Colorado Day 8 - Betty Ford Rock Garden

Ipomopsis aggregata
Ipomopsis aggregata
Note - click on the photos to enlarge
After our pleasant family visit with son Tim and his fiancee Kate, we were off to the high mountains and the winter ski resort town of Breckenridge. This was the first time I was to visit the alpines of Colorado above treeline. As our car meandered the climb out of Steamboat, my ears started popping. They kept it up for a good hour. Our path led us on the road less traveled, to the south and west, on the Pacific side of the Continental Divide, so as to stop at Vail on the way. Surprisingly everything was green and lush to at least 10,000 feet. Finally we crested and followed various creeks down to the river valley. On the roadside, blue penstemons, yellow eriogonums and red ipomopsis were putting on a spectacular display. We took a few plant-spot-breaks, which yielded a wealth of found treasures. One favorite was the hillside covered in delphiniums, shimmering purple to pink in the breeze. Another had a gulch filled with salmon colored ipomopsis. Slowly we descended down rolling forested hills to see the mythic Colorado River itself. How impressive it looked after all the little creeks we traveled beside. Even the Yampa River was not as stately.

Soon after we crossed, we came upon I 70, and back into the 21st century traffic. As we were running a little late, we did no make any more stops until Vail and the Betty Ford Garden.
Betty Ford Garden welcome
The walk down to the garden was a little deceptive. We had to pass the Ford amphitheater and the meadow that tapered to the creek. Where were the alpines? Not to fear. The alpine garden was at the end, and more than I had imagined. Yet another mountain garden unique unto itself. I had been enraptured with Jardin botanique alpin du Lautaret in the French Alps, setting it as my favorite. But this garden was very special in its own way.
Entrance to the rock garden
Particularly enchanting were the troughs at the entrance, with paving looking almost choreographed, and rustic settings. With a tag to reference each region, troughs were filled with alpines from some of my favorite places. I had been looking for a reference for this area in particular.
Colorado Rocky Mountain trough
Here, finally I found Aquilegia caerulea. To my surprise Papaver kluanense is a native! From memory, I had thought of it as only Alaskan, but turns out its range extends down into New Mexico.

Alps trough

The trough dedicated to the Alps pointed out to me what a difference growing conditions make. The edelweiss grew tight and was truly nanum. This is as opposed to what grows quite lanky in my home garden.
Andean Cordillera trough
It was hard not to drool at the Andean trough. I did not see any rosulate violas, but was sure they could grow should some arrive.
Eschscholzia caespitosa
And look, someone was growing my favorite eschscholtzia, which shone in the bright mountain sun.

Rock Garden
One of the first things I noticed was my shortness of breath at this altitude - 8250 feet. The claim is, this is the highest botanical garden. The plants did not seem to mind the lack of O2 at all. It was not the snails pace at which my legs would carry me that was the bother. It took a while for my mind to focus to properly appreciate the plants!
Eriogonum ovalifolium
But I had no problem spotting old favorites. This eriogonum does grow in similar habit to ones in my garden in Goshen. Do you grow it? It's another good do-er with a long period of bloom.
Eriogonums and Penstemons
No matter what the altitude, this penstemon sparkles. And when set off by a pale flowered buckwheat, my heart rejoiced.
Androsace sarmentosa 'Chumbyi'
This androsace is another of my favorite plants grown at home. However, again I see the difference altitude can make in its form.
Clematis fremontii

the Rock Garden bun walk

along down the alpine walk
I don't know the age of most of these huge buns. But surely they are all happy doers.
Asperula bordered with Campanla
When I saw this asperula bloom in so many of the Czech gardens, I thought no one here in the US could compete. This has changed my mind.
Acantholimon trojanum
Everything seemed to grow well here. Do I keep repeating that? Just look at the size of this bun of an acantholimon. Wow.
western US Opuntia with Penstemon pinifolius backdrop

Edraianthus pumilio ?
Lilium columbianum
Shady areas held some goodies too. This lily glade was a great place to get out of the sun. Yes, at this altitude, it did not help to overheat. Forewarned, I made sure to drink plenty of water. But it seemed to me I was spending more time drinking than looking.
Lewisia tagged "Sierra"
To my surprise, lewisia were growing next to the shady path. I might note they were growing very well!
Lewisia edithae

mossy sax in the shade by the waterfall
Several water features were merging areas from one garden to another.This little waterfall was particularly suited to shade the mossy sax and primulas.
Telesonix jamesii

Dicentra peregrina ?
As if I was not already stupefied, the sight of the dicentra growing so lushly, glazed my eyeballs backward. Perhaps it is a hardier hybrid? At any rate, the visit was a brilliant success. It certainly gave me another perspective on mountain botanical gardening. So when I retire, perhaps they will accept me as a volunteer to come and weed!


I think Nicola and the gang would LOVE to have you retire there...but Denver has mild winters (hint hint)...

Popular Posts