours every year, did so without a throng following him this year.
Photo by Stephen Wagner

by Stephen Wagner

Penn State has been hosting tours of its Trial Gardens since 1933. Usually there are several hundred people on hand the day of the tour, with Sinclair Adam, the project’s director, leading a group through the serpentine SEAREC path in Lancaster County, PA. The advantage of the virtual tour this year was that spectators weren’t prey to sudden rainfalls or blistering heat.

Prolific Georgia University horticulture professor Allan Armitage opened the tour with introductory remarks from his Athens, GA, garden. “Who knew six months ago what we’d be going through today?” he began. “I have not talked to a single online seller of plants or a single gardener or landscaper who has not said ‘This is a whole lot better year than I ever thought when we started this dilemma.’”

The Virtual Tour segued into the Breeder Showcase videos, beginning with Ball. Anna C. Ball and her daughter Susannah kicked off the presentation. “Breeding is really tough for the growers,” Anna said, “because we have to make sure that things grow well in the greenhouse.” But the balance comes with making sure they also do well outdoors. “This year, one of my favorite introductions is the Beacon Impatiens, which I have in my own yard at home. They look fantastic right now. I’ve got them on a wall growing along a street. Primavera Lavender is one of my favorites.”

Selecta’s new petunias for 2020-21 include Mainstage Glacier Sky, vigorous and trailing with excellent garden performance. Best uses are in large pots, big baskets and in-ground. “This variety has huge blooms, a deep blue hue with white pickety edge and speckled with white stars,” a spokesman said.

Darwin presented what it terms its game changer: Lavender Primavera. It requires no chill at all to flower. This means that if you live in the South, you can have this in bloom in January or February; if you’re in the North, you can have this in bloom all summer long. It will flower on new growth all through spring, summer and autumn. And so it was with a number of seed companies touting their specialties for the year.

Adam said it took three weeks to do the virtual program, start to finish. Aiding him were Krystal Snyder and Nick Flax, who alternated with Adam in the walk-through segment.

“What’s different this year is that instead of spreading out the program across the entire expanse, we consolidated it,” Adam said, so it took about half the amount of space normally involved.

Yellows, whites and yellowish-whites seemed to be the popular colors this year. “There’s a lot of interest,” Adam said. “That petunia that Ball brought out is stellar.”

Adam said this year’s trials went “pretty well.” “We worked our tails off in May and June to produce. Every day we go through and make sure that nobody’s been disconnected from the irrigation system. Rabbits sometimes chew the tubes. If there are people here, they walk through the beds and knock them out. That’s real critical. You come in at morning and something might be totally flagged. We’ve got to triage that right away. We had a Japanese beetle influx about two weeks ago, so we got out the heavy artillery and sprayed them. I don’t like to do that, but last year we had no beetles.”