Mar 092005
Authors: Anne Farrell

Spring is in the air and flowers are just beginning to bloom. For flower enthusiasts and lovers of springtime, now is the best time of year to walk through parks and take in the world's natural beauty.

The gardens located in front of the old Fort Collins High School are used as CSU's annual trial garden, designed to evaluate the performance of flowers under Colorado's unique environmental conditions. The gardens were originally located at the Plant Environmental Research Center (PERC) on Lake Street but were moved to their current location in 2002. The research center includes several greenhouses located off Lake Street that have existed for more than 30 years.

The annual trial garden was moved to the new site to have greater visibility and accessibility near vehicle, bicycle, bus and pedestrian routes. It is also larger, with 20,000 square feet of available planting space. The project was completed in 2004 with the renovation of an existing gazebo and the installation of signs and educational materials about the trials and flower research, according to the annual flower trial garden Web site.

Each year the garden contains on average more than 1,000 varieties of annual bedding plants. This year about 27 plant and seed companies are participating in the garden, which allows seed companies to test their plants' effectiveness in the Rocky Mountain high plains area.

In early August the flowers are evaluated on vigor, uniformity, floriferousness and tolerance to environmental and biotic stresses, according to the Web site. Superior plants are then awarded for being the best of their type or species.

The project, funded completely by the university, has become a community icon and the perfect place to study for some students.

"Putting (the flowers) in such a visible site has become one of the top tourist places in Fort Collins during the growing season," said Jim Klett, a professor of landscape horticulture and director of the PERC.

During the growing season many classes visit the gardens, enjoying on-campus field trips. Klett teaches an herbaceous plant course that often uses the garden, while other professors teaching anything from basic horticulture to art also use the gardens as an addition to classroom learning.

"We have to get everything planted in less than a month," Klett said.

Garden employees are people who enjoy working outdoors, and employment is not limited to horticulture majors.

The best part of working in the gardens is seeing people's reaction to the flower presentation, said Alex Israel, a sophomore chemistry engineering major and former employee.

Students do all of the planting and preparation for the gardens. Last year's planting ran from May to June. Students continued to maintain the gardens for a couple weeks until a full-time team took over with general maintenance.

"I really enjoyed horticulture and growing things," said Sadie Skiles, a senior natural resource management major who worked on the gardens during the summer.

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