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The Trials and Triumphs of a New Garden

August 8, 2013

<em>Salvia splendens</em> growing in the Trial GardenIn late May of this year, Longwood opened our first ever Trial Garden for public view and display. Located in the Idea Garden, this space is now dedicated to showcasing an abundance of cultivated plant varieties, or cultivars within select genera, and teaching our visitors about the gardening techniques we use throughout our Gardens. It’s been a challenging year to start a new garden (with more than 8 inches of rainfall in June), but testing the limits of plants is really what trial gardens are all about!

Trial gardens exist all over the world. Most evaluate plants for commercial growers  and seek to find cultivars that are not only beautiful, but also low maintenance. “Low maintenance” is a very popular trait among homeowners! Longwood’s Trial Garden is different than other plant trials because we give our plants a lot of extra care and special attention. We do this so we can get an accurate read on how new plants would perform if they were to go on display in our Conservatory or other areas of the Garden. We also enjoy pushing plants to grow and behave in creative ways. Before now, these essential testing and review processes only happened behind-the-scenes, in our production greenhouses and research facilities.

An aerial view of Longwood’s Trial Garden, shortly after planting, June 2013What I think is most exciting about Longwood’s Trial Garden is the opportunity for side-by-side comparisons of some of the best summertime annuals. As the plants within each genus, or group, have been planted under the same conditions and are cared for equally, it becomes very obvious which varieties shine or are better adapted to the heat and humidity of summers in southeast Pennsylvania. It’s also great to see such an abundance of cultivars all in one place. When visiting most nursery garden centers, the choices for yellow flowering Lantana camara are limited to one. At Longwood’s Trial Garden, you can see and appraise seven different cultivars of yellow flowering Lantana, each one slightly unique in form and vigor.

One of the seven cultivars of yellow flowering Lantana blooming in the Trial Garden.Of course, as is typical when growing new plants in a new garden there have been unexpected challenges and woes. This year’s abundance of rain has been particularly hard on our Agastache cultivars which are mostly native to the arid conditions of Texas and the southwestern US. But, some varieties have survived and even flourished through the downpours and we now know which cultivars are better suited to a wet environment. We also look forward to watching some of these plants ‘bounce back’ as the season progresses. Thrillingly, most of the plants in our Trial Garden will change with each new summer season and so there will always be new genera and new cultivars to observe with wonder.

Join us this Friday, August 9, for Beyond the Garden Gates Night when our Display Designer, Jim Sutton, will talk about the creation of the Trial Garden. And be sure to stop by the Trial Garden to vote for your favorite plants. See you there!