Coleus were the showstopper at the 28th annual East Texas Horticultural Field Day, according to Carolyn Musick.

Bright yellow sunflowers at East Texas Horticultural Field Day
All American Selections sunflowers were a favorite among attendees at the East Texas Horticultural Field Day. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Adam Russell)

Musick traveled with friends from Gary to attend the annual event held at the bedding plant trial gardens at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research Bruce McMillan Jr. Foundation East Farm and container plant trials and demonstration garden at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Overton.

The event is a public showcase of around 500 ornamental plant varieties, most of which have been newly released or are pending release for public consumption. There are also many well-established standard varieties in the trial garden to give AgriLife Research comparative data for the plants undergoing field trials.

There were plenty of opinions among those who attended the event regarding what plants stole the show, but it was an easy choice for Musick.

“These are my favorite,” she said as she planted a flag signaling the coleus as one of her top picks among the plants. ‘Their color is amazing, and they’re so big.”

Each attendee is given two flags at each location to be placed by their favorite plants. The flags represent feedback from the public for companies that propagate the plants and for Brent Pemberton, Ph.D., AgriLife Research ornamental horticulturist, who oversees the trial gardens and other ornamental research at the center.

Musick, who is an avid vegetable and ornamental gardener and member of the Texas Master Gardeners program in Panola and Harrison counties, said the event inspires her and gives her ideas about how and what she might plant in the future.

Pemberton said that is exactly why the trial garden is opened to the public each year.

Horticultural Field Day is a showcase

People standing by brightly colored orange Zinnias at the East Texas Horticultural Field Day
Attendees taking a look at Zinnias from the Preciosa Series in the annual Texas A&M AgriLife Research field trial gardens. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Adam Russell)

Pemberton started the field trials and field day in 1993 to meet the needs of commercial seed companies, local nursery managers and gardening enthusiasts who wanted more information about how varieties performed in East Texas. The field day has become an opportunity to showcase plants and educate the public about the conditions under which they perform best.

Each season delivers weather that produces better showings from some plants than in previous years, and each year there are exceptional examples of plants grown, Pemberton said. The timing of the event, which typically occurs in mid- to late-June rather than late-July, also provides a different snapshot of plant performance.

Despite the later date, Pemberton said the cooler, wetter weather has helped some varieties shine and others continue to produce petals deeper into summer than usual.

“The growing conditions have been exceptional since late May,” he said. “Some varieties like the petunias and begonias in full sun are starting to fade a little, but the tougher varieties are going strong.”

People want to see plant performance

A variety of colorful flowers with various shades of pink and orange and red at the East Texas Horticultural Field Day.
A wide range of ornamental colors were on display at the East Texas Horticultural Field Day. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Adam Russell)

Pemberton said the later-than-usual event gave attendees a good read on how many plants perform well into summer. The date change may influence future event timing for that reason.

Warmer weather in the forecast is likely to change plant conditions depending on the variety in the coming weeks, he said.

Attendance was down, around 75 people, compared to past years when more than 300 attended regularly, Pemberton said. But following more than a year of pandemic-related restrictions, he was just happy to have people attend the field day again.

Pemberton was also pleased to see a number of Texas Master Gardener groups represented as well as attendance by representatives of major ornamental plant companies, state agencies and regional universities.

“People want to know what plants perform best under East Texas conditions, and several attendees commented about how informative this year was for a range of varieties,” Pemberton said. “To me, that is a success, and having people here in person and having a chance to talk to them about the plants they want to know more about or seeing the faces light up and hearing the ‘oohs and aahhs,’ that is what makes this event special to me.”

Adam Russell is a communication specialist for Texas A&M AgriLife. Adam is responsible for writing news releases and feature articles focused on Texas A&M AgriLife Extension programs and science-based information generated by Texas A&M AgriLife Research scientists across the state. He also generates the weekly Texas Crop and Weather Report and handles public and media relations.
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