Richard Bogren | 7/19/2016 11:13:22 PM
The landscape of south Louisiana has changed over the past century, and so has the mission of the LSU AgCenter Hammond Research Station.
The fourth LSU agricultural experiment station was established as the Fruit and Truck Experiment Station in January 1922 about 6 miles east of Hammond in Tangipahoa Parish. The parish police jury purchased the land with a special tax levy and then leased it for 100 years to LSU for the purpose of providing agriculture research.
Over time, agriculture in Tangipahoa and the other Florida parishes changed. By the turn of the 21st century, little fruit and vegetable production was left. But the research station, by then called the Hammond Research Station, was still providing research-based information to mostly strawberry, commercial vegetable and citrus growers.
By the time Regina Bracy, a horticulture researcher at the station, became resident coordinator in 2004, it was obvious agriculture in the area was changing. With landscape horticulture growing in the area and vegetable production declining, Bracy and LSU landscape design professor Neil Odenwald began developing a master plan for a new design.
Bracy said that visiting horticulture research facilities in other parts of the South convinced her that the Hammond station had to be more than rows of plants. So she and Odenwald collaborated to create an environment that broadened the scope of variety trials with landscape beds rather than rows of flowers.
“He laid out beds that curled and curved and envisioned walkways, water features and resting areas,” Bracy said of Odenwald’s design. “We wanted to duplicate the growing conditions experienced by homeowners and landscape professionals in their landscapes.”
In 2008, the Hammond station dedicated new office and laboratory buildings to reflect the focus on serving the landscape and horticulture industry in Louisiana. The original station included several tracts of land that were not contiguous, Bracy said. One was across a road, another across a railroad and the third was landlocked within another farm.
In 2005, the Tangipahoa Parish Government transferred about 47 acres to the AgCenter with an agreement that the land would be sold with the income used for capital improvements at the station.
One of the initial landscape horticulture projects at the revamped station was the creation of the Margie Jenkins Azalea Garden, which was unveiled at a garden party to raise funds in 2006. The garden is named for Margie Jenkins, a legendary nurserywoman in Louisiana and owner of Jenkins Farm and Nursery in Amite. The results were beyond expectations as the event brought in more than $50,000 with donors from all across the United States, Bracy said.
The Louisiana Nursery and Landscape Association is supportive of the station and provided early funding, said Allen Owings, who replaced Bracy as resident coordinator when she moved to the position of AgCenter Southeast Region director.
The landscape industry in Louisiana has been growing, Owings said. With about 2,200 landscape horticulture professionals, 550 wholesale nurseries and numerous garden centers around the state, station research targets the broad diversity of the commercial landscape horticulture industry
“Commercial horticulture is our priority,” Owings said. “We’re helping growers, retailers and landscapers, and we evaluate varieties for them.”
In addition to the Louisiana industry, the station regularly receives landscape industry visitors from Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Texas, Tennessee and Oklahoma as well as from across the country.
“This is the place people come to see,” Bracy said. “We started with 10 landscape beds. Then it was 20. And now I’m not sure how many we have. We plant beds so people can see the plants in a natural setting. We include different varieties and types together in garden settings so people can see how they can combine different plants.”
Research measures of plant performance are more visual and subjective than empirical, unlike agricultural crops, which can be measured by things like yield, Owings said. Evaluations can be short-term, such as one season for a bedding plant, or long-term, such as for shrubs and trees that may require three to five years before evaluations can begin.
The Hammond station has one of the largest herbaceous plant trials in the Southeast. “We generally plant 800 warm-season plant varieties and 300 to 400 cool-season plant varieties each year,” he said. “This is complemented by regular additions of new trees and shrubs for evaluation. Almost every day new plants are going in and old plants are coming out.”
“It’s a landscape horticulture research and extension center,” Bracy said of the transformation. “We’re beyond the master plan now.”
The station hosts an average of nearly two meetings every week, serving Master Gardeners, garden clubs, educational programs, government agencies and industry associations as well as school groups including Head Start and vocational agriculture classes.
“This is a place people come to and use,” Bracy said. “It’s a well-used facility.”
The station is open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. every day, and all the plants, shrubs and trees are marked.
“When I visit an arboretum or public garden, I want to know what I’m looking at,” Bracy said.
Rick Bogren is a professor in LSU AgCenter Communications.
Retention pond and constructed wetland at the Hammond Research Station. Photo by Rick Bogren
Sun Garden at the Hammond Research Station. Photo by Rick Bogren