Split across two locations, city slickers can take some time to wander the gardens in York Street or head out of town to the 750 acre Chatfield Farms native plant refuge. In the main area of York Street, there are a huge number of different gardens which mostly fall into five broad categories: Gardens of the West highlight Colorado’s native plants; Internationally Inspired Gardens are modelled after gardens from around the world; Ornamental Gardens reach their peak in spring during flower blossom season; Shady Gardens aims to provide cool relief on hot days; and the Water Gardens focus on aquatic plants and water features.
Gardens of the West feature 18 different gardens showcasing plants that grow in arid areas through all seasons and weather, making them an appealing sight even during the winter months. Local flora such as bristlecone pines sit alongside native shrubs and grasses, and the Promenade Garden shows off how these low-water plants survive on the state’s steep slopes. Endangered and rare local plants are safe in the Conservation Garden. A greenhouse is home to 20 different types of cactus and succulent plants from across the Americas, while other gardens highlight the natural biodiversity of mountainous regions with dwarf conifer trees and ponderosa pines. Other interesting gardens here demonstrate yuccas and agave family plants in the Dryland Mesa (which receives no additional water), or plants sacred to the Native Americans of the Four Corners region.
The Internationally Inspired Gardens move away from Colorado and look to the wider world for their gardening inspiration, though many of the regions are fellow steppe areas which have a similar climate and soil composition to Denver. Japanese gardens host a variety of local and tropical species within their confines, and each aims to give a different authentic flavor of the Far East: The Ella Mullen Weckbaugh Tea House Garden features an actual Japanese tea house that was shipped from Japan, while Shofu-en was inspired by the nearby Rocky Mountains and features 130 character pines. There’s also the Bill Hosokawa Bonsai Pavilion, which presents an interesting look at bonsai plants from around the world. Other gardens take inspiration from further afield, like the South African Plaza which highlights that region’s floral diversity and fragility. June’s PlantAsia garden has species gathered from all over Asia, with special attention paid to the Himalayan pines and plants from Kazakhstan and Pakistan’s steppe regions.
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Ornamental Gardens are open all year round, though they are most colorful during spring when many of the flowers blossom. The gardens here tend towards the romantic or wistful, including walkways, arches, gazebos and pavilions alongside beautiful planting patterns. Wander through the ever-changing scents of blooms in the Fragrance Garden and let your nose take the lead in the Gloria Falkenberg Herb Garden. Gardens here appeal to all the senses, and many have strong aesthetic themes such as being arranged by color or in interesting patterns. Still other ornamental gardens are dedicated to specific flower families, with the Lilac Garden and May Bonfils-Stanton Memorial Rose Garden being clear examples.
High summer sees visitors flock to the Shady Gardens choices, as the cool plants here attract birds and insects alongside their human guests. The Birds and Bees Walk makes the most of the Botanic Gardens’ natural neighbors, as it is populated with plants that attract birds, pollinators and insects – guests can catch sight of bees, butterflies and even hummingbirds. Oak Grove is dedicated to the hardy oak trees, and the Woodland Mosaic creates a fairy grotto in the forest where low-light plants grow. Shady Lane is full of crabapple blooms and spring ephemerals in springtime, but by summer it serves as an inspiration for gardeners looking at how to create low-light gardens.
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