View great plants for Tennessee yards and gardens. Travel to both University of Tennessee (UT) Gardens locations. One is on-campus in Knoxville, the other in Jackson, at the UT West Tennessee AgResearch and Education Center. The gardens function as outdoor labs where the performance of new herbaceous ornaments are evaluated and as display gardens. The 300 miles that separate them provide contrasts in climate which reflect the different growing conditions found across our state. Both are part of the UT Institute of Agriculture and share the mission, “To inspire, educate, and cultivate an appreciation of plants through horticultural displays, educational programs, and research.” Come often. Make the trip in springtime, summer, autumn and winter to personally experience the ornamental appeal of various plantings during each season. Tour the gardens during daylight hours (except during special events) at no charge.

Plant selections are labeled. Make note of the botanic (Latin) and common names of specimens you like best. Computer users can check the webpage http://utgardens.tennessee.edu/annual_trials.html for reports on recently introduced annuals grown on trial in UT Gardens during the years 2001 through 2011 and found to be the best performers. Look there for top perennials and biennials, too. Make a plant ‘wish list.’ Take it when shopping for new greenery to add to your landscape.

Sign up for the monthly UT Gardens email newsletter at utgardens.tennessee.edu. On the right side of that page mouse-click the orange and yellow box labeled “Receive our eNewsletter >>signup” then supply your email address. Or request the eNewsletter via Facebook at the UT Gardens page. That’s where I learn about featured plants growing at UT Gardens and about upcoming events. Each newsletter spotlights a plant-of-the-month. In April 2012 it was a lungwort, Pulmonaria longifolia ‘Diane Clare’. Research horticulturist Jason Reeves explained that Pulmonaria hybrids and cultivars of the species longifolia have the heat tolerance needed in Tennessee. Those visiting UT Gardens Jackson can see Diane Clare (purplish blue flowers) and other lungworts ‘Raspberry Splash’ (raspberry-coral blossoms), ‘Trevi Fountain’ (cobalt-blue blooms) and a subspecies with dark violet-blue flowers. All are thriving. Other plants featured with descriptive text and photos in that newsletter were the shrub ‘Summerwine’ ninebark, an ornamental onion Allium Schubertii, Oso Easy Paprika rose, Chinese fringe tree ‘China snow,’ ‘Sweet Kate’ spiderwort and blue star Amsonia tabernaemontana, among others.

Make tracks to Knoxville for the Blooms Days Festival & Marketplace this coming weekend. There will be special activities Sunday to honor Moms in attendance on Mother’s Day! Blooms Days 2012 will be celebrated Saturday, May 12 and Sunday, May 13 from 9 a.m. through 5 p.m. in the UT Gardens. The garden marketplace offers opportunities to shop for plants, arts, crafts, garden goods and specialty items. Hear about plants and techniques at one of over 20 workshops led by regional gardening experts covering a variety of gardening topics. Other attractions include Kids Corner, which hosts make-and-take projects, live musical performances, lunch and snacks available for purchase on-site, as well as self-guided tours of the gardens where visitors can learn about over 4,000 annuals, perennials, herbs, tropical plants, trees, shrubs, vegetables and ornamental grasses. Blooms Days tickets sold at the gate are $6 for one day and $10 for two days. Discounted tickets are available to Friends of UT Gardens members. Children 12 and under admitted free.

Plateau Gardening is written by Master Gardeners for gardeners in Tennessee’s Upper Cumberland Region.  UT Extension Cumberland County at P.O. Box 483, Crossville, TN 38557 (931-484-6743) has answers horticulture questions, free publications and details on how to become a Master Gardener. Send email comments or yard & garden inquiries to Master Gardener Rae, mgardenerrae@frontiernet.net.

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