By Alice Soewito

New gardens bursting with colorful, intricate blooms now line the walkway to the Nevin Welcome Center at Cornell Botanic Gardens.

The new gardens comprise the Cornell Annual Flower Trials and showcase more than 130 different cultivars of annual of plants in different shapes, sizes, and hues. The annual trials program is a collaboration between Cornell Botanic Gardens and the Cornell Annual Flower Trials Program. The project partners with commercial plant breeding companies to test the performance of newly developed cultivars. Dr. William Miller, research director of the Cornell Annual Flower Trials and professor in the School of Integrative Plant Science, supervises the research project.

The Annual Flower Trials program was previously located at Bluegrass Lane, a research facility that was off-campus and inaccessible to the public. This year, the annual trials team brought the garden to the Cornell Botanic Gardens to extend the purpose to include public enjoyment. Organizers hope to attract more visitors to the gardens and delight them with the new, vibrant cultivars. In addition, the installation provides gardening enthusiasts with a preview of annual plants that may be available on the market in future growing seasons.

“The annual trials gardens are a show-stopper,” said Kendra Hutchins, Program Coordinator for the Cornell Annual Flower Trials. “Entire bus-loads of people arrive at the Botanic Gardens, exclaiming over all the flowers.”

In addition to engaging the public with beauty and knowledge of plants that may be on the commercial market in coming seasons, the annual trials program also invites visitors to vote on their favorite blooms in the garden. Visitors are encouraged to complete a survey on-site, where they choose their top three favorite cultivars on display. The survey will be compiled by
Kendra Hutchins and intern Lily-Anne Trainor to give feedback to corporate partners about the various cultivars’ popularity. Hutchins offers advice on completing the survey: “Be as specific as possible. Write the full scientific name of the plant and specific reasons why you chose it as your favorite.”

The annual trials garden is also playing a role in the educational mission of Cornell Botanic Gardens and the university by serving as a living classroom. The 4-H Youth Career Explorations Program utilizes it to teach children about cultivars and plant breeding.

“If we can further the educational experience that Cornell Botanic Gardens provides, we will be also be furthering the CALS mission of purpose-driven science – while serving the public and the horticulture industry at the same time,” Hutchins said.

Commercial growers participating in this year’s Annual Plant Trials include American Takii, AmeriSeed, Ball FloraPlant, Ball Ingenuity, Beekenkamp, PanAmerican Seed, Proven Winners, and Selecta.

The relationship between Cornell Botanic Gardens and Cornell Annual Flower Trails has been longstanding and include collaborating on previous container gardens. With the move to Cornell Botanic Gardens, the program is supporting an intern as part of Cornell Botanic Gardens’ learning-while-working program.

The Annual Trials garden can be viewed outside the Nevin Welcome Center. The gardens are free of charge and open dawn to dusk daily.

Open House Saturday, July 27

If you would like to learn more about this program and the beautiful annual plants, staff will be available to answer questions from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. on Saturday, July 27

Alice Soewito is a marketing and communications intern at the Cornell Botanic Gardens.