Sunday, August 23, 2020

CSU's Trial Garden helps meet Rocky Mountain plant growing challenge



“The misfortune of a young man who returns to his native land after years away is that he finds his native land foreign; whereas the lands he left behind remain for ever like a mirage in his mind.
However, misfortune can itself sow seeds of creativity.

 ― Brian Aldiss, Hothouse


Ideas for garden growth in an uncertain state

By Rob Carrigan,

Like the blooming flowers, bees and butterflies, the land has always been there. It is you, who must return.  As a native, every year now, even if just driving by in late summer and early fall, I appreciate the fragrance, and pageantry — the show of colors — on College Avenue in Fort Collins, on the grounds of what was once the Fort Collins High School.

"The outdoor display and test areas at the Annual Flower Trial Garden were established to allow students, researchers, industry representatives, homeowners and extension personnel to learn, teach and evaluate through horticultural research and demonstration projects conducted in the unique environmental conditions of the Rocky Mountain/High Plains region," says Annual Flower Trial Garden site.

The garden is open every day, at no cost to those who wish to visit.  And as any native gardener can attest, sharing ideas and getting plants to survive here, can be a challenge that takes creativity.

"Methods of gardening in this moderate Western region are a strange mixture of gardening practices at best. (Mysticism and luck, at worst.) Mostly, you will have to use what I call 'common sense gardening,' says Herb Gundell, in his "Complete Guide to Rocky Mountain Gardening."

"We cannot depend very much on the weather, on the the seasons or the soils of the Rocky Mountain territory, so don't let any weather changes take you by surprise. All have to be treated with savvy and measure of suspicion," says Gundell.

"The entire garden is planted with annuals from late May through October. Pansies are planted in the fall and are on display through early spring. The perennial trials are displayed year round across the street in front of the Center for the Arts," according to Trial Garden information.

The W. D. Holley Plant Environmental Research Center (PERC), located at 630 W. Lake Street on the Colorado State University campus, has been a part of CSU since 1971. In 1992, Dr. James E. Klett began his role as Director of PERC and became the Faculty Coordinator for the trial program. David Staats also joined the department around this time as a Horticulture Research Associate. Together Klett and Staats conduct all of the activities and staff required to produce a beautiful garden and successful trial program each year.  


"The Pansy Trial program was initiated in 2003 to evaluate the capability of various Pansy and Viola varieties to overwinter in the Northern Colorado climate. The trial is also considered to be a Cool-season Crop Overwintering Trial, as we have trialed other genera, such as Delphinium and Dianthus, in the past. The relatively new Perennial Trial was initiated in the fall of 2006 at the request of our advisory committee. The intention of this trial is to test only newer perennial cultivars introduced in the past three years or less," according to the Trials site.

"Year after year, the number of participants in the trial and the number of entries in the trial grew, leading to the demand for more and more space. In 2000, the Annual Flower Trial Garden was moved from its site at PERC to the park on Remington Street that is just across from the newly remodeled CSU Center for Arts, which was the old Fort Collins High School building. 

The relocation of the garden to this more spacious and visible site furthered its mission by more effectively extending education, research and outreach to students, home gardeners, Master Gardeners, community members and Green Industry personnel. The 2.9 acre park features an additional 5,000 square feet of bedding plant space, resulting in 20,000 total square feet of bed space available for planting. 

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