Denver’s Prettiest Public Gardens
By Monica Parpal-Stockbridge
Summer in Denver brings no shortage of fun activities. From 5k foot races to music festivals to craft brewery patio sessions, this time of year is a great time to visit Denver if you enjoy being outdoors.
One of the nicest ways to enjoy a summer day is to stroll through one of Denver’s beautiful public gardens. Despite the short growing season and dry heat, horticulturalists in the Mile High City have unlocked the secret to growing plants that love it here as much as we do. Here are a few of the prettiest public gardens in Denver (and beyond).
Denver Botanic Gardens
The Denver Botanic Gardens has been a local’s and tourist’s flower-forward delight since 1951. This 24-acre destination on York Street in Congress Park makes the perfect urban escape, featuring gardens, sculptures, outdoor concerts and more.
While there are plants and flowers from all over the world, much of this garden features plants that flourish in high altitudes and dry climates. In fact, there are 18 different arid gardens within the Denver Botanic Gardens that showcase and educate about plants that thrive in Colorado, such as low-water flowers, ornamental grasses and cacti. For a memorable evening on the green lawn surrounded by blossoms and butterflies, don’t miss the York Street summer concert series running through August 25.
The Denver Botanic Gardens’ sister location, Chatfield Farms, occupies 700 acres in southern Jefferson County. If you have time, consider making a special trip to explore this native plant refuge and working farm — complete with lavender garden, butterfly habitat and CSA program. www.botanicgardens.org/
The Hudson Gardens & Event Center
This community garden destination on the south side of Denver makes a fabulous day trip for nature lovers and flower aficionados. Open to the public since 1996, Hudson Gardens features 30 acres of gardens, trails and event spaces. Guests can take advantage of free daily admission all year long to enjoy the nature trails, apiary, public art exhibits and more. Just stop by the Welcome Center and grab a map before beginning your self-guided tour. Be sure to check out the picturesque wooden bridges and lily pads at Monet’s Place, then stroll over to the Rose Garden, where a variety of roses attract flower enthusiasts and intimate wedding celebrations all summer long.
Hudson Gardens’ summer concert series extends through August 25, with a variety of musical artists and space for more than 3,000 on the expansive lawn. And for craft beer drinkers, the Brews & Views beer festival on Saturday, August 31 brings Colorado craft beers, food trucks and local vendors together among the vibrant foliage and open space. www.hudsongardens.org
Perhaps one of the most popular parks in the city, Denver’s Washington Park (aka “Wash Park”) is a hub of activity, community and natural beauty. Spanning 155 acres in the heart of Denver, this park includes two formally designed flower gardens which are planted in June each year for public enjoyment throughout the summer.
One of the gardens at Wash Park is known as Mount Vernon Garden and was originally designed in 1926 as a replica of the first U.S. President’s own garden. A larger garden, known simply as the Big Garden, lies just to the north. A dedicated horticulturist works on each garden, selecting a mix of perennials and annuals from a central greenhouse, which grows everything from seed. As the plants begin to bloom throughout the summer, guests might see geraniums, daisies, zinnias, liatris, hibiscus and even artichokes, which produce vibrant purple blooms. www.denvergov.org
If you’re planning a trip to Vail this summer, make a stop at Betty Ford Alpine Gardens. At 8,150 feet in altitude, these are the highest- altitude botanic gardens in the country. Betty Ford Alpine Gardens’ curated displays of alpine plants, native wildflowers and colorful mountain perennials offer plenty to see and learn about in this high-country oasis. Visit at 10:30 a.m. on Mondays, Thursdays or Saturdays through August 31 to take advantage of $10 public tours (no advance registration necessary). Summer hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Starting on June 28, the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens Education Center will feature an exhibit called Exposed: The Secret Life of Roots — the U.S. Botanic Gardens’ most popular exhibit from 2015. Opening on June 28, this exhibit will showcase the importance of healthy roots, with real 20-foot perennial roots hanging from the ceiling, accompanied by programming that addresses sustainable agriculture. This donation-based exhibit will last until November 2. www.bettyfordalpinegardens.org