|This study focused on field evaluations of cool season annual ornamental selections at two Alabama public garden sites and public perceptions of annual color combinations in planters at three separate public gardens throughout the state of Alabama. Partnerships were formed between individuals within Alabama public gardens, the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, Master Gardener Associations, Green Industry professionals, and Auburn University’s Department of Horticulture to bring about this work. There were two parts to this research; field evaluations at two public garden sites consisting of growth indices and visual performance ratings of the plant selections, and a survey at three public gardens to gather information about public perceptions of plant color combinations and preferences.
The first part consisted of evaluating the performance of select cool season annuals at the Auburn University Plant Science Research Center (AUPSRC) in Auburn, Alabama and Dothan Area Botanical Garden (DABG) located in Dothan, Alabama. Four experiments were conducted from fall 2013 through spring 2014 to evaluate the growth and performance of these cool season annual ornamental cultivars: four ornamental kale (Brassica oleracea L.), four dwarf snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus L.), four trailing pansies (Viola X wittrockiana Gams.), four violas (Viola cornuta L.), and five pansies (Viola X wittrockiana Gams.). Selections were planted in full sun locations to simulate optimal growing conditions for the species used within the deep south. The plants’ growth indices and visual performance ratings were taken every three weeks from planting until termination.
A record freeze event occurred in Alabama on January 7, 2014, which had major impacts on the growth and performance of many plant selections. Temperatures of 9°F
(-13°C) and 15°F (-9.4°C) were recorded in Auburn, Alabama and Dothan, Alabama, respectively. In spite of these record temperatures, the ornamental kale selection, ‘Redbor’ was the largest and highest rated of the ornamental kale selections. The ‘Sunset’ dwarf snapdragon selection was consistently the best performer among its species. ‘Golden Yellow’ trailing pansy was a top performer, while ‘Yellow with Blotch’ under performed when compared to all other selections. Among viola species, ‘Deep Marina Improved’ and ’Violet Beacon’ were consistently the highest rated selections at both locations with some of the highest average visual subjective ratings. Nature® series pansies, ‘Lemon Yellow’ and ‘Mulberry Shades’ were the best performers among pansies.
The second portion of the research focused on public perceptions of color combinations of cool season annual ornamentals among different groups of garden guests that visited three public gardens in Alabama. A survey was developed to gather this information from Master Gardeners, university staff and faculty, students, horticulture professionals, and public garden guests. The survey yielded 74 responses from the three locations: the Dothan Area Botanical Garden in Dothan, Alabama, the Auburn University Plant Science Research Center in Auburn, Alabama, and Huntsville Botanical Gardens in Huntsville, Alabama. Sixteen different combination planters were displayed at each of the three public gardens. Based on a 9 point Likert scale, the highest mean rating among all combinations and locations was Planter #5 (7.66 rating) containing Nature® ‘Lemon Yellow’ pansy, Penny® ‘Deep Marina Improved’ viola, and ‘Songbird White’ ornamental kale. When asked whether the combination surveying experience helped expand personal knowledge of container gardening, 38.9% of participants indicated “Moderately” and 37.5% indicated “Very Much.” When participants were asked how likely they were to purchase plants seen in this survey over those advertised in magazines or catalogs, 33.3% of participants were “somewhat likely” and 37.5% were “likely” to do so. Some plant selections found in the top-rated combinations and being identified by participants as “favorites” were some of the same selections receiving the highest ratings in the plant performance evaluations that were conducted in the same growing season.