Western Colorado Botanical Gardens offers array of summertime fun
By Vicki Spencer, master gardener
Growing up in Colorado, our spring and summer vacations were devoted to camping road trips. My parents introduced us to interesting landscapes from the Northern Plains, across the Mountain West to the Pacific Coast. The Arizona Petrified Forest, California’s giant sequoias, Yellowstone’s geysers, and the Dakotas’ Badlands made indelible impressions. Botanical gardens were not destinations for many families in the 1950s, but times have changed.
Today, there are hundreds of botanical gardens across the country that collect and conserve plants while providing the public with a means of enjoying diverse species. Botanical gardens are no longer restricted to major metropolitan areas but can be found in small cities and towns as well. We have at least 10 botanical gardens and arboretums in Colorado, located in diverse areas ranging from the eastern plains to the high mountains to the Western Slope.
The Western Colorado Botanical Gardens, located in Grand Junction, allows visitors the unique experience of enjoying the beauty of the Colorado River Basin and Plateau while exploring various gardens. It had a modest beginning in 1994 after the city of Grand Junction offered a long-term lease on 15 acres of land. Volunteers devoted thousands of hours to remove debris and prepare the site for construction. Thanks to their commitment, the Western Colorado Botanical Gardens now includes a tropical greenhouse and butterfly pavilion along with a cactus and succulent garden, antique rose garden, Japanese garden, the Children’s Secret Garden, the Western Heritage Garden and a gift shop.
Since the outside gardens are connected to the Colorado River trails system, plan on visiting for a few hours to allow time to explore both the botanical gardens and the Colorado River’s natural habitat. You will enjoy the stark contrast of a tropical greenhouse featuring Pacific coastal plants, koi ponds and whimsical structures with the trees, shrubs, willows and grasses that grow along the riparian zone. Wandering through the butterfly pavilion is always a thrill, especially if you discover different butterfly species and catch them in their various stages of development.
Although many organizations had to cancel events due to COVID-19 restrictions over the past two years, the Western Colorado Botanical Gardens has remained open for private events. It’s a lovely site for weddings and special occasions.
This year, the Gardens is holding a Summer Concert Series that includes the Boys of Summer on July 22 and Peach Street Revival on August 26. All concerts are from 6–10 p.m. Purchase tickets in advance or at the gate.
If you are looking for a fun activity in the fall, put the annual Harvest Illumination Festival on your October calendar. The display of pumpkins and lights is spectacular and shouldn’t be missed.
Currently, the Western Colorado Botanical Gardens are open Tuesday through Friday, 8 a.m.–4 p.m. by appointment. This requirement may change, so it’s a good idea to check its website, wcbotanic.org, or call 970-245-9030 for up-to-date information.
Gardener Vicki Spencer has an eclectic background in conservation, water, natural resources and more.