More Than a Walk in the Park

Photo courtesy of Gardens on Spring Creek/City of Fort Collins.
Public gardens sprinkled across Colorado are worth the visit

By Vicki Spencer

Back in the ’50s, school started after Labor Day, so August was our last chance for a family vacation. My parents often worked parks and gardens into our itinerary. Schools start earlier these days, so it may be too late for a summer vacation, but there are public parks and gardens across the state suitable for day or weekend outings. Since many are designed with kids in mind, they can have fun exploring while you gather interesting ideas for garden bed designs, plant combinations and new introductions.

For those in north-central Colorado, the Gardens on Spring Creek in Fort Collins (pictured above) and the High Plains Environmental Center in Loveland are great places to enjoy plants and nature.

Not far from downtown Fort Collins, Spring Creek offers 12 acres of botanic gardens plus a butterfly house loved by children. August is a particularly busy time at the gardens with story times and other programs for youth, classes for adults, and Saturday strolls led by a garden ambassador who can highlight what’s new or unique in the gardens.

Just to the south, Loveland’s High Plains Environment Center, which is open to the public every day, is an urban environmental park focused on the natural landscape and wildlife. Three miles of trails around two lakes allow park visitors to learn about native plants, which require less water and fertilizer than other plants, and get up close to butterflies and other pollinators, as well as migratory waterfowl and other wildlife.

Interested in southwestern Colorado? Visit Durango Botanic Gardens. Beginning modestly with a Demonstration Garden, it has expanded to other intriguing areas. The Crevice and Wind Gardens are separate rock gardens that illustrate how different natural materials create different moods. Another contrast is created by the juxtaposition of the Miniature Tree Garden’s diminutive trees and conifers with the arboretum’s larger climate-adapted trees.

Meander through the Literary Gardens for a distinctive experience in which several literary genres are interwoven with gardening traditions. Each of six sections contains an audio introduction, plant lists, “discover points” and books or poems for the genre. It’s interesting to learn about literary references to plants and how Indigenous, Hispanic and other cultures have influenced Colorado gardens.

Interested in northwestern Colorado? Don’t miss the Yampa River Botanic Park nestled in Steamboat Springs’ high-altitude valley. Although the park is only open from May through October, you still have time to visit the 6-acre property featuring Ponderosa pine, Douglas fir, Colorado blue spruce and other evergreens that thrive in the harsh, high-altitude climate.

Wandering along curvy paths, you’ll pass graceful sculptures such as the Trumpeter Swan hovering above one of many ponds and delight in the variety of several dozen themed gardens. While it’s late in the season to see trillium blooming in the Hidden Garden or the lovely hues of the Blue Garden, you can return in the spring.

When visiting Colorado’s parks and gardens, remember to take photos of your favorite ideas while collecting family memories along the way.

Gardener Vicki Spencer has an eclectic background in conservation, water, natural resources and more.