Fascinating Flowers in Fort Collins

CSU’s Annual Flower Trial Garden is a must-see

By Vicki Spencer, Master Gardener

Over the years, I’ve learned there is a wealth of gardening resources just waiting to be discovered. The Colorado State University Annual Flower Trial Garden is one of those gems. As children, my father told us about the university’s agricultural research as we watched acres and acres of experimental plots float by our car windows during frequent family outings. But I didn’t discover the Annual Flower Trial Garden until much later in life.

The main focus of the Annual Flower Trial Garden is annual flowers — those that live out their lives in one growing season. Annual flowers that grow well in other parts of the country may not perform well in Colorado due to our high altitude, intense sunlight, drying winds, severe hailstorms and fluctuations between day and night temperatures. The Trial Garden allows faculty and students to study how different plant cultivars perform in this environment. Each year, hundreds of different cultivars are grouped by genus, arranged by color and grown side by side. This arrangement facilitates comparisons for researchers while providing a kaleidoscope of color for our enjoyment.

Petunia “Bee’s Knees”

Previously, most plants were grown from seeds, but today the majority are propagated in nurseries from cuttings, then are tended to in the university’s greenhouses before being moved outdoors. Although some plant clones will grow bigger and faster than plants grown from seeds, the breeding process is still a lengthy one. It can take years for new varieties to be patented and make it to the market. Even though many trial plants aren’t immediately available to consumers, you can take photos and there are signs and brochures to help with identification for future purchases.

Dahlia “Lubega Dark Velvet”

Last year’s Best of Show was awarded to the dahlia “Lubega Dark Velvet” from Benary+®. The strong contrast between its beautiful bicolor blooms and dark purple, velvety foliage was stunning. The Best Container winner was petunia “Bee’s Knees” with abundant two-tone yellow flowers from Ball FloraPlant®. The Best New Variety was Centaurea “Snowy Owl” from Terra Nova®. Its unique silvery foliage stands out on its own or provides interesting texture when combined with other plants.

Centaurea “Snowy Owl”

Early this month, a team of horticulture students and faculty, representatives from private industries, public horticulturalists and advanced master gardeners will judge the plants. Judges will look for plant vigor, uniformity, floriferousness and tolerance, as well as environmental and biotic stresses. Then a university advisory committee will re-evaluate the top-rated entries to select the 2021 winners.

Professor and extension landscape horticulturist James Klett urges everyone: “Come and visit the Colorado State University flower trials where you can observe over 1,100 varieties of annuals in bloom and about 300 new varieties of herbaceous perennials, plus over 1,000 different herbaceous perennials in the perennial demonstration garden. The gardens are open to the public free of charge during daylight hours.”

Since the Trial Garden in Fort Collins covers a large outdoor area, it is a safe place to wander during the pandemic. Gardeners of all levels are invited to learn from professionals by registering for the Twilight Garden Series. To learn more, go to flowertrials.colostate.edu.

Gardener Vicki Spencer has an eclectic background in conservation, water, natural resources and more.