After almost four decades of studying and advancing the science related to ornamental plant varieties, Brent Pemberton, Texas A&M AgriLife Research horticulturist, has announced he will retire Nov. 30.
Pemberton is credited for building strong relationships within the horticulture industry that have had a lasting impact on Texas landscapes, said Tim Davis, former head of the Department of Horticulture Sciences in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences at Texas A&M University and a long-time colleague.
“There is no doubt that Brent’s work has left an indelible mark on ornamental nursery plants and ultimately home gardens and landscapes around the state and beyond,” he said. “If you appreciate ornamental flowers, shrubs and trees, then you can appreciate that his work likely influenced those plants’ attributes, availability and ultimately their success in the space they were planted.”
Evolution in ornamental plants
Pemberton arrived at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Overton in 1982, fresh from wrapping up his doctorate studies in floriculture at the University of Minnesota. His early work focused on providing science-based knowledge to improve production practices in roses.
Northeast Texas was a hub for the rose industry, and his work provided guidance for propagation, fertilization, disease management and post-harvest handling recommendations for bare-root plants and their packaging.
Rose production in the region changed over the next few decades as field production moved westward, but northeast Texas remained a major processing and distribution center where bare root plants are also grown or packaged in containers for retail sales.
The ornamental industry changed significantly during Pemberton’s career, and consumer demand for bedding plants created the need for research to test plants in field conditions to guide producers and consumers to success with plants. Breeding selections from many programs were evaluated to promote characteristics, such as color variety to improve aesthetics, and for tolerance against heat, drought, pests and disease.
Pemberton’s field trial program provided invaluable information for plant breeders and producers as well as location-specific recommendations for landscape professionals and ornamental plant enthusiasts throughout Texas.
“There has been tremendous growth in the bedding plant and ornamental industry over the last 30 years, and there were no good evaluations of new varieties in this region,” Pemberton said. “So, the program evolved into developing trials and field performance evaluations. Those evaluations helped growers make better management decisions and ultimately helped consumers succeed with plants in their gardens and landscapes.”
Over the last 28 years, Pemberton opened his field trial gardens at the Texas A&M AgriLife center at Overton to the public during the East Texas Horticulture Field Day. The day-long event includes a tour of the gardens and container plant trials, which allowed the public to view more than 500 ornamental plant varieties and engage with experts. The field day also included educational presentations by experts in the afternoon.
Charles Long, Texas A&M AgriLife center director at Overton, said the bedding trials produced important data and information for the industry and gardeners.
“Dr. Brent Pemberton’s research has contributed a great deal to the horticultural industry of Texas,” he said. “His designation as a Regents Fellow as well as numerous awards he has received are evidence of the significance of his work.”