Denver Botanic Gardens Showcases the Best Of Western Design

Reflecting pool in the Denver Botanic Gardens

If you haven’t been to Denver, you may think Cheesman sounds like a strange place for a world-glass garden. But, the old-line neighborhood plays host to one of the best ones I’ve toured in decades. No matter the season, the Denver Botanic Gardens is sure to wow, and impress me it did, with its grand spaces showcasing plants from all parts of the world.

 

ABOUT THE DENVER BOTANIC GARDENS

Located at York Street, the Denver Botanic Gardens reveals itself gradually, as step by step one beautiful garden flows seamlessly into another. There are 17 arid gardens exhibiting plants that thrive in Colorado’s dry climate, plus internationally-inspired gardens, ornamental gardens, shade gardens and water gardens. And that’s not all – there’s an ornamental vegetable garden and countless garden ‘vignettes’ in between, enough to make your head spin with all the horticultural inspiration.

Following are some highlights of the different gardens I visited.

The O’Fallon Perennial Walk

I love to meander, so we didn’t bother looking at the map and within moments found ourselves at the base of the O’Fallon Perennial Walk. Backed by a hedge of formally pruned native juniper (Juniperus scopulorum), the impressive border featured many of the plants I use in my designs back East. There were generous drifts of colorful bearded irises, yarrow, perennial geraniums, lime green lady’s mantle and ice blue amsonia (Texas Star) along with roses, boxwood and barberry, to name just a few.

Apricot Iris germanica

DESIGN RULES AT THE GARDENS

Aside from the beautiful plants, the cool thing about the O’Fallon Perennial Walk is its design. The hedges are angled so that the views from the north end make the south end appear farther away than it actually is. I also couldn’t help but notice that the plants were double the size I’m used to seeing – must be the dry Denver air!

Next up were a series of gardens called the Romantic Gardens. Tuscan in style, the Schlessman Plaza features rustic stone columns, stucco walls and a pair of brick and stucco pavilions. Bordered by ornamental crabapple trees, its formal beds exhibit perennials and flowering shrubs typical of the region.

Schlessman Plaza

Ornamental crabapples at Schlessman Plaza

DROUGHT TOLERANCE IS KEY 

In keeping with the dry climate, the Fragrance Garden features raised beds of drought-tolerant perennials including achillea, dianthus, hardy geranium, monarda, nepeta and copious amounts of Love-In-A-Mist (Nigella) all accented by the silvery foliage of Buddleja alternifolia ‘Argentea’ and Artemisia ‘Powis Castle’. In the rear, a grey stucco wall furnishes a dramatic backdrop. 

 The Fragrance Garden

Rounding a corner, we stumbled on an elliptical garden centered on a brilliant red and yellow Chihuly sculpture. The sunken garden entitled The Ellipse features roses from the May-Bonfils Stanton collection along with hydrangeas, lilies and daylilies chosen to coordinate with the jewel-toned glass (which reminded me of a red hot poker flower).

Specially commissioned for the Denver Botanic Gardens and installed in 2014, the sculpture is called ‘Colorado.’

The Ellipse in honor of Nancy Schotters

Path bordered by Sweet Alyssum that encircles the Ellipse

Reflecting pool at the end of the Fragrance Garden

HIGH DESIGN IN THE HERB GARDEN

Located to the left of the Fragrance Garden, the Herb Garden was designed for ‘health and culinary enjoyment.’  I’d say it was also designed for beauty. Maintained in collaboration with the Metro Denver Herbalists, it includes basil, thyme, oregano, lavender and lemon verbena and other Italian herbs displayed in a spectacular setting. Some of the herbs are used to make soaps and other herb blends that are sold in the Garden Shop.

Herb Garden medallion made of Wooly Thyme

Close-up of the medallion

KEEPING THE FAITH

Adjacent to the Herb Garden is the Scripture Garden, a contemplative space filled with plants that originate in the ‘Fertile Crescent’; the area common to Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Many of the trees, shrubs and flowers symbolize the various faiths’ religious stories. This includes a stand of olive trees native to the Mediterranean area.

Since they are unable to withstand the winter, the trees spend the coldest months indoors in the Denver Botanic Garden’s greenhouses.

The Scripture Garden

From this quiet area we headed to the Space Pyramid, a futuristic-looking grey and black mosaic pyramid located at the heart of the garden. The Pyramid is home to a 60-inch spherical globe that simulates how the earth looks from space.

Space Pyramid and fountain at the Denver Botanic Gardens

SUSTAINABILITY

Adjacent to the Space Pyramid is the Ornamental Grasses Garden. Who knew there could be such variety? The beautiful garden encompasses a wide variety of traditional and new ornamental grasses including Indian ricegrass, switchgrass, cutleaf staghorn sumac and compass plant, a native to the eastern plains of Colorado.

Ornamental Grasses Garden

The sculpture in the back is called ‘So Proud Of My Children’ and was created by Nicholas Kadzungara.

I loved this garden space with a sheet metal sculpture by Alexander Calder entitled ‘Polygons on Triangles.’ It was the perfect counterpoint to all the torch lilies.

Another view of the orange and yellow torch lilies, so striking popping up from among the grasses.

JUNE’S PLANTASIA

A fun play on words, June’s Plantasia is the Denver Botanic Garden’s hommage to the plants and planting traditions of Asia. Designed to mimic the flow of water, river rocks cover the paths and change direction depending on where you want to walk. To illustrate, the direction of the river rocks on the bridge matches the direction of the stream below.

River rock path in June’s Plantasia

Close-up of river rocks

 

Following are some other wonderful garden vignettes I spied at the Denver Botanic Gardens. 

Iris ‘Wake Up Call’

THE JERRY MORRIS DWARF CONIFER COLLECTION

The Dwarf Conifer Garden displays the largest collection of Jerry Morris’ dwarf conifers in the world. Morris is internationally known for his groundbreaking work with conifers, including the development of species with more desirable traits like bluer foliage, longer needles and better disease resistance.

Jerry Morris Conifer Garden

A secluded spot nearby.

NATURALISTIC GARDENS ROAM FREE

Compared with all of the greenery we had just experienced, the Rock Alpine Garden was a breath of dry air. One of a series of naturalistic gardens, this space features plants from high elevation regions around the world. The landscape includes over 2000 different plant species. Rugged rocks add to the garden’s appeal.

Rock Alpine Garden

The Gates Montane Garden was created in 1961 by S.R. DeBoer as a tribute to the late Charles C. Gates.  It is designed to mimic the mountain setting of the Gate’s property in Bear Creek Canyon. The shady woodland path is a nice contrast to the Alpine Garden with its mix of native trees, shrubs and wildflowers.

Columbines in the Gates Montane Garden

The Plains Garden depicts what the landscape looked like prior to development of the Denver Botanic Gardens. The majority of the seeds were procured from within 30 miles of Denver and represent such signature plants as Blue Grama grass, Buffalo grass and Liatris punctata (spotted gayfeather.) This garden survives on precipitation alone.

Plains Garden

THE MONET POOL

Water plays a dominant theme in the Denver Botanic Gardens through which it meanders, alternately taking the form of streams, reflecting pools, fountains and water courses. We stepped out from the Plains Garden to encounter a large paved space crisscrossed by water pathways. Known as the Monet Pool, the water garden features an impressive array of waterlilies, lotus and cattails.

The Denver Botanic garden is a world leader in aquatic gardening and variety and breadth of aquatic plants.

The Monet Pool

The Potager, or Kitchen Garden, is encircled by the Monet water pathways. The edible plants are arranged in ornamental patterns.

Le Potager

These gardens are only a fraction of what you can see at the Denver Botanic Gardens, which brings new surprises with each passing season.

At the time of our visit, the gardens were embellished by sculptures by Alexander Calder. For more information on the gardens, click here for the Denver Botanic Gardens website. And don’t forget to visit the Conservatory for more eye-opening experiences.

 

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