Photo courtesy of Bernadette Clark

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WHY THEY’RE GREAT:

Bernadette Clark, the trial garden manager at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, N.C., has been working on NCSU’s trial gardens since March 1984. She’s faced many challenges, from the city of Raleigh limiting their water to supply during trial season, to widespread root rot — but her job is to take those obstacles and turn them into plant trialing success. That’s what makes the trials worth doing year after year, Clark says.

As a trial garden attached to a university extension, NCSU’s goal is to solve problems for growers and independently inform the horticulture industry of what varieties do well and which don’t. It’s a role they are happy to fill, she says.

“It stays fresh each year because we have something new to look forward [to]. It’s the anticipation,” Clark says. “And how could you not enjoy working with plants?”

Here are three reasons why Clark says NCSU’s trials are among the country’s best:

  1. Weather tested: Clark says that NCSU’s trials are unique amongst those in their region because its constantly changing weather tests plants in ways not common in the Southeast. “We are in Zone 7 and our temperatures fluctuate wildly. For us, it’s a roller coaster," Clark says. “During the winter, we can have temperatures that hit the low 20s — and that’s cold for us — and then other nights it’ll be up in the 30s or 40s. Looking at the weather, there’s a 36-hour period where it’ll be near 70° and then go down to the 30s.” She says this allows growers to see how crops perform under less-than ideal conditions.
  2. Educating the next generation: “We’re in a research setting. We have students that utilize the facility. We have vocational groups from the local community college that come and have bedding plant trials for teaching purposes,” Clark says. “We have extension groups that come in, too. It makes us different, that we are heavy into the educational end of things.”
  3. A wide selection for their market: “People want a variety, and we’re in an affluent area. People are willing to pay to have containers filled with bulbs and the upper-scale plants. People around here tend to put in really nice landscapes — whether it’s an entrance into a shopping area or a subdivision near their home.”