How Young’s Plant Farm Uses Its Trial Gardens to Engage Consumers


Young’s themed landscape beds are typically made up of varieties that thrive in the monoculture trials. Knowing they’re good plants, Research and Development Coordinator Penny Merritt-Price then takes them to the next level to see what she can build in the landscape. This year’s themes were Minimalist Garden, Upcycled Garden Planters, DIY in the Garden, and Urban Farming.

Constructed five years ago on the former site of an old barn, the Young’s Plant Farm Trial Gardens in Auburn, AL, are a testing ground for current and newly released genetics on the market, to see what holds up in the Mid-South heat and humidity coming from the Gulf of Mexico. Though typically there is much hotter weather during the industry trials, this year’s mild temperatures and massive thunderstorms showed what the plants could do in the flash rain storms for which Alabama is also famous.


Research and Development Coordinator Penny Merritt-Price says the vision of starting the trial gardens was to ensure that Young’s is consistently bringing the right product to the marketplace, so consumers will continue to be successful.

“For quite a long time, we have done production trials in the greenhouse, which allows us to choose varieties that work best for the grower and look best in the store,” she says. “But we needed to take that to the next level and see what works best in the environment that we’re growing these plants for, so homeowners receive plants that are going to thrive in their yard.”

This year’s trial gardens were planted in the beginning of April, and with 26,400 square feet of raised beds in both sun and shade conditions, it accommodated 432 individual varieties, 56 hanging baskets, and 180 containers, as well as four landscape beds, with another bed dedicated to All-America Selections, as an official trial site. Pot trials included breeder combinations, as well as Young’s Plant Farm’s own combination ideas. Merritt-Price says she likes to try different things, like combining vegetables, herbs, and flowers for a more functional feel.

On the Trial Gardens section of its website, Young’s provides data on a bi-weekly basis, and posts new photos of performers every month. Based both on its Trial Gardens ratings and visitors surveys, Young’s is able to select the best-performing plants for its Platinum Performers collection and Summer Standouts series.

The Trial Gardens host 120 breeders, brokers, and industry members during its industry open house in June, the first stop on the Southern Garden Tour. It’s also opened to the public the following day, and invites groups like garden clubs, Master Gardeners, university clubs, and homemakers, to mark their favorite varieties.

Engaging Consumers in the Gardening Discussion

This year the public open house also hosted two focus groups on the day after the industry open house, with help from its marketing and research partner, the Trind Group. Focus group participants were invited through Facebook events, and aimed to attract people of all ages who were already interested in gardening.

One main objective of the focus groups included learning more about consumers’ online purchasing habits, as one of Young’s Plant Farm’s customers is expanding its reach, says Senior Account Executive Chris Montgomery.

“Choosing to hold a focus group speaks to Young’s relationship with consumers,” Montgomery says. “We want to look at the bigger picture. Young’s recognizes that the face of shopping is evolving and the needs of consumers are changing, and we want to educate ourselves about how that could change the way we bring plants to the gardener.”

For now, the information gathered will help Montgomery and his team become more educated about consumer needs, and it will ultimately help inform new programs and ideas that they’ll take back to consumers for more feedback.

“We can’t continue to do things that have always worked, because they’re not always going to work,” Montgomery says. “The idea is to recognize how people want to buy, what consumers know and don’t know, learn their preference, and work to meet their needs.”

Click here to see how Metrolina showed off Its summer best during the Southern Garden Tour.

Click here for a quick look at Sakata’s Clemson landscape trials.