As University of Georgia students are grabbing more layers in the morning and as campus becomes littered with autumn leaves, a colorful haven behind Snelling Dining Commons will be cleared away in anticipation of the winter.
This space, filled with hundreds of different plants, is the Trial Gardens at UGA, a part of the Horticulture Department in the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, which tests different seeds and plugs from plant breeders around the world to see if they will do well in Georgia and southeastern conditions.
The trial gardens, which started in 1982, is primarily used for “research, teaching and new crop introduction” and introduces “new crops for the greenhouse and landscape industries,” according to its website.
This late in the year, the gardens are winding down and the evaluation period for the trial plants is over, with director John Ruter and manager Brandon Coker picking 11 Classic City Award Winners which grew the best overall in the gardens.
Coker said he evaluates the plants based on overall plant health, quality of bloom, overall uniqueness and what’s more appealing in general.
The gardens also host industry and public open houses in which participants flag their five favorite plants, which Coker takes into consideration when picking the award-winning plants.
The Classic City Award Winners list can be found on the garden’s Facebook page and the runner-up Best of the Best list has yet to be posted. Breeders and homeowners can look at these lists when deciding which plants to produce or buy.
Coker and Ruter evaluate the plants on a scale from 1-5, which more specifically shows how these plants do in heat and humidity as well as against specific Georgia disease and insect pressure. Coker said plants tested this year will probably be introduced into the 2018 or 2019 market.
The plants are mostly ornamental, specifically targeted for homeowners and businesses.
“Drive up and down Milledge and all the sorority and fraternity houses have landscaping, and the plants come from places like this where we trial them to see if plants do well,” Coker said.
Coker works pretty much daily in the gardens and evaluated the plants every other week, which is different from the one end-of-season report most of the other trial gardens around the nation do.
“Typically, other trialing grounds are just a field with rows or pots, so it doesn’t look like a garden,” Coker said. “Another really unique thing about this place is that it’s actually a garden — it looks like a garden, planted like a garden and treated like a garden. That helps homeowners get a better idea of how these plants do realistically.”
The Trial Gardens at UGA, in addition to the more than 330 trial plants, include graduate student and other community plant projects.
Coker said he is in the gardens pretty much daily, maintaining the area with students and volunteers.
Coker makes sure to keep the trial plants specifically in “optimal conditions.”
“We maintain the plants — we deadhead them, we trim them, we kind of talk to them everyday and we essentially make them thrive,” Coker said.