Over the past several years, the Dallas Arboretum Trial Gardens have become a top resource for measuring the heat tolerance and landscape performance of new plant varieties. After meticulously recording trial results throughout the year, senior director of gardens Jimmy Turner presents these findings in a colorful and entertaining style at the Aboretum’s annual Field Day. This year’s event will take place on June 27, 2012.
Every year, thousands of annuals, perennials, tropicals and bulbs are put to the test of the Field Day motto: “If we can’t kill it, no one can.” Nearing a decade in his current position, Turner says the past year’s trials redefined the Flameproof label he and his staff award the top performers each year.
If you saw any weather-related news in Texas last year, you will recall that it was a year of drought, wildfires and record high temperatures. Most of the state had little to no rainfall throughout the spring and summer, and homeowners experienced water restrictions like never before. During the most unfavorable conditions for plant growth in decades, the Dallas Arboretum trialed more varieties than ever before, testing more than 7,000 different plants in the past year. Turner and staff are focused on reporting measured trial data, without showing bias toward any particular breeder or personal plant preference, and will be adding a live data link to their website within the next year.
Some of the heat tolerant varieties that impressed last year included the gaillardia ‘Gayla’ series and otemeria ‘Baby Pink’ (voted best in container plantings) from Danziger, as well as verbena ‘Princess Dark Lavender’ and ‘Princess Blush’ from the Southern Living Plant Collection. Some surprising Texas heat resistant varieties also made the cut. Turner and senior trials manager Jenny Wegley included heliotrope ‘Simply Scentsational’ from Proven Winners and interspecific pelargonium ‘Graziosa’ from Dummen USA on their list.
Beyond testing for heat tolerance, the year-round trials at the Dallas Arboretum include fall plantings that encompass hundreds of pansy varieties and other plants with cool season color. Among the consistent top performers in this group are the Nature series pansy from Takii, snapdragon ‘Arrow’ from Syngenta and dianthus ‘Supra’ from Hem Genetics.
This year the cool season trials included extensive studies of various hellebores. Typically a difficult genus for hot Texas production schedules, the results revealed at the Field Day aims to help growers select cultivars with a higher success rate in the South. The Arboretum’s trial of dahlias as a fall crop is also of interest to growers with an extended southern growing season.
The Field Day promises to showcase some of the toughest plants available. Pre-registration costs $15 at DallasPlantTrials.org until June 20, and on-site registration on the day of the event is $25, including dinner after the presentation. In addition to the Field Day results, visitors can tour the only All-American Selections trial in Texas, view the spectacular Dale Chihuly glass exhibition and discover why MSN named the Dallas Arboretum one of the top places in the world to see spring flowers.