The mandate of the University's Ornamental Trial Garden is to determine which plants grow best, bloom quicker, resist pests and stand up to extreme weather conditions.
The site of the 1400 meter garden is an open field, which gets baked by the sun in the summer, and swept by the wind in the winter. That any one plant thrives in such a harsh environment is clear testament to its vigour.
"So far space hasn't been limited so we trail whatever plant breeders and suppliers send to us. A few years ago I did put out a request for Echinacea and Heuchera cultivars for the perennial trial. As a result, I do have multiple cultivars of these in the trial and some of them have overwintered many seasons," Rodger replied.
My next question was about the length of the trial period.
"Most of the annuals are trialled for only one season. A breeder may elect to retrial the annuals for a number of seasons, but I will get new plant material (seeds or cuttings) every year if that happens. The perennials are trialled for at least 3 winters (if they last that long). Winters vary a lot from year to year, so it is important to evaluate these plants for long term survival, and determine if they can handle the varying winter conditions," he continued.
For instance, I have never seen so many different varieties of Echinacea all in one place!
But there they were!
All were planted side by side in one big, long row making it easy to compare the size, health and attractiveness of the different cultivars.
As I walked down the rows of plants, a array of problems were also pretty clearly evident.
For example, powdery mildew was evident on many varieties of Phlox.
I noted with interest, and a degree of horror that, while Japanese Beetles have a great fondness for hollyhocks of all colors, they were positively crazy for the hollyhocks with the black flowers.
Under siege from these foreign invaders, the poor 'Blacknight' hollyhocks didn't even stand a chance!
They had simply laid down their swords and surrendered.
Different plants stood out from the crowd for varying reasons. This Rudbeckia Maxima was certainly one of the tallest, if not the tallest plant in the field.
Rudbeckia Maxima is a native of the Southern USA. It has really neat grey-blue foliage and tall brown-eyed daisies that don't require staking. This perennial grows in normal, sandy or clay soil in full sun. It prefers soil conditions to be on the moist side. Height is a whopping 150-240 cm (59-94 inches), Spread: 60-90 cm (23-35 inches). USDA Zones: 4-9.
Marigold 'Jedi Gold' and 'Jedi Orange'
As well as perennials, there were annuals and plants in containers.
These big marigolds caught my eye perhaps because you rarely see them grown in a big showy clump like this.
The bees were just loving all the different varieties of sunflower in the field.
One poor sunflower seemed to have fainted in the August heat.
Such odd faces!
Helianthus Jua Maya
I am sure that when the bees are done, the birds are bound to move in.
Penstemon 'Arabesque Violet'
For those of you who live in Southern Ontario, the University of Guelph's Ornamental Trail Garden's annual open house continues into Saturday, August 15th from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm.
If you go, be sure to bring a camera and a notebook!
Here are all the details you'll need to attend: