July 22 horticultural field day open to East Texas residents; 500-plus ornamental plants on display

by Adam Russell Texas A&M AgriLife communication specialist

OVERTON – The East Texas Horticultural Field Day will feature more than 500 ornamental plant trial varieties for public viewing on Thursday, July 22, at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Overton.

This year’s field day will allow in-person attendance from 8 a.m. to noon for a free, “open house-style” event, said Brent Pemberton, Ph.D., Texas A&M AgriLife Research ornamental horticulturist, Overton. COVID-19 protocols prevented attendance by the public last year.
“We’re excited to open the event back up to the public,” he said. “We missed the interaction with our fellow gardeners last year and the responses the plants get from people who show up for their first time or who have been making the field day an event they put on their calendar every year.”

Pemberton started the field day in 1993 to showcase the ornamental trials for commercial seed companies, local nursery managers and gardening enthusiasts.

Cherokee County AgriLife Extension horticulturist Kim Benton called the field day “a wonderful way to see side-by-side comparison of plants that can really flourish under East Texas weather conditions – it’s a priceless teaching tool.”

It also is “a great way for growers to be ahead of the curve, and to really see how some of the popular seed trends perform, she added. “There’s a lot of good information available during these events.”

The field day will begin at the center’s Bruce McMillan Jr. East Farm, 2 miles east of Overton on Texas Highway 135 North, while the ornamental trial garden is on County Road 133 just past the former Kilgore College Demonstration Farm.

There will be signs to guide visitors, Pemberton said.

Ornamentals on display

With approximately 500 ornamental selections growing under various trial conditions, Pemberton said gardeners and ornamental lovers should expect a wide array of petal and foliage colors and shapes that are available to the public or being tested for potential release.

Pemberton said petunias, vincas, zinnias, coleus, geraniums, salvias and new selections of New Guinea impatiens are all looking exceptional this year. A variety of the newest Texas Superstar plants – ornamental sweet potatoes, including new climbing varieties – are also on display.

Several new varieties of sunflowers and a growing slate of perennial plants including phlox, heuchera and coneflowers should also be of great interest to attendees, he said.

This year’s field trials also mark the first-time participation in the All-America Selections program, which tests varieties in gardens across the nation.

“The event is later into the season than usual, but this will give attendees a good idea how well these plants perform in the heat and how they progress through the season,” he said.

A tour of ornamental trials at the demonstration garden, which includes a variety of container selections, will follow at the Overton Center.

The center headquarters is about 2 miles north of downtown Overton at 1710 Farm-to-Market Road 3053. For driving directions to the center or the East Farm trial site, go to https://flowers.tamu.edu/field-day/ or call 903-834-6191.

Pemberton said he is interested to see how attendance numbers rebound after cancellation of in-person attendance last year.

“We’ve been fielding a lot of calls about the event and whether people can visit in person this year,” Pemberton said. “Like a lot of things after dealing with the pandemic, all of a sudden we’re back and I think a lot of folks are looking forward to getting out.”

Cherokee County AgriLife Extension horticulturist Kim Benton contributed to this story.