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Ornamental Gardening Expects Bright Future
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
Lion's Tail, Forsythia Sage, Caribbean Blue otacanthus and Diva periwinkles are just a few of the plants that caught the eye of visitors to Mississippi State University plant evaluation sites this summer and fall.
These sites display Mississippi Medallion trials and many other plants as part of MSU's concentrated effort to bring the best new plants to growers, retailers and gardeners throughout the South. The effort is stimulated by the statewide growth and expansion of the green industry.
Teaching and plant evaluations take place in an arboretum at MSU. Visitors admired a plant called Lionís Tail this past summer and fall. Lion's Tail is known botanically as Leonotis leonurus and is in the family with sages and mints.
The plant gets 4 to 6 feet in height and produces an abundance of bright orange, fuzzy, tubular flowers. Lion's Tail would combine wonderfully with purple flowers like Angelmist angelonias or Homestead Purple verbena. It will be an annual in northern regions of the state and a tender perennial in southern locales.
The North Mississippi Research and Extension Center in Verona just south of Tupelo has an exciting project underway with the development of the Magnolia Arboretum. This site is being transformed into the key north Mississippi plant evaluation site.
Among the new plants visitors to the center saw during the September field day were the Diva periwinkles, a group that holds much promise. The Diva series made its debut this year with four colors and flowers that are larger than the standard periwinkles. Not only are the flowers large, but so is the foliage and the overall size of the plants. Those who have not been interested in periwinkles lately will want to give these a try next year.
This was a great year at the Truck Crops Branch Experiment Station just south of Crystal Springs. It was great because of the new flowers and an increase by 1,000 in attendance for the Fall Flower and Garden Fest this past October.
One of the flowers that captured the attention of gardeners this fall was a new plant called Caribbean Blue. Botanically speaking, Caribbean Blue is known as Otacanthus coreleus, but it is also called Brazilian snapdragon. The plant will grow as a tropical annual in most of the state, but reaches 3 feet high and wide, producing loads of large bright blue snapdragon-like flowers.
The South Mississippi Branch Experiment Station in Poplarville has long been the leader in the state for ornamental research and the plant material under evaluation has increased dramatically in the past few years. One of the plants in this trial that captured my heart is the Forsythia Sage, Salvia madrensis.
This salvia reaches 7 feet in height, producing large, 12-inch long spires of yellow flowers which bees and hummingbirds revel in. The Forsythia Sage is cold hardy throughout the state and has been known to return from winters as cold as minus 9 degrees.
Ornamental gardening looks to have a bright future in our state. New homes are being built, the green industry is growing, new plants are being developed and Mississippi State University is increasing its research and extension efforts by adding new horticulturists across the state.