Does chaffing wind have you pining for gentle tropical breezes? Do the empty branches of your shrubs and trees leave you starving for bright green foliage? Are you dreaming of the scent of gardenias and orange blossoms?
You don’t need to buy a plane ticket. Just head over the Denver Botanic Gardens’ new greenhouse complex. Walk through the door and your senses are engulfed by luxuriant growth. Feast on the bright colors and fascinating shapes of plants from faraway places. Inhale the humid air that keeps these exotics healthy and blooming. Pretend you are far, far south of Colorado.
The Boettcher Memorial Tropical Conservatory is the original structure, filled with thousands of plants from tropical and subtropical climates. It may be January outside, but you are surrounded by flowers—and leaves every bit as colorful. The enclosed space is tall enough to contain full-sized palms. You can even climb a two-story model of a banyan tree that rises through the rainforest layers.
A new exit at the rear of the conservatory leads into the upper level of Marnie’s Pavilion. This revamped building houses a breath-taking collection of blooming orchids, bromeliads, and ferns. Water cascades over rocks, finally collecting in a pool filled with water hyacinths and other aquatic plants. An array of misters adds to the humid jungle atmosphere. I recognized many of the plants as popular houseplants, but there is little resemblance to the struggling specimens in my house. I felt compelled to go home and apologize to my Wandering Jew.
Continue along to another set of doors and enter The Orangery, a long hallway with doors to the outside on one side and huge working greenhouses on the other. Benches offer seating, and planters along the inside wall currently contain orchids, cyclamen, and ivy (the display changes with the seasons). Brush the rosemary leaves and smell your fingers. Breathe in the gardenias’ heady fragrance. Blooming citrus trees in large tubs add their perfume the air and give the hall its name.
The public isn’t allowed inside the greenhouses, large windows give an excellent view. Tables are slowly being filled with flats of seedlings and cuttings to be used outdoors when the weather warms. Other plants are being used for research and education. One section is filled to overflowing with yet more blooming orchids. I could spend hours with my nose pressed against the glass.
It happened to be sunny and (almost) warm the day I visited, so I took a quick tour of the rest of the gardens. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of plants “doing something.” Many of the rock garden species had evergreen leaves. The crabapples and Japanese barberries (pictured here) were loaded with red fruit. Dried seedheads in the perennial beds prevented things from looking too bare. What really amazed me were the blooming violas, peeking out from under their blanket of snow!
Visiting in spring and summer is always a treat, but I actually appreciate the gardens more now, when little else is growing. A couple of hours spent in paradise is a sure cure for my winter blues.
More information: see the Denver Botanic Gardens website.