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Best in Show: Annuals for 2002

By Jim Klett, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension, landscape specialist

Just as the worlds of movies, television and music have their awards, so does horticulture. Each year, more than a thousand varieties of flowers and herbs battle for the honor of Best in Show in Colorado flower trials.

A basil, Ocimum basilicum "Magical Michael," from Pan American Seed, earned the honor in Colorado State University's annual trials last year. The plant's uniform growth habit and attractive flowers, along with attractive purplish-colored foliage and nice aroma, were cited as reasons for the award. Other judges agreed, as "Magical Michael" also has received All-American Selection status.

This winner and others in the categories of geranium, impatiens, marigolds, nicotina, petunia and verbena were among approximately 1,100 varieties from 24 participating plant and seed companies in the trials. Seeing how the plants perform can help nurseries decide what annuals to offer their customers and home growers to determine which ones to try.

Cuttings for all the vegetative varieties (approximately 700) arrived between late March and mid-April 2001 and were grown in Colorado State University's greenhouses. All seed varieties were started and grown by Welby Gardens as an in-kind donation. The plants were transplanted to the outdoor beds between May 24 and June 28.

Weather conditions during the 2001 growing season were fairly normal, but many days in June, July and August reached 90 degrees. Fort Collins did not receive much rain during the summer months, so water was added approximately twice a week, at the rate of about 1 inch of water at each watering.

The trial garden advisory committee, with representatives from seed companies, the university, greenhouse owners and managers along with Master Gardeners and horticulturists, evaluated the varieties on the basis of foliage or plant quality, flower quality and overall presentation.

Here are more winners:

Zonal geranium: "Fantasia Flame," from Ball Flora Plant, was judged the best for being adaptable to our soils and having prolific bright red flowers that provided a dramatic contrast to the exceptionally dark green leaves. Both flowers and plant growth habit were uniform.

Seed geranium: "Maverick Star," a selection from Goldsmith, took top honors for best seed geranium. A center white eye marked each of the numerous pink-salmon flowers. The leaves of this vigorous grower had showy zonation on the foliage, providing a great accent to the flowers.

Ivy geranium: "Colorcade Deep Pink" from Ball Flora Plant was voted outstanding in its class for its uniform growth habit and numerous, deep pink flowers.

New Guinea impatiens: "SuperSonic Magenta," from Fischer, won top honors for its glossy bronze leaves, along with the many larger magenta flowers throughout the season.

Double impatiens: "Fiesta Ole Stardust Pink," from Ball Flora Plant, was covered the entire season with semidouble, rosy pink flowers with a striking white pattern in the center. This variety had a very vigorous and uniform growth habit.

Seed impatiens: "Accent Rose," from Goldsmith Seeds had abundant, showy bright rose flowers on vigorous, uniform plants.

Marigold: Pan American Seed was the producer of the best marigold, "Bonanza Gold," an extremely uniform variety with large golden yellow flowers with dark green foliage. This variety also showed good resistance to aster yellows in our trials.

Nicotiana: "Avalon Red," from Floranova, had a compact, uniform growth habit with a prolific display of red flowers throughout the summer.

Petunia: The winner from the many petunia varieties, including both vegetatively propagated and seed varieties, was the vegetatively propagated variety "Surprise Lavender," from Dummen. This plant created a wonderful mound of uniform lavender flowers that were almost perfect in appearance. The plant was lauded for its excellent growth habit and large quantity of flowers.

Verbena: The number of vegetatively propagated verbenas greatly surpassed the seed varieties in the trials. A vegetatively propagated variety called "Twilight Blue With Eye," from The Flower Fields, was given the highest honors. The plant had dark blue flowers with white eyes, an attractive and unusual combination. These plants also had larger dark green leaves and vigorous but uniform growth habit.

Osteospermum: "Dandedong Daisy Purple Blush," from Euro American Propagators, had better flower coverage throughout the heat of the summer. Its tolerance to adverse conditions and its purplish flowers make it a winner.


Colorado State's W.D. Holly Plant Environmental Research Center (PERC) at 630 W. Lake St., in the southwest corner of the campus, has been home to the annual trial gardens since they began in 1979. In 1998, the university was chosen as one of two All-American Selection outdoor test gardens in Colorado.

For the 2001 growing season approximately 550 different varieties, including all the geraniums, petunias, and verbenas and the All-American Selections, were planted at a new and more visible site at High School Park on College Avenue and Remington Street in Fort Collins. 

The gardening public is welcome to visit the trials this season at High School Park on College Avenue and Remington Street in Fort Collins. For a complete research repot of the annual trial gardens, contact the Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO 80523. There is a charge to cover the cost of printing, handling and shipping.

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Date last revised: 01/05/2010