September 15, 2015
Trial gardens are, unfortunately, one of the green industry’s best kept secrets in Ontario.

They are a one-stop shop where garden retailers, maintenance contractors and designers can see for themselves which plants perform well, and which plants to avoid.

One such resource is in Simcoe, where Mel Sawaya has been running annual flower trials on his farm for 15 years. Industry members and garden writers were invited to tour his gardens on July 22 and 23.

Sawaya started the gardens to test annual plants in the Southern Ontario climate, as many growers only see them at trials in Holland or in California. Sawaya works with all breeders and one visit to the trials shows you which petunia cultivars stand up in our hard rains, and which get knocked back.

Formerly the production manager at Fernlea Flowers, Sawaya provided a wealth of knowledge for those who visited his open house. This spring, he and several helpers planted up 2,400 containers that are treated to drip irrigation, and fertilized with each watering.

There were about 30 mixed baskets, where visitors were invited to vote for their favourite, but all other containers are monocultures to allow the plant to sink or swim on its own.

Begonias are grown in containers under shade cloth as well as in full sun, proving Sawaya’s point that they can perform beautifully if given enough water.

He notes that as an industry, we all need to do a better job teaching homeowners how to water their plants.