The Trial Gardens at the University of Georgia (UGA) are open every day, and every day campus and townspeople wander through, enjoying the beauty and occasionally taking notes. Each year we organize two formal open houses, one for the commercial industry and one for the gardening public. This year we had nearly 300 people at the industry affair in June.
Three weeks later, we hosted nearly 500 people at the public get-together. Each attendee is given three small plastic flags to tag their favorite plants. When presented with more than 2,000 taxa, choosing but three is a daunting task.
From these events, we learn a number of things–not all plant related. The first is that people are returning to plants. Even given the miserable economy, the depressing news we are constantly subjected to, and for us, temperatures well over 90°F on the days of the open houses, record numbers of people came to see flowers, beauty and fragrance. They even paid! It is still tough out there, but let’s be at least as optimistic as our visitors.
The second thing we learn is that people want to be impressed. Often it is not the jazzy new cultivar hyped at California Spring Trials that catches a visitor’s eyes, but the lesser-known plants in a mixed container or single flower in a basket or bed that is most popular. However, if a plant does not get flagged, it’s not necessarily a negative–it may be the result of too many geraniums, petunias or calibrachoas on display. So people simply walk by. But there is no denying the buzz when a dozen flags are fluttering in front of one variety.
Lastly, members of the floral industry and the public do not always agree on what catches the eye. But I suppose that’s no newsflash.
The overall winner, hereafter named the UGA Award (pronounced “ugg-uh,” not as individual letters) is rudbeckia ‘Denver Daisy’ from Benary. Voted first overall in the industry visit and second by the public, this is the only plant that was in the top five vote-getters by both groups. Even those of us who see it every day give it top marks.
‘Scentropia Dark Blue’ heliotropium. This was a bit of surprise to us, but it’s a great plant to be sure. People loved the deep color and excellent habit of this Syngenta Flowers variety. This was number two in the industry polling and also did well by the public.
Generic vines. Another huge surprise: Two vines absolutely kicked the competition. Senecio confusus (orange flamevine) was in full flower during the industry open house, and Cissus discolor (rex begonia vine) was in the garden community’s top five. This is a quick lesson for those who discount vines: if properly displayed, people love them.
Petunias. We have more than 75 petunias on display so I was particularly interested in which varieties would be selected. The overall winner chosen by both groups was ‘Rhythm and Blues’ from Ball FloraPlant. Industry people chose Ball FloraPlant’s ‘Black Velvet’ first, but the public chose ‘Pretty Much Picasso’ from Proven Winners as its runaway winner, followed by Syngenta’s ‘Hurrah Blue Vein.’ ‘Black Velvet’ did not make the public list.
Coleus. There was not as much interest in coleus this year compared to other years–none was in the industry top 10–but the public still loves them. Athens Select’s ‘Mariposa’ was ranked number four overall by gardeners. ‘Red Head’ and ‘Henna’ from Ball FloraPlant also garnered significant public flags.
Lantanas. Only a dozen or so lantanas were on display in 2010, and ‘Lucky Sunrise Rose’ was the clear winner in industry polling. No lantana cracked the public top 10.
Geraniums. A difficult category to judge because of the sheer numbers. The only one to be on both lists was Syngenta’s ‘Caliente Orange,’ although Syngenta’s ‘Calliope Deep Red’ and Dömmen’s ‘Atlantic Burgundy’ did well in public voting.
Portulacas. These were also surprise vote-getters, but if allowed to show off, there are few more eye-catching plants. Way ahead of everyone (fifth place, public) was Sakata’s ‘Duet Rose & Yellow Stripe.’ The public also liked Danziger’s ‘Pazazz Ultra Pink’ but none made the industry’s top 10.
Osteospermums. The best by far was Ecke’s ‘Crescendo Primrose,’ which has been stunning from day one. Not far behind it was ‘Crescendo Yellow.’
Vegetables. We displayed many veggies in the trials this year and, oh my, did the public love them. We focused mainly on the patio vegetables from Floranova. The overall winner in this category was ‘Ivory’ eggplant, with small, clean white fruit. Pay attention to these patio varieties, we may only have a few strong market years in vegetables, so let’s take advantage of public sentiment.