Friday, August 14, 2015

The University of Guelph Ornamental Trial Garden Open House

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.

I asked the garden's manager Rodger J. Tschanz about the selection process for the trial.

"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.

Last summer I the good fortune of attending the open house and came away quite awestruck.

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:


  1. Beautiful those trialgardens, I love the rows of flowers between the green of the paths.

  2. their penstemon is beautiful. I have a few varieties here and have found that, although all bloom, the ones that thrive require very specific growing conditions. The one that is in full sun but gets regular watering and a nice thick mulch do the best for me.
    Very interesting about the black hollyhock -- good thing I haven't planted those seeds. My reds for some strange reason seem to do the best here. All the other colours bloom beautifully and I simply ignore the rust. The flowers more than make up for it.

  3. Great to see the plants laid out in this way. More and more I'm starting to appreciate large clusters of flowers of the same family. I'm equally horrified to see my new enemy, the Japanese beetle, here. On my hollyhocks they prefer one I have that's a pale peach colour, while leaving the darker colours alone, go figure. I wish they'd all just go away!

  4. What an interesting post! It's good to see plants just left to get on with least then the write up will be genuine, so many plants fail due to incorrect growing conditions. Oh my....the poor Hollyhock! Mine are always struck with rust!xxx

  5. I really enjoyed your tour of this amazing garden. I missed this year's open house, but will look for it next year. It must be quite a sight to see all those blooms at once!

  6. How wonderful that these people do the trials and we benefit from the results. It all looks glorious.

  7. The colors here are just gorgeous, Jennifer!
    I love the way they have the gardens set up.
    Lots of thought and most of all love went into this.
    Thanks so much for sharing it here.

  8. I think being a test gardener would be so much fun. Even with failures here and there, the garden is still very beautiful. Rudbeckia maxima reminds me of rudbeckia nitida, another really tall rudbeckia that was always so pretty in my mom's garden.

  9. I really enjoyed your lovely photos of this amazing garden! :)

  10. I'd love to see their trial results. It would make it easier to chose hardy plants. But what a beautiful place, beetles and all. :o)

  11. I can testify to the fact that Japanese beetles love black hollyhocks. I stopped growing them. I'd love to try the rudbeckia maxima, I will be looking for it locally.

  12. I did enjoy looking at your photo's, especially the Penstemon 'Arabesque Violet' ... what a fabulous colour.

    All the best Jan

  13. What an interesting place to visit! Especially since you get to pick the brain of the manager too :-) I would love to see a similar trial result for many different plants grown under the same conditions here in Britain – I am sure there is, I just haven’t seen any.
    You go to so many amazing places – and your photos are really beautiful, thanks for letting me tag along!

  14. wonderful place, and very well photos and blog

  15. Wow look at the long shot of this garden...amazing and what a cool spot to visit and learn about.


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