For decades, Colorado State has played a key role in supporting the state’s horticulture industry, conducting research on which varieties of annuals, perennials, and woody plants thrive in the Mountain West.

CSU’s senior horticulturist James Klett is retiring at the end of 2022, and he recently paid a visit to the private greenhouses owned by his predecessor, Kenneth Goldsberry, so the two could share highlights of the University’s plant legacy.

Goldsberry retired in 1991, turning the reins of the Plant Environmental Research Center that he founded over to Klett – 41 years after Goldsberry first set foot on the CSU campus as an undergraduate fresh out of the U.S. Air Force. Goldsberry, now 90, recalls being offered a greenhouse foreman job by horticulture professor W.D. “Bob” Holley, for whom the PERC was eventually named. His pay was $100 a week.

“Man, that was a good salary at that time,” Goldsberry says with a laugh.

Carnation development

At the time, Colorado was known as the “Carnation Capital of the World,” and after earning a master’s degree from CSU and his doctorate from Iowa State, Goldsberry developed eight patented varieties of dwarf pot carnations known as the Colorado Majestic Mountain series. He also spearheaded horticulture advancements such as piping carbon dioxide into greenhouses to enhance plant growth and using frosted or tinted fiberglass for greenhouses to reduce light and heat. In recognition of his many contributions to the field, in 2018 Goldsberry won the Career Achievement Award from the CSU Alumni Association and the 50 Year Club.

Klett recalls how big the cut-flower industry was in Colorado when he arrived at CSU in 1980, before it was supplanted by cheaper imported blooms. As U.S. horticulture began shifting toward bedding plants, vegetable starts, and perennials, seed companies wanted more research on what varieties do well in Colorado’s high-altitude climate. On Klett’s watch, the research operation has established CSU as a trusted industry partner.

The University is now home to one of the top trial gardens in the country.

“Companies like to put their trials here because we do a good job,” Klett says. “We’ve expanded every year, and we did the fundraising to support it. We have about 1,100 annuals from about 25 companies around the world, and they provide us with close to $100,000 a year to support us as a self-funded enterprise.”

Growing research effort

In addition to the Arboretum on the southwest corner of Main Campus, the popular Annual Flower Trial Gardens as well as a Perennial Demonstration Garden bloom west and north of the University Center for the Arts. The greenhouses, research plots, and research vegetable garden make up the Horticulture Education and Research facility near the intersection of Prospect Road and Centre Avenue.

As Klett reflects on his CSU career, he says highlights include overseeing the development of the Arboretum (he planted 99% of the trees there) and the Trial Gardens. But most importantly, the 2022 recipient of the American Horticultural Society’s Teaching Award for sharing knowledge of the plant world with the public says he will miss working with students.

“Many of our graduates are in key industry positions around the state and nation,” Klett says.

Indeed, the roots established by Goldsberry and Klett have not only benefited the industry, but also have helped scores of CSU alumni blossom in their horticulture careers.