Since becoming a Colorado master gardener in Denver in 2003, I’ve regarded Colorado State University as the mother ship and the CSU trial gardens as the mecca of master gardenerdom.
Last year, I moved from Denver to Fort Collins, and transferred my gardenership from Denver County to Larimer County. This fortunate relocation made it possible for me to volunteer to help install the 2016 annuals trial garden at CSU—something I’ve dreamed about since my first visit to the garden several years ago. Just imagine getting to examine and touch all of the most recent varieties of flowers as you nestle them into the ground.
There’s a lot riding on trial gardens for growers and research professionals. These folks want to find out how well the newest varieties will perform in Colorado’s growing conditions. Toward the end of each growing season, CSU evaluates more than 1,000 annuals varieties on their appearance, growth habits, tolerance of environmental conditions, and other criteria. Then the university publishes a report on its findings on its trial gardens website.
Earlier this week, six fellow Larimer County master gardeners and I, along with several CSU horticulture students, planted about one-third of the total annuals beds under the able direction of David Staats, CSU research associate, and Sean Markovic, a CSU graduate student currently serving as the annuals trial garden coordinator. My fellow master gardeners included Jim Carroll, Karen Halberg, Gerry Hoffman, Paula Mann, Daniel Owen and Craig Seymour.
We nestled dozens of stunning varieties of verbena, coleus, geranium and dahlia, to name a few. Some of my favorites included Lanai Blue Eyes, ES Lavender Charme, and Royal Peachy Keen Superbena verbenas; Flame Thrower Spiced Curry and Flame Thrower Chili Pepper coleus; and Labella Medio Pink Eye dahlia. I look forward to seeing whether these beauties thrive in Colorado’s challenging climate.
To begin the planting process, we master gardeners arrived at 9am May 26 at the vacant garden site, where David provided a short planting demonstration. Crews had already placed signs identifying each new variety and had dug two rows of nine holes each so we could install 18 plants of the same type behind each sign. A tray of plants had been carefully placed in front of each sign. Our job was to make sure the plant varieties matched the signs, and then to unpot each plant, place it in the pre-dug hole and backfill the hole. Because the soil had been amended well, we could simply use our hands, rather than trowels, for planting.
So we each gravitated to our favorite plants and went to work, yakking along the way. At noon, we took a break to enjoy the barbecue lunch prepared by Dr. James Klett, CSU professor of landscape horticulture, ornamentals, and nursery management. Jim is one of those rare individuals who understands how to recognize and reward volunteers. Master gardener volunteers don’t just get to plant the new varieties and enjoy a free lunch; they also later receive the chance to participate in the trial garden evaluation and take home leftover plants.
After lunch, we spent another hour installing plants. In the next couple of weeks, two more crews of master gardeners and CSU students will continue the planting process until all of the annuals are installed.
CSU’s annuals and perennials trial gardens constitute one of the top tourist attractions in northern Colorado. If you’re in the neighborhood, be sure to visit. You may find a plant that you’ll want to grow in your own garden, once the plants become available commercially.