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Local Garden Spotlight: the Trial Gardens and Perennial Garden at CSU

By Shannon Moreau

This month we are highlighting a Fort Collins institution, the The Annual and Perennial Trial Gardens and the Perennial Demonstration Garden at Colorado State University. 

Location:1401 Remington St Fort Collins, CO 80524

Cost: Free!

The purpose of these trials is to evaluate the performance of new varieties of annuals and  perennials in our local climate. Since environmental conditions in Colorado can be challenging, this is a vital piece of research to ensure development of top-performing varieties introduced into our area. What’s so especially unique about this location is its accessibility. It allows industry professionals and gardeners – both seasoned and new – to discover new plants, combinations, and see for themselves how they will look in real time. Put simply, the site is gorgeous, but one of my

Annual Trial Garden

favorite parts is that everything is labeled with its botanical name, the variety name, and the company that developed it, making it easy to explore new plants and learn more about your favorites. I love making my wishlist of which perennial and annuals varieties to look for at the nursery (although some plants at the trial gardens never make it to market). 

Trial Gardens history

The trial garden‘s original site was on the main body of CSU’s campus. It began as a relatively small evaluation operation at the Plant Environmental Research Center (PERC) in 1971, and in the years since it has attracted new plant companies along with a vast array of new plant genera and varieties. Due to that growth, the site was moved to its current location in 2000 to make sure there was ample space. Perennials were added in 2003 and perennial trial beds are located on Remington directly in front of the USCA building (formerly/locally known as the, “Old Fort Collins High School”.) Dr. Jim Klett has been the faculty coordinator for the trials and the director of PERC since 1992 and was soon joined by David Staats as a research associate. Each year there is a team of CSU Horticulture students that maintain the gardens along with the many master gardeners that aid in planting and caring for these beds.

Perennial Trial Garden

Now, hundreds of plants are installed every season, maintained, and then evaluated based on their performance. At the beginning of August the plants are evaluated by CSU faculty, horticultural students, master gardeners, industry professionals, and the public. Based on these evaluations, the plants are re-evaluated by an advisory committee that picks the top performers and announces the winners. 

Perennial Garden 

The Perennial demonstration garden was also originally located at PERC but was moved in the fall of 2016 to make space for the new Colorado State multi-purpose stadium which is built just to the east of the CSU arboretum. Since then the plants have flourished in their new location. It is a testament to the adaptability of plants since so many were directly transplanted from the old location. It is one of my go to‘s when I feel like I’m in a rut and am looking for a new perennial border, planting a container or just wanting to spice up my yard. I never leave feeling uninspired as I walk between the rows and berms and occasionally get a visit from one of the local cats. Another demonstration garden is the Plant Select area which hugs the foundation of the large white gazebo located closer to the annual trials. This is a great place to see established plants from the Plant Select program! 

Perennial Garden

It is impossible to visit these gardens without recognizing how much time, care, and passion is invested into this site. Dr. Klett, David Staats, the student crew, and all of the volunteers pour themselves into their work and it is beautiful to see. Just like the CSU campus and the Old Town square are cornerstones to our city, I argue that the Trial Gardens and the Perennial Demonstration Garden are a cornerstone themselves and vital to the identity of Fort Collins. It is a unique and wonderful place that everyone should visit. It is ideal for discovering new genera, varieties and combinations of plants, and lends itself to inspire. And hey, it’s a great location to take photos (graduation pic anyone?) or have a picnic. 

I encourage each of you to spend some time walking along the rows, voting on your favorites in each bed and getting inspired in the perennial garden. To learn more about the Trial Gardens and Perennial Garden visit http://flowertrials.colostate.edu

Originally published on August 2nd, 2022.