County master gardeners are tending test plots in Rosemount to help Ball Seed Co. decide what flowers to market.
If you're drawn to the beauty of nature and enjoy the blooms of summer, the Dakota County Master Gardeners have a treat for you.
On six of the 12,000 acres the University of Minnesota owns in Rosemount, they've created a showy display of new flower varieties and old favorites to educate the public.
"We hope people will come to the garden and see the flowers and decide what they like," said master gardener Julie Harris.
Located at 1605 W. 160th St., the garden is always open. Just pull off 160th onto the garden lane to sit in the gazebo or wander the grounds. Classes and events are also scheduled, including the biggest event of the summer -- Super Tuesday Evening In The Garden -- offering food and tours from 5 to 8 p.m. July 31.
On the wide open acreage, with fields of corn and a plot of vegetables growing in the background, the master gardeners' territory has the feel of an old-fashioned country garden.
It has 200 shrub roses and more than two-dozen different types of gardens, including a butterfly garden, a water garden, a rain garden and a prairie garden.
The gardeners also put in trial plots full of unfamiliar flower varieties grown from seeds that are being tested in scientific fashion for the Ball Seed Co., one of the nation's chief developers of new garden entries.
This year, 35 different varieties were started from seeds in the spring in the master gardeners' greenhouse and moved to the trial garden in June.
"We take stats," Harris said. "Then we rank the plants."
The flowers are measured for height, width, the size and number of blooms, how hearty they appear and how disease and pest resistant they are. The trials help Ball decide which plants to bring to market.
"We have a committee, and at the end of the summer, we write up a report for Ball and send it to them," Harris said.
This year, one of the flowers under trial is a new variety of zinnia which has been engineered to grow free of the mildew that often strangles the flowers. Another test flower is the white, pink and lavender Angelonia -- a 15-inch tall sturdy bloomer that would add great color to any garden.
One award winner from last year that is blooming in the garden again this summer is the dazzling, raspberry-colored Echinacea Pow Wow Wild Berry. This plant graduated to commercial garden stores this year.
Other flowers are being tested for the state master gardeners program and for an organization called All America Selections, which is an independent organization that evaluates new plant varieties as they come on the market.
"We take a variety of their winners and we plant them in our garden and we test them to see how they do in Minnesota," Harris said. That also goes into a report that the Dakota master gardeners distribute on their blog to tell the public what did well.
Laurie Blake • 952-746-3287