Trial and Trial Again

It’s every amateur gardener’s big wish: Show me how the plant I’m buying will really fare with normal maintenance in my zone
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Tomato Indigo Rose
Indigo Rose — “fresh, fashionable and delicious” from Culinary Couture — is the first tomato high in anthocyanins. // Photography Courtesy of Hort Couture

It’s every amateur gardener’s big wish: Show me how the plant I’m buying will really fare with normal maintenance in my zone.

Wish granted!

The C. Raker & Sons trial garden in Litchfield has been growing landscape beauties from ajuga to zinnia as well as basil, peppers and tomatoes in a “quasi-homeowner environment” including beds, baskets and large planters since 2010. Trial plants for 2014 include echinacea, 30 varieties of basil, patio and landscape gerbera, vegetative petunias and SunPatiens, a hybrid impatiens that thrives in sun and heat.

“In the comparison trials, there’s nothing superhuman being done,” says Greg Michalak, trial garden director.

Our goals are to partner with independent breeders and, together, lead the industry in launching solid, new genetics.
— Jim Monroe

But there is science going on. Michalak and his colleagues have been recording the plants’ height, spread and other variables, then posting this information online in a searchable database with untouched photos of the entire plant, not just full-bloom glamour shots.

“If you can’t make it out to our gardens in the summertime, the website is the next best thing,” says Michalak, who is also the website’s photographer.

Pennisetum Fireworks
Pennisetum Fireworks from Hort Couture’s Runway Ready Grasses makes a showy centerpiece. // Photography Courtesy Hort Couture

Raker, a wholesaler of starter plants exclusively for independent garden centers (180 million shipped worldwide yearly) and co-owner of the Hort Couture designer plant brand, opens its 16 acres of greenhouse and display gardens from mid-July through August each year. That’s when an average of 1,700 amateurs and professionals come to ogle almost 3,000 different kinds of plants, including the Hort Coutures.

Hort Couture offers the latest in plant genetics, including a coleus collection reminiscent of sea coral, a blue-and-white striped primula and a grape petunia with variegated foliage. The line includes annuals, tropicals, succulents, herbs, vegetables and ornamental grasses.

“Our goals,” says Jim Monroe, founder of Hort Couture, “are to partner with independent breeders and, together, lead the industry in launching solid, new genetics.”

See what’s emerging at trialgardens.raker.com

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