Before fruit, vegetable and flower varieties are sold in our catalog, they’re grown and tested at the Gurney’s Farm. Tucked amidst corn and soybean fields in Tipp City, Ohio (Zone 6), the 20-acre test farm includes an orchard, vineyard, brambles, various berry plantings, ornamental beds and a large vegetable garden.
Vegetable garden at the Gurney’s Farm
One of the ornamental beds at the Gurney’s Farm
We have two greenhouses that we use to extend the growing season. It’s also where we start most of our seedlings before transplanting them to the garden. A space dedicated to container trials allows us to grow fruit and vegetable varieties in Grow Tubs and determine which ones are best suited for container gardening.
Each year, we search for the best new varieties for our catalog. Finding the best means we must grow and test hundreds of plants. Our fruits and vegetables are grown with very little, if any pesticides, and we try to mimic home garden conditions. We do this because we want to know how each variety holds up to stressors like pests, diseases and inclement weather. When growing our ornamental plants, we don’t pamper them. We want to find the plants that perform best without lots of extra work.
A panoramic view of the greenhouses and barns
How do we determine what to trial and test in our gardens? A dedicated group of horticulturalists work at our farm and devote their time to finding new and exciting plants. Throughout the year they visit plant breeders, universities, public gardens, horticultural classes, trade shows and field trials.
When they find interesting plants, they bring them to the research farm where we test how they perform in the field. Our Gurney’s team also conducts its own plant breeding and selection work at the research farm. This allows us to focus on the exact qualities we want to offer.
While we test and trial hundreds of varieties each year, very few of them are selected for our catalog. We are a choosey bunch of gardeners, and if the trial plants don’t reach our standards, we simply will not offer them to our customers.
The raised bed garden, combining edibles and ornamentals
Gurney’s has an extensive list of qualities that each plant must possess before we’ll consider putting it into our catalog. Superior flavor tops the list for edibles. If a fruit or vegetable variety has great flavor, then we examine additional traits, such as how easy or difficult the plant was to grow, its yields, disease and pest resistance, and overall appearance. For ornamentals we also look at ease of growth, disease and pest resistance, and overall appearance—but we find ourselves paying special attention to plants that attract bees and other beneficial insects, flowers that are especially easy to grow from seed and native plants.
Through the active spring, summer and fall growing season, our horticulture team inspects the plants frequently; we photograph the plants and take notes on how they are performing; we meet and discuss which varieties are impressive and which ones fall short.
We also conduct several types of taste tests. During blind taste tests, we’ll try several different varieties and note their flavor and texture. We also taste test produce right off the plant. Many a summer day you’ll find us in the vegetable garden or out in the orchard with juice dripping from our chins; we’ll have notes in one hand and a knife in the other.
Our gardening team also tries our test varieties in recipes. This helps us determine what varieties are best for fresh eating, best for baking, best for grilling, and so on.
Some of the crew, participating in apple taste tests
Picking trial apples from the orchard
We could fill our research farm with new vegetables, fruits and landscape plantings every year and always want more. When the time comes to make our wish list for the year, we often have to make cuts, as we tend to get carried away with all the wonderful new varieties we want to trial. Like you, we are passionate about gardening. One of the things we love most is that there is always more to learn, more to explore, more to create and more to eat!
An ornamental bed and lunch break area
The first signs of spring at the Gurney’s Farm orchard