I love to visit botanic gardens (look for my previous posts under the category Gardening: Gardens). In addition to enjoying the beauty of these places, they also provide ideas for my own landscape. Denver’s is one of the best, and many of the plants there will grow happily 2,000 feet higher. But many won’t. The Betty Ford Alpine Garden, in Vail, is another lovely spot, but that garden features plants that only thrive in the mountains, where they enjoy exceptionally well-drained gravelly soils and cooler days. Yes, there are several demonstration gardens here in Colorado Springs, and I’m well acquainted with what they have to offer. But perhaps I’m too well acquainted. I need inspiration that I can apply at home.
This summer, I found a botanic garden with growing conditions just like mine. In just five acres, the Yampa River Botanic Park, in Steamboat Springs, offers all the inspiration I could ask for. And since it’s situated at 6,800 feet, what grows there will grow for me, too.
We live at 7,100 feet, with a growing season of approximately 120 days per year. Although summer days average in the 80s, nights typically fall to the high 50s due to the low humidity. At this high an altitude, sunlight is intense. Weather swings between extremes, punctuated by devastating hail storms. (Miraculously, my garden has escaped the worst of them this year, but friends at the other end of town recently posted pictures of piles of softball-sized hailstones decorated with shredded foliage.)
I was delighted to discover that the conditions at the Yampa River Botanic Park are even more severe than those in my yard! Steamboat has half the frost-free days that I do, only 60. Summers are dry (we’re currently enduring the gully-washing thunderstorms of our yearly monsoon). Winters are cold and snowy. Yet, the gardens thrive, and are well worth a visit.
Unless you’re familiar with the area, the botanic park is hard to find. Even with the address plugged into our GPS (75 Anglers Drive, Steamboat Springs, CO), we circled the block more than once, trying to spot the entrance. Finally, we realized that you have to park next to the athletic fields, then walk south for several hundred yards to the garden’s entry gate. (Look for this sign pointing the way.) It’s a lovely walk along the river; in addition to the railroad tracks (and a very loud, very close train!), the way is bordered by Narrowleaf Cottonwoods, River Hawthorns, and Osier Dogwoods.
Once inside the garden proper, paths lead in all directions. There are over 40 themed gardens, including a rose garden, foliage garden, fairy garden (right), sensory garden, both culinary and medicinal herb gardens, and a hummingbird garden (filled with hummers on the July day we visited). Maintenance is done by volunteers, several of whom have claimed space to create their own unique gardens. My favorite was “A Garden for All Seasons” by Steamboat’s “Over the Hill Gang.” I can relate.
At the far end of the space is a good-sized pond. Dragonflies flittered over the water, and shady benches offered a respite from the day’s heat. Behind that was a forested area, edged by a lovely assortment of shade-loving perennials.
Mid-July turned out to be an excellent time to visit, as the gardens were in full bloom. The abundance of blossoms lured dozens of butterflies. I took special note of which flowers they preferred, as I have a butterfly/pollinator garden at home; the pincushion flowers (Scabiosa) and bee balm (Monarda didyma) were by far the most popular.
The profusion of flowers also makes this an ideal place for an outdoor wedding. We were there on a Friday, and happened to notice a rehearsal taking place on the broad central lawn. We couldn’t resist walking up to mention that the next day’s wedding would be happening on our 39th anniversary and to wish them at least that many happy years as well.
Allow several hours to explore every niche. (We would have stayed longer, but it was an unusually hot day and, in spite of frequent trips to the much-appreciated drinking fountain, we were parched and wilted.) The gardens are open from 7 to 7. There are public bathrooms by the parking lot for the adjacent playing fields. For more information, you can contact the botanic park at (970)-846-5172.