Denver Botanic Gardens (DBG) is a non-profit organization that strives to delight members and visitors, and entertain, too! It also hopes to spread collective wisdom through outreach, collaboration and education. It began as a dream; local gardeners, botanists and civic leaders wanted to build an oasis in the middle of a city. The dream became a reality in 1951 when members of the Colorado Forestry and Horticulture Association incorporated to become the non-profit Botanical Gardens Foundation of Denver, and then hired renowned landscape architect Saco DeBoer to create a 15-year master plan. Over 50 years later, it is now one of the most stunning sites in America, partnered by a backdrop that includes the beautiful Rocky Mountains, clear flowing streams and brooks, blue skies, and bright sunshine on over 300 days a year.
Located in the middle of the Mile High City, DBG also has a pretty darn interesting “interior” too, if you will. There are revolutionary education programs, legendary nature tours, innovative conservation and research programs, and a massive amount of amazing gardening resources for you, including information on high-altitude gardening (which is similar to high-altitude cooking and baking!). They even offer a Rocky Mountain Gardening Certification program – wow!
So what else is there to do and see here? Well, first things first, there are a whopping 100 acres of gorgeous open spaces, indoor and outdoor gardens and exhibits. But remember, not all acreage is located in the same place. First, there’s the main campus at York Street. The Garden at York Street offers a wide range of gardens and collections that show an ever-widening diversity of plants from all over the world. Distinguishing gardens define and celebrate Coloradoans Western identity and their quintessential high altitude geography and climate. Some of York’s inventive gardens are models of drought-tolerance, thus they showcase native and adapted plants that thrive in Western gardens. Next on the itinerary, don’t forget the York sister sites in Mount Evans and Chatfield, either.
Speaking of amazing things, here’s a can’t-miss guide for you if you’re planning to visit Denver or the Botanic Garden: it’s The Top Ten Coolest Attractions at Denver Botanic Gardens list. This list includes the must-see exhibits, Gardens and even a show or two that you simply cannot pass up. If you’re from out-of-town, use this list as an adjunct to any brochure or map you might pick up at the Gardens when visiting. Regardless of how you use it, keep in mind it was compiled based on visitors’ reviews and tourist and travel company reviews and other data.
1. Boettcher Memorial Tropical Conservatory
One of the most exclusive and compelling displays of tropical plants, the Conservatory features thousands of exotic specimens from the tropical and sub-tropical regions of the world. Various food plants add special interest, including bananas, chocolate and coffee. There’s a two-story model of a banyan tree for kids and to give visitors an aerial view of the tropical forest. In addition, here you’ll startling facts like this one: the tropical rainforests of the world inhabit less than 6% of total land cover but account for over 50% of the world’s plant and animal species.
2. June’s PlantAsia
PlantAsia features eastern Asian plants such as beautiful Peonies, exotic Bamboos, fragrant wild herbs, towering Japanese Umbrella Pines, wild plants collected in Pakistan, rare and eccentric Voodoo Lilies and experimental cultivars of plants. A verdant woodland area displays Himalayan and Lacebark Pines and over a dozen kinds of Asian Maple. You’ll also see over 8,000 exotic, aromatic plants from various Asian countries in a one-acre display.
3. Mount Goliath
Mount Goliath, a peak section of the Mount Evans area, is located 17 miles from Idaho Springs within the Arapaho National Forest, just east of the main campus. Similar to a wildlife preserve, this trail winds through alpine and sub-alpine areas where rare wildflowers and mountain animals live amid majestic mountain vistas.
4. Mordecai Children’s Garden
This new garden offers a place to play, explore and discover. Because the natural environment constantly changes in this garden and because children have a limitless imagination and a keen penchant for memory, no two visits in this magical three-acre oasis are alike. The adventure starts inside an amazing cave; emerge in the garden and discover the wonder of six environments where children connect with nature. All activities are focused on plant exploration and play.
5. Lilac Garden
A collection of almost 80 different varieties of lilacs, over 200 cultivars of Iris and over 150 cultivars of Daylilies, creates a tapestry of color from early spring through mid-summer. Daffodils representing the 13 divisions also bloom on the hillsides in early to mid spring. These flowers are among those that Early European settlers brought with them to the New World from Asia.
A sister garden of the main campus, Chatfield is a hop, skip and jump southwest. DBG at Chatfield is a picturesque nature preserve among the grasslands, ponds and cottonwood banks of Deer Creek. Facilities include lively nature trails, a cool wildlife observation area, lovely display gardens, useful educational exhibits, and an historical farm and 19th century one-room schoolhouse. There’s also another children’s garden, the Deer Creek Discovery children’s area, which includes a fun and fanciful tree house with a water feature.
7. El Pomar Waterway
This dreamlike garden space features extensive “hardscape” via walls, a brick walkway and a long reflecting pool that culminates in a cool, transparent waterfall. The “bottlebrush-like” flowers of an Oriental fountain grass line the full length of a reflective pool, while vertical Beech Trees and Blue Oat Grass soften the border along a southern wall.
8. Botanic Bow Wow
Denver Botanic Gardens premiers a new kind of annual event, geared toward “man’s best friend” and their owners. This dog-centric affair features pet-friendly vendors, informational booths and enough treat stations to keep tails wagging throughout the day. The family-friendly event allows dogs and dog owners to play, socialize and enjoy the weather as the season transitions from spring to summer. Also, learn how to create a beautifully landscaped, pet-friendly yard.
9. Western Panoramas Garden
Truly unique to DBG, Western Panoramas displays governing tree species from three remarkably beautiful Colorado life zones: plains, foothills and sub-alpine. It’s made up of Bristlecone Border, Cottonwood Border and Ponderosa Border. Here you’ll see Rocky Mountain bristlecone pines from the subalpine life zone (10,000-11,500 ft); Cottonwoods from the plains life zone (3,500-6,000 ft), one of the few trees species found on the plains; and Ponderosa pines from the foothills life zone (6,000-8,000 ft.). The main path of this garden is lined with young native species and cultivars of the ponderosa pine.
10. Helen Fowler Library
The Helen Fowler Library at Denver Botanic Gardens houses one of the premier collections of plant-related resources in the United States. Topics covered in the collection include botany, horticulture, gardens and gardening, landscaping, agriculture, world flora, botanical art and illustration, flower arrangement, medical botany, ethnobotany, insects, plant pests and diseases, plant lore, nature crafts and more. The library’s collection includes books for adults and children, DVDs, videos, software, current and past periodicals, nursery catalogs, slides, pamphlet files, rare books, botanical illustrations, art and stamps, rare glass/stereoscopic slides and other rarities, such as suisekis (Japanese art rocks). Plus, members of the Gardens may check out books, DVDs, videos and software.
Denver Botanic Gardens
1007 York Street