Thursday, July 23, 2009

Thousands of Flower Cultivars on Display at Penn State's Trials near Lancaster

Sometimes you just need a break from the gloom and doom of mid-summer plant disease epidemics (late blight) and want to look at pretty flowers. So that’s what I did this week and visited Penn State’s Southeast Pennsylvania Research and Extension Center, near Lancaster.

Each year, more than 1000 different cultivars of flowering annual plants are established and evaluated by Sr. Extension Educator, Alan Michael. Quite an undertaking. The results are of great interest to plant breeders, salesfolks, garden center managers, greenhouse operators, and plant lovers in general. As I write this, hundreds of folks are attending the open house which is held each July. I snuck out a day early to avoid the crowds. My pal Al gave me a personal tour of the trial highlights. One of the great things about the research center is that you, too, can drop in for a visit any weekday between 8 a.m and 3 p.m. The plants are well labeled and you are welcome to do a self-guided tour. I highly recommend it. Or do a virtual tour by visiting this website.

I am more of a fruit and vegetable guy than a posy lover but man does not live by bread alone so I also try to learn something about the ornamental plants. The Coleus and Petunia cultivars are knockouts. It is worth the trip just to see ‘Pretty Much Picasso’ Petunia. Begonias for full sunlight are stunning. Do you know Angelonia? Torenia? How about Calitunia (a Petunia x Calibrachoa cross). A handy cultivar list provided at the trials makes note taking easy.

So before the summer is over, take a day trip to the Flower Trials at Penn State’s research farm. Stop in Lancaster for a whoopee pie. If you’re free this Saturday, July 25, check out the “Summer Garden Experience”. It includes free lectures, Master Gardener demonstrations, a native plant sale and, of course, the flower trials.

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