Evaluation of 2017 Trial Garden

Martie Young
Adams County Master Gardener

(10/3) The Penn State Master Gardeners of Adams Co. have been involved in trial garden plots for many years and I feel confident that this year's garden is one of the best ever. During the spring we had rain frequently (and a lot of it). That set the stage for very healthy, robust plants. No matter what was planted, it did well. In fact our plots did well all the way to September when, since September 12, there has been no rain at all. I hope you were lucky enough to come to the Adams Co. Extension office on the Old Harrisburg Road in Gettysburg to view our gardens. We conducted Garden Chats once a month from June through September; many people have stopped at our gardens if they have other errands in the area; and we have conducted special tours at various times over the summer. If this is new to you, you still have a chance to view our gardens any time during daylight hours on your own. There are materials for you to review in the mailbox that is situated in our garden and a couple of benches for you to rest and relax.

Right now (beginning of October) there are many late-summer, fall-blooming annuals: the Mexican sage Salvia leucantha (blue and white flowers) is especially impressive, along with Pineapple sage Salvia elegans (red flowers), and Salvia guaranitica 'Black and Blue' salvia. All of these salvias are visited by pollinators, especially hummingbirds. Our herb bed contains an impressively large African blue basil. Most people grow this plant for the purple flowers and leaves that attract bees and butterflies. Culinary basil is growing nearby but the taste of the two types of basil is very different. Other annuals that are blooming profusely are cleome (spider flower), marigolds, and zinnias. The zinnias are especially impressive since they have no hint of mildew, the disease that can occur when plants are planted too close together so there is not enough air flow. Marigolds are among the most dependable of flowering plants with their bright colors and long bloom period. Our cleome plants are all white blooming and undoubtedly at night their fragrance and white color attract bats which are also pollinators.

The colors of the flowers are important to the various pollinators that visit them. White flowers attract bats and night-flying moths; red flowers attract hummingbirds; blue and purple flowers attract bees.

As you probably know, perennials usually don't bloom all summer. There are early perennials such as phlox, monarda, shasta daisies, and lavender. This year many of our lavender plants are blooming for a second time based on the good, dry weather. Lavender also attracts bees. Perennials that are blooming now include gaura--a fine delicate plant that will wave in even a slight breeze, perennial daisies of many colors and varieties, and fall-blooming asters.

A plant that really doesn't fit into our normal perennial or annual category is Popcorn cassia from tropical central and eastern Africa. It is grown as an ornamental and is hardy in zones 9-11 so can be brought inside in the winter. It blooms profusely and when you touch the leaves or flower you get the scent of buttered popcorn--quite a novelty in the children's garden. Its growth is very rapid (up to and beyond 6 feet in a summer) and it flowers by mid-to late-summer.

Solidago sempervirens or Seaside goldenrod is one of the many goldenrod plants in one of our beds. It is a low-maintenance native and unique since it is the latest blooming goldenrod and just blooming now. Seaside goldenrod provides the last few flowers in the last pockets of warmth and consequently monopolizes the last pollinators — making its late-blooming strategy pay off. Seaside goldenrod’s blooms are not simply happenstance flowers out of season; flowering is the plant’s response to shorter days. The waxy, fleshy leaves of seaside goldenrod are distinctive. They help the plant retain water and are an adaptation to the drying effects of salt spray, because its natural habitat is along the eastern Atlantic shoreline and sand dunes.

Another unusual goldenrod is wreath goldenrod or blue stem goldenrod, Solidago caesia. This plant likes partial shade so grows best in our triangle bed under the tree. It is found in open woodlands and grows well with ferns and other woodland plants.

There should be several more weeks of mild weather, hopefully in the 70s, that will enable you to make a pleasant journey to our Trial Garden to view the last flowers of the season.

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