If you want to know what colors will be popular at garden centers–and in gardens–in coming months, look to fashion runways in New York and Paris, says James Klett, director of Colorado State University’s Annual Flower Trial Garden. Taking cues from Vogue then, shades of lavender, rose and violet will soon be appearing this spring and summer.

Above: James Klett, director of Colorado State University’s Annual Flower Trial Garden. Photos on page 22, clockwise from left: CSU’s Annual Flower Trial Garden, which draws thousands of visitors each year, relies on student gardeners, volunteers and industry supporters and experts who help provide detailed analysis of plant performance; Kismet intense orange echinacea was a “top performer” from the perennial garden; Winterbells helleborus surpassed many expectations by performing well in Colorado’s harsh conditions.


Every year, bedding plant companies from around the world send their selections to CSU for inclusion in the test garden, says Klett, explaining a deliberating process that helps gardening professionals see how their products perform in Colorado’s harsh growing conditions. In August, a panel of 175 people judge the entries, and in September, the advisory committee reviews the

finalists “to see what looks good a month later,” says Klett.  These are the plantings that will appear at independent garden centers the following spring, says Klett.
By contrast, large, national chains use private company test gardens in several centralized locations; from there, choices are selected for big-box stores nationwide—a more homogenous range because the plants must be amenable to gardens from coast to coast.

What does Klett plant in his own garden? “I have a lot of shade,” he says. “I’m one of these that like to have multiple colors. Ornamental grasses are good, too.”

His personal favorites for the Rocky Mountain region include geraniums, particularly the Calliope series. “They even look good in our high-light intensity environment,” he says.

Among perennials, he likes the Kismet coneflower, available in a variety of shades—including red, raspberry and yellow. The orange is particularly popular in Colorado among Broncos fans, he says.

He was also pleasantly surprised to find that helleborus, previously thought to need a moister soil than what Colorado offered, grew well in CSU’s test garden. “You wouldn’t put them in an open windy site, but in a shaded area they do quite well.”

So, this spring and summer, visit the CSU test garden. For those immersed in horticulture, it’s better than a Paris runway.

Toni Lapp is managing editor of NOCO Style magazine. To comment on this article, send an email to letters@nocostyle.com.