Field Trials Help Deliver The Right Plant For Every Customer [Opinion]

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Allan Armitage

Allan Armitage

First things first. Dr. Allan Armitage has retired, but he isn’t going anywhere. You’ll continue to see him in the pages of Greenhouse Grower each month, in videos on GreenhouseGrower.com and traveling with our editors at events throughout the year. His expertise, opinions and decades of experience with the plants you all grow make him too valuable a resource to let him ride off into the sunset that easily.

As of this past summer, however, Dr. A is officially retired as a professor at the University of Georgia (UGA). We thought it would be particularly fitting to pay tribute to his career this month in our issue devoted to the results from 2013 field trials all over the country. His mission over the last 30 years and the mission of all of these trials is ultimately the same: helping you get the right plant into the hands of every consumer.

If you’ve read even one of his columns or heard him speak at an event, you know Allan understands that growers must keep a keen eye on every detail that goes into efficient production of quality plants. But, as he’ll readily point out, none of that really matters if there’s no one to buy them.

His measuring stick is always his daughters: two women who don’t necessarily share his deep knowledge of horticulture, but just want to enjoy flowers and plants. How do we find the right plants for them to enjoy all summer long in their backyard beds, or in a fun container on the deck or in the kitchen?

As a true scientist, his answer is, let’s test them and see how they perform. And that’s what he’s done, starting the Trial Gardens at the University of Georgia with Dr. Michael Dirr in 1982 and continuing to today. The gardens have provided a great way to observe performance throughout the harsh Georgia growing season, as well as to get feedback on which plants consumers really like when the trials are opened up to the public each summer.

Like Dr. Armitage, we believe trialing is critical to the future of our industry. Not just trial beds, but container and basket trials, too. As we strive to meet the evolving needs and desires of our new (and existing) consumer customers, it’s more important now than ever. We must make sure we are offering not only the plants that will perform well for consumers in a given region, but also the plants that appeal to them.

The University of Georgia Trial Gardens are in good hands under the leadership of  Dr. John Ruter and will continue, even after the retirement of Dr. Armitage. It’s great to see that commitment from UGA. But it’s a commitment we need to continue to see from universities, breeders, growers, botanical gardens and organizations like All-America Selections. Finding the right plants that will make consumers happy and keep them coming back for more is the benefit of having trials like these — and it’s the benefit of having people like Allan Armitage.

Richard Jones is the group editor for Greenhouse Grower and Today's Garden Center magazines.
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