Annual Northeast Texas Horticultural Field Day a hit with ornamental lovers

OVERTON – Patti Cates, of Hughes Springs, planted her pink flag among the fiery red and orange Zahara Double Fire blooms. The flag signified the flower as one of her favorites among more than 500 ornamental varieties on display June 29 at the 24th annual Northeast Texas Horticultural Field Day.

Cannas were a popular stop for visitors among more than 500 ornamental varieties at the 24th Annual East Texas Horticultural Field Day at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research Bruce McMillan Jr. Foundation East Farm near Overton. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo by Adam Russell)

Cates and her husband Tony were among hundreds of ornamental lovers, regional Master Gardeners and ornamental industry representatives who attended the daylong event at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Overton. It was a return trip to the field day for the couple.

“We came last year and were just amazed by the varieties then,” she said. “It was hotter last year, and that may have affected some of the flowers because they were really impressive this year.”

Dr. Brent Pemberton, Texas A&M AgriLife Research ornamental horticulturist in Overton, started the field trials and day  in 1993 to meet the needs of commercial seed companies, local nursery managers and gardening enthusiasts who wanted more information about how varieties performed in the region. The field day has become an opportunity to showcase plants and educate the public about plants and the conditions under which they perform best.

Pemberton said the field day included varieties that have been popular for years but also gave attendees a glimpse of bedding plants not available to the public yet.

“We’ve gotten a really good response this year,” he said. “The AgriLife crew, along with the help of Master Gardeners from Smith and Rusk counties, did a masterful job getting all the varieties planted and prepared for the event. We had some issues with the petunias due to standing water in some areas, but most everything looked spectacular. Overall, I think the new location performed very well for us, and we look forward to next year.”

Dr. Joe Masabni, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service small-acreage horticulturist at Overton, also presented several varieties of tomatoes at the field day.

Zinnias at the 24th Annual East Texas Horticultural Field Day in Overton. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo by Adam Russell)

Visitors attended several afternoon presentations by Pemberton and guest speakers who covered a range of topics from top performing ornamental plants to biological controls used in production and rain harvesting with barrels.

Dr. Charles Long, center director, said more than 350 people attended the come-and-go field day. Long said the annual event always draws a mix of professionals and amateurs who are interested in and appreciate horticulture, specifically ornamental bedding plants.

“We appreciate the excellent turnout for our field day,” he said. “It was one of the largest turnouts we’ve ever had and made for a great firsttime hosting the event at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research Bruce McMillan Jr. Foundation East Farm. The weather was nice, and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves as much as we enjoyed having them visit.”

The ornamental horticulture industry has become a $1.2 billion annual economic contributor in East Texas over the past decade, and though not recession proof, it hasn’t experienced the downturn in consumer spending other businesses experienced, Pemberton said.

The Cates said they attended the field day for the opportunity to view established and new varieties. They are especially interested in varieties that attract pollinators, specifically butterflies and bees.

“I put a flag in the (Mystic Spires improved) salvias,” Tony Cates said. “They looked great, and I gave them a flag for the number of bees that were on them alone.”

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