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Where Did All the Denver Daisies Go?

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Colorado's capital city had what it thought was a great way to celebrate its 150th birthday -- the Denver Daisy, a new variety developed specifically for the occasion. But about one third of the yellow and brown flowers didn't bloom. What went wrong?

Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper "wanted to create a legacy and give something back to Denver" for its 150th anniversary, the city's web site explains; and "what better gift to the people of Denver than a new flower -- one that can be planted every year for generations to come?"

Mayor Hickenlooper even chose to introduce the Denver Daisy on Earth Day 2008.

Seed packets of the new daisy -- a brand new cultivar developed from two other daisies, a native black-eyed Susan and Prairie Sun, an award-winner favored by
gardeners (see photo) -- were distributed to folks throughout
the city. Everyone waited for Denver to be awash with color. But there was a problem: many of the daisies failed to deliver. One councilman estimated that only about a third of the flowers grew.

Yet from the publicity, you would think that the city had a winner on its hand. The city's web site states that the daisy is
"perfectly suited for Colorado's arid climate," "thrives in hot,
sunny areas with minimal moisture and quickly develops eye-catching
golden flowers with a deep-red color encircling a dark-brown center."

Because the new variety was created from native stock, the daisy should have been well
suited to the area. So what went wrong?

Did Someone Say Water Restrictions?


It's hard to say for sure, but perhaps water had something do with it. Despite claims that the Denver Daisy needs minimal moisture, it turns out that the soil must be kept moist during germination -- a period of time ranging to as much as 28 days. Keeping soil moist for three to four weeks in a semi-arid climate requires frequent watering, an activity the city has actively discouraged since 2002 when drought conditions set it. This year, the city has had only 3.26 inches of precipitation through July 15. This is about 36 percent of its normal take, and so Denver's residents are restricted to watering just three days a week.

So maybe the citizens of Denver found themselves between a rock and a hard place. They could grow the new daisy and violate the city's watering restrictions, or they could obey the watering rules and watch their daisies wilt. It seems that many chose the latter, or at least let's hope they did.

Asking folks to grow flowers that require lots of water while under watering restrictions is an odd way to advance "Greenprint Denver," the mayor's action agenda for sustainable development for Denver. By the same token buying flowers, shrubs, and trees that are ill-suited to your climate is an odd way to advance your own sustainability agenda.

All this should give you something to think about the next time you go to the nursery. And by the way, while we are on the subject of gardening: check out our Stat Grok on Friday. We'll be tallying up the resources we use to care for our lawns. See ya then.

More on Denver Daisies

Blog posts and news stories about the Denver Daisy at Outside.in

Dr. Bill Chameides is the dean of Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment. He blogs regularly at www.thegreengrok.com.

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