Why are all these people wandering, heads down, around a northeast Texas meadow on a hot June morning, carrying long wires topped with red flags? Is it a mole hunt? Some new challenge game?
No, it's a public field day at the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station based in Overton, and the furrowed rows of this colorful test area display close to 600 new varieties of ornamental plants. When you find one you like, you mark it with a wired flag, and within an hour the winners begin to stand out. Last spring’s favorites included a new trailing petunia bred to thrive in the hot sun and a zinnia the color of glowing-hot coals.
Apart from drip irrigation and weeding, no mollycoddling has gone on during the six to nine weeks between planting and Field Day. These test plants either survive every challenge the quixotic northeast Texas climate dishes out, or they don’t. That’s the point.
It’s all part of a quest for beautiful but Texas-tough plant genetics. Officially known as the East Texas Bedding Plant Pack and Garden Performance Trials, Overton’s Field Day was started in 1994 by Dr. Brent Pemberton, a research horticulturist with the local Texas A&M Agricultural Experiment Station. “In late fall, invitations to participate are sent to commercial seed companies throughout the country,” he explains. “They pay a fee to enter their newly developed but untested seed in our trials, and we receive 200 to 400 entries for the spring trials alone.”
If successful, those pretty posies translate into serious money.
From the March 2007 issue.