The Raker Trial Garden is located on our greenhouse property in Litchfield in the lower central part of Michigan. The gardens were open after the OFA Short Course in July through the end of August. This year we got a head start with nice, warm weather at the end of May. All plants were planted by the end of the second week in June.
The Raker Trial Gardens cover more than 3 acres and feature more than 2,000 cultivars in various categories.
– Comparison Row Trials–We featured more than 600 side-by-side comparison row trials, including zonal geraniums, dianthus, echinaceas, gaillardias, ornamental grasses, ipomea, vegetative lobelias, mints, nemesias, sedums and snapdragons.
– Hanging Basket Trials – This year’s trial featured more than 225 calibrachoa cultivars.
– New Variety Display–New this year, we previewed more than 250 new varieties for 2011 in 20-inch patio containers and more than 50 new varieties in hanging baskets.
– Breeder Sponsor Beds–We offer large, raised beds and in-ground, row comparison beds to flower breeders from around the world. This year we had participation from 24 breeder sponsors: Amerinova, Ball Horticultural Co., Bartels Stek, Benary Seed, Cohen Nursery, Fleurizon, Florensis, Floranova, Grimes Horticulture, Goldsmith Seed, GroLink, Heuger Trading, Hishtil Nursery, Hort Couture, Jelitto Seed, Living Color Fundraiser, Sakata Seeds, Selecta First Class, Syngenta Flowers, Sygenta Horticultural Sales, American Takii, Fides, GGG Grunewald and Kieft Seed.
Weather Conditions–Our weather this summer was very hot. June was warmer than normal and July and early August were extremely warm. With the heat came very humid days and nights. We also experienced fairly regular thunderstorms throughout the season.
Pests/Disease Outbreaks–We battled thrips and aphids in the calibrachoa trial, fought the usual outbreak of Japanese beetles and found a few harlequin bugs in the snapdragons. We also had to do a few spot treatments for powdery mildew.
Attendance – We had great attendance. Our latest tally is just under 1,500 visitors this summer. This number represents an approximate 20 percent increase over the 2009 attendance total.
Here are the top 10 cultivars in alphabetical order selected by visitors and Raker Trial Garden staff members. We offer flags to all visitors so they can mark their favorites:
Acalypha wilkesiana ‘Copperhead’–A very nice acalypha from Hort Couture. Very cool, shiny bronze bicolor foliage. Plants were vigorous with large, flat leaves. A big hit with visitors this year.
Begonia ‘Gryphon’–This new Rex-style begonia from PanAmerican Seed has a unique foliage form and color. Visitors think it is a vegetative variety. ‘Gryphon’ performed equally well in large and small containers and in both full sun and full shade. A favorite among visitors and staff alike.
Coleus ‘Smallwood Driveway’–A snappy coleus from the Hort Couture collection. Plants were upright and full, close to 3 feet tall at maturity. Foliage is a rich combination of bright reds, yellow and rich burgundy. A favorite among our visitors.
Cyperus papyrus sp.–This is a really interesting, tall cyperus variety we grow from seed. Plants matured at more than 4 feet tall. It is similar to ‘King Tut’ and you can get this non-patented cultivar in plug form with no royalty or marketing fees attached.
Echinacea purpurea ‘PowWow Wild Berry’–This is the new PanAmerican introduction from seed. Plants are compact with a very rich rose/pink flower. We all liked the rich rose flower color.
Gaillardia grandiflora Gallo series – This was a very pleasant surprise for us. While there is a little height variation between colors, all of the individual cultivars were extremely uniform in habit, had nice large flowers and were in full flower all summer. These were definitely one of the top picks among both visitors and staff. Based on our observations, we did a late addition of five colors of Gallo gaillardias to our perennial program.
Geranium x hybrid ‘Calliope Dark Red’ – Out of more than 200 geraniums in our trial, ‘Calliope Dark Red’ really stood out. The plants were very full and well branched and covered with intense, dark red flowers. A huge favorite among our visitors this year.
Lobelia erinus ‘Techno Heat Upright Light Blue’–We trialed more than 75 varieties of vegetative lobelia this summer and ‘Techno Heat Upright Light Blue’ was at the top of most of our lists. The plants are very uniform in habit and have been in full color all summer. Very impressive performance, given the weather conditions it was subjected to. A note on the other cultivars in the trial–most all of them did very well–a real tribute to the breeders’ goal of heat tolerance.
Nemesia foetans ‘Confection White and Pink’–Even with all the heat these two cultivars remained very uniform and flowered nicely all summer.
Sedum lineare ‘Sea Urchin’–A very cool sedum with brightly variegated white and green foliage and a very unique, upright habit. Visitors remarked they look like tiny, little Christmas trees. Plants are very uniform in size and shape.