All-American Trial Gardens
The Hampton Roads Agricultural Research and Extension Center is an official trial and All-America Display Garden. The garden is open to the public from dawn to dusk seven days a week during the summer, and the nearby theme gardens and arboretum are open year-round. All of the gardens are maintained by a very dedicated group of Virginia Beach Master Gardeners.
The annual flower trials were established by Dr. Elstrodt, a scientist at the center, over thirty years ago. Initially there were only a few beds which consisted mainly of the All-America selection winners. Today the flower trials have expanded to eighteen beds in the main garden and several shade beds in locations around the center.
The purpose of the garden is to display, test, and evaluate new plant introductions and varieties grown primarily from seed. Although the AAS winners have been judged to be superior varieties, they are evaluated also for how well they perform in our climate. Our growing season can last from mid-March to mid-November, with springtime day temperatures in the 60s to 70s and night temperatures in the 40s to 50s. Summers are characteristically hot and humid, with temperatures up into the 80s to 90s by day and upper 70s by night.
Growing and Planting
Seed for the garden is provided by several companies from around the world - S&G Seed, Goldsmith, Benary, Sakata, and the All-America Selection Board. Seeds are sown in January for the cool weather plants such as pansy and larkspur, and also for slow growers like begonia and others that might take as long as six months to come into flower. Seeds are started in community pots and then moved on into individual cell packs. Soil-less mix is used as the growing medium, and plants are fertilized with either a water-soluble or slow-release fertilizer. Plants are watered as needed, and once transplanted into the trial beds, are mulched to control weeds. Hand weeding and occasional herbicide applications are used as needed.
Evaluation of the Plants
Flower varieties are normally set out in blocks with 16 plants per block, 13 blocks per bed. As the plants mature data such as height, width and flower size are collected at their peak period. Data are then entered into a report at the end of the season and submitted to the companies participating in the trials.
Who Benefits from this Project?
First and foremost, the information gathered from this garden helps the participating companies with their breeding programs and local nurserymen, as well as the general public, learn what plants may or may not do well in our area. The garden also helps educate horticultural students and provide scenic views for visiting photographers and artists.