Habitat Heroes

Outstanding Habitat Hero Public Gardens

BUTTERFLY PAVILION – DENVER, CO

The Butterfly Pavilion’s mission is to build appreciation for invertebrates while educating the public about the need for conservation of their habitats.  One of the easiest ways people can help native butterflies and other invertebrates is by fostering habitat for them in their own backyards.  Since the Butterfly Pavilion sees over 300,000 people each year, they aim to be a model for habitat gardening throughout the community.  When families or students visit, they can gain inspiration from the landscape and speak to horticultural and education staff to get ideas about simple changes they can make to their own landscapes.

Guests have commented on their appreciation of the ‘wild’ and unique layered look of the Wildlife Border and Discovery Garden at the Butterfly Pavilion because it provides a place to explore while supplying unexpected interactions with birds, butterflies, and even snakes!

One practice that makes their wildscape unique is the emphasis on collecting data and encouraging citizen science.  They conduct a beneficial insect survey in the Wildlife Border Garden throughout the growing season, train students in the Lost Ladybug Project and count butterfly species in all of the gardens and nature trails. All of this data collection helps them track which plant species and types of habitat best support native invertebrates, but more importantly, it allows guests to really observe and appreciate the plant-invertebrate interactions that go on around them every day!

CONSERVATION GARDEN PARK – WEST JORDAN, UT

Plant Select has over 70 test gardens across Colorado, Montana, Utah, Wyoming and Idaho, the one that we are featuring is Conservation Garden Park, which is an exceptional Plant Select Demonstration Garden.

With multiple years of drought, finding plants that would thrive well in the high desert was a challenge.  Using two great programs, Plant Select and Sego Supreme helped take the guesswork out of selecting water-wise plants. Plant Select’s program is formed through collaboration of Colorado State University and Denver Botanic Gardens. This program puts plants through years of testing in gardens at various altitudes and levels of drought to see how they perform. Only those plants that do well in the harsh conditions that we have in the West get the Plant Select label. Buying a plant with a Plant Select tag lets you know that it will most likely thrive in our arid western deserts.  Sego Supreme is a newer program with only a few introductions of plants with more focus on the Wasatch Front. This program primarily focuses on cultivating Utah natives for use in local landscapes. When you buy plants with both of these plant tags, you support the research that leads to hardier and more resilient plants for our arid climate in the West.

To see a list of some of Conservation Garden Park’s favorite plants and their descriptions – Click Here.

GARDENS ON SPRING CREEK – FORT COLLINS, CO

As the botanic garden of Fort Collins, the Gardens on Spring Creek’s mission is to improve the lives of people and foster environmental stewardship through horticulture.  To fulfill their mission, they have several types of gardens on site including native and xeric gardens.  They are designed to provide beauty and education for people while providing food, shelter and water for wildlife.

The Gardens on Spring Creek boasts many different styles of gardens including the Children’s Garden, Plant Select Garden, Garden of Eatin’, Wetland, Sustainable Backyard, the Community Garden and Rock Garden (pictured). Each garden is unique in form and function, highlighting the many plants that grow in northern Colorado. With such a broad range of 3,000 plus plants, they attract many types of wildlife.

GARDENERS AT CATTAIL CROSSING – PUEBLO WEST, CO

Gardeners at Cattail Crossing is located next to the Cattail Crossing Pond which is part of the water supply for the Desert Hawk Golf Course, on McCulloch and Joe Martinez.  The pond supplies a year-round water feature for people who walk the paths and for resident birds and wildlife. This successful garden provides an environment for plant, animal, and human interaction, and an appreciation of seasonal changes.

Gardeners at Cattail Crossing is a Plant Select garden and this overview from the hillside you can see some of their various gardens, including; a rock garden, lakeside garden, annual bed, southwest bed and a shade garden.
Their xeriscape demonstration garden began as a way to show the variety and potential for water-wise garden design. Part of good design, of course, is plants and pollinators benefiting each other. Shown here is Pink Muhly grass and Bellflowers planted on this dry hillside.

HYLAND PONDS OPEN SPACE – WESTMINSTER, CO

The City of Westminster has had a dedicated Open Space program since 1985. In the past 30 years the City has been able to preserve over 3,000 acres of open space. Hyland Ponds Open Space was originally property owned by Louis A. Brauch. He and his family constructed these ponds starting in 1931 to irrigate their crops and water their livestock. The City of Westminster purchased these properties in 1987, 1990 and 1995. Now this site provides shelter with mature cottonwoods, juniper, pinon and unirrigated, unmowed native grass and has many native plants: native yucca, rabbit brush, and showy milkweed to name a few.  This site attracts wildlife including coyote, fox, great blue heron, red-winged blackbird, and pelicans.

Open Space Volunteers launched two floating islands in the upper pond to improve water quality and wildlife habitat. The islands are made out of shredded recycled plastic with areas to plant. The roots of the plants grow through the layer of shredded plastic to absorb nitrogen from the water. These islands also provide safe nesting areas for waterfowl.
A common misconception is that the milkweed plant is a ‘weed’ and warrants removal. Education is key to keeping a healthy Open Space and encouraging milkweed and other native pollinator plants to spread is seen here by a few Boy Scouts planting milkweed.

SEDALIA DEMONSTRATION GARDEN – SEDALIA, CO

The Sedalia Demonstration Garden is another Plant Select garden which was one of only four recipients of the 2014 Showcase Garden Award. This garden is not meant to be pristine and manicured, but rather an extension of the Front Range prairie and pine forest.  Their mission is to: nurture and sustain all living things, and to teach our fellow humans how to do it; to teach children the importance of diversity and the delights and rewards of being in sync with nature; to seamlessly fit into our semi-arid climate by planting xeric and native plants; and to demonstrate to urban dwellers and Home Owner Associations that there is more to xeric garden than rocks and landscape fabric.  This garden serves multiple purposes – first and foremost a haven for wildlife, and their ‘hope is to nurture people emotionally just as the seed heads nurture the birds.’

Before picture – In 2001, a group of Douglas County-Colorado Master Gardeners and community gardeners started developing a landscape plan for the area around the new fire station and Historic Museum in Sedalia, CO.
After – Some plants featured on the East side are Tatarian Maple, Kintzley’s Ghost, Gaillardias and Native Honeysuckle

SOMBRERO MARSH ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION CENTER (OPERATED BY THORNE NATURE EXPERIENCE & BOULDER VALLEY SCHOOL DISTRICT) – BOULDER, CO

Founded in 1954, Thorne Nature Experience offers summer camps, outdoor-learning field trips and In-School programs, reaching over 16,000 kids per year.  Every fourth grade student in the Boulder Valley School District (BVSD) attends a day-long Field Trip Program at Thorne’s Sombrero Marsh Environmental Education Center. This center, a joint project with BVSD, has been in development since 1999.  In 2011, Thorne Nature Experience began working with Matrix Gardens to develop habitat gardens to replace the weedy non-native plants that dominated their landscape, and the gardens were installed in 2013-14.  They sum it up nicely by saying, “It has been rewarding to be part of designing and building these gardens that are intensively experienced by kids, used as outdoor education resources and provide valuable habitat for a wide variety of wildlife.”

The various microclimates have allowed them to create a corresponding range of habitat gardens – including this shady woodland garden on the north side of the main building entrance

WEST VIEW RECREATION CENTER – WESTMINSTER, CO

West View Recreation Center opened for business in 2000. The original site was proposed for 10 acres of irrigated and mowed turf. The City of Westminster was able to change the design to allow for 2.5 of those acres to be sown to native grasses to match the native areas of the neighboring Heritage at Westmoor Golf Course and Walnut Creek Open Space. The original mix was: 15% little bluestem, 15% big bluestem, 15% side-oats grama, 10% blue grama, 20% buffalo, and 25% western wheatgrass. This provides areas for growing native wildflowers and attracting pollinators. West View Recreation Center is next door to Walnut Creek Open Space, which provides a year round water source for wildlife. The areas at the recreation center are watered using the City of Westminster’s reclaimed water system. This water is managed through Cirrus system and is set to water according to evapotranspiration rates.

Before photo of the original design of one of the medians within the parking lot that included groundcover junipers, not the most sightly to say the least!
A stunning transformation of the median which now includes a plethora of regionally adapted perennials and annuals.

How you can help, right now