Last week, a couple of gardening pals and I traveled to west Michigan to visit three of Michigan’s premier plant growers to tour their trial gardens and see what’s new for next year.

The OPC display garden I steward will be on the Rochester Garden Club garden walk next June, and I’m looking for new varieties.

As we all know only too well, searching for new plants can be frustrating when planting time comes. No one garden center can stock every variety or species of annuals and perennials and hot new introductions — if available at all — are often in short supply. So I’m doing my research now and making “wish lists” to give to my favorite garden centers and nurseries now in hopes they will consider my faves when putting in their plant and seed orders in November.

Another benefit of walking in-ground trial gardens as opposed to viewing greenhouse grown displays of plants, is the ability to see how the plant performs in rough weather, how plants will actually look in the garden and how good the flowers look as they age. Plants displayed at trade shows are grown under perfect conditions and carefully coiffed so they look their very best.

In keeping with the container craze and the downsizing of today’s gardens, the trend in hybridizing is shorter, more compact, plants, at least that’s what the plant developers would have us believe. But many of these stunted varieties don’t require the costly maintenance of pinching and spraying with growth regulators and they are easier to ship and look good on the bench.

Some species take miniaturization in their stride because of their growth habit and cultural needs. Coreopsis is a good example. In addition to reduction in size, many of the newer varieties are more disease-resistant, longer-blooming and have increased hardiness. Check them out along with other new perennials on the Walter’s Gardens website for gardeners,

The good news is you needn’t drive to western Michigan to visit a trial garden as Michigan State University maintains 14 acres of trial gardens that are always open to the public and free of charge; see

In addition to the demonstration gardens there’s a multitude of theme gardens including MSU’s award winning 4-H Children’s Garden that’s a must-see for kids of all ages. And don’t miss the Aphrodisiac Garden, featuring plants to spice up your life.

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and a Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. To ask her a question go to and click on Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at

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