Visiting the Denver Botanic Gardens: A Mile-High Floral Wonderland
by David Salman
For me, no visit to Denver is complete without stopping by the Denver Botanic Gardens (DBG). I have been visiting the gardens for the last 25 years and watched this public garden develop into a world-class facility. Located on 24 acres in the heart of metro Denver, the Gardens have long been at the center of Intermountain horticulture, providing expertise and inspiration that have transformed the region's gardening practices and plant palette. I have made many friends among the staff of the Gardens and can say that their work has been cutting edge and propelled the organization to the highest levels of horticultural expertise.
The main facility, on York Street and 11th Street, is home to a number of new and established gardens. The water gardens are home to an incredible collection of water lilies. The Japanese Garden showcases over 30 years of work creating an oriental masterpiece in the Rocky Mountains. The Rock Alpine is one of the oldest gardens on the property and has always been my favorite. I'm an avid rock gardener and these planting are always a thrill to view, especially from early to late spring when the high mountain flowers are at their peak.
The Water Smart Garden is an inspiration for xeric gardeners, highlighting a wonderful mix of native and Old World low-water species. Originally designed by Lauren Springer Ogden, this section of DBG has matured into a masterpiece. I always spend a lot of time there photographing the wonderful combinations that light up those plantings.
A new development that I'm extremely excited about is the Steppe Garden, that will highlight plants from the five major grassland regions of the planet. The extensive rockwork has been completed and the final stages of transplanting are being undertaken this year. DBG is very fortunate to have a group of expert horticulturists who have traveled to and studied these grasslands over the past 20 years. It promises to be a superb new addition, highlighting grassland plants that will thrive in the Intermountain and prairie regions of the western US.
For many years, DBG's Chatfield property, located in the southwest Denver suburb of Littleton, was an underdeveloped part of the Gardens. That has changed dramatically in the last few years and Chatfield Farms (as it now called) has become a vital part of the Gardens. It boasts a superb Wildflower Garden (designed by Scott and Lauren Springer Ogden) that surrounds the remodeled offices, a butterfly greenhouse, a lavender garden, and a fall corn maze. Late summer is an especially nice time to walk the Wildflower Garden and watch the hummingbirds and butterflies feeding on all the fabulous late-blooming wildflowers and flying amongst the gorgeous warm season ornamental grasses that are mixed into the wildflowers.
The Denver Botanic Garden is also home to the Plant Select®, a plant introduction program started in 1996 as a collaborative effort with Colorado State University. As a founding member of Plant Select, I have been a part of this remarkable program's transformation of our region's plant palette. It's a big thrill seeing so many Plant Select winning plants grown to perfection in the various gardens.
There is also a wonderful new outdoor restaurant next to the Water Garden. Here, you can relax, refuel and refresh yourself in the shade of the oaks and enjoy a more extended stay at the gardens. (I recommend their tasty ice tea blends for a hot afternoon cool down.) There is so much more to see and enjoy than the space in this blog allows me to describe. My recommendation: Go there and see for yourself. The beauty of Rocky Mountain gardening as it's done at Denver Botanic Garden will make it time well spent.