Today @ Colorado State has been replaced by SOURCE. This site exists as an archive of Today @ Colorado State stories between January 1, 2009 and September 8, 2014.

Research / Discovery

Annual Flower Trial Garden - which flower will triumph?

June 28, 2010
By Gretchen Menand

It's May 26. The snow has finally melted in Northern Colorado, and it's time for the cuttings and seeds that have been cultivating in greenhouses on campus to take their place in Colorado State's Annual Flower Trial Garden. It's planting season, time to place those little sprouts into the ground for a new year.

Political science student Phil Waggner helps plant flowers at the Annual Flower Trial Garden in May.

Trial garden research

Trial garden research began at Colorado State in 1971, when it was conducted at the Plant Environmental Research Center, or PERC, on West Lake Street. In 1992, James Klett stepped into the leadership role as director of PERC and faculty coordinator for the trial program; David Staats joined as horticulture research associate. Under Klett and Staats leadership, success of the trial program grew each year along with the beautiful flowers. As the number of participants and number of entries in the trial increased every year, demand for more space in the gardens also grew.

In 2000, the Annual Flower Trial Garden moved from PERC to open space off Remington Street, west of the newly remodeled University Center for the Arts (site of the old Fort Collins High School).

The relocation of the garden to a larger and more visible site furthered its mission by extending education, research and outreach to students, home gardeners, master gardeners, community members and green industry personnel. The nearly three-acre park features a total of 20,000 square feet of bed space for planting.

CSU's gardens are considered by seed companies to be one of the top three trial gardens of its kind in the country. It's also noted as one of the top three destinations for visitors coming to Fort Collins.

Greening the gardens

Just two years ago, CSU's trial gardeners started a new, more sustainable approach. No longer are plants organized from A to Z — they're now organized according to their water requirements, a new best practice and water-saving measure called hyrodzoning.

Last year's Best of Show, Bracteantha 'Strawburst Yellow' from Syngenta Flowers.

Hydrozoning or grouping plants according to their proper water requirements, places plants in each of the irrigation systems set up for different water amounts (low, medium, and high). Some flowers are more xeric (low water), while others require considerably more moisture. CSU's researchers have even taken hydrozoning best practices a step further. Now they separate the flowers according to their life cycle — annual versus perennial.

Annual flowers complete their life cycle in just one growing season and are typically characterized by showy, season-long color. Perennials, on the other hand, grow for three or more years and tend to have a shorter season of bloom.

Colorado State added perennials to the trial gardens just three years ago. For nearly 40 years, only annuals graced the gardens. There are now approximately 125 perennial and 1,200 annual trials in the garden.

Student involvement

The nearly three-acre trial garden park features a total of 20,000 square feet of bed space for planting.

Student involvement is important for the research and the success of the garden. Each year, four to five students as well as a student coordinator assist with the garden. They help with the designing, planting, and now hydrozoning of the garden. There are also approximately a dozen local master gardeners that assist with the trial garden throughout the season.

Come and feel inspired

Visit the trial garden whether it's during the planting, pruning, flowering (peak mid-July) or evaluations in August. Come see which flower will triumph as this year's best in show or best new variety.

Last year's best of show, Bracteantha 'Strawburst Yellow,' was chosen for its large, bright yellow blooms, its outstanding appearance all summer long, and its resilience after a hail storm that decimated the garden in June.

Or the best new variety Gomphrena 'Fireworks,' aptly named for its vigor as it grew taller than the surrounding plants, its round and then multi-dimensional look — stretching outward as it grew, and its bright yellow anthers that create the appearance of small explosions leaping from the flowers.