Habitat Hero

Habitat Hero Awards: Public Gardens

Gardens for inspiration in winter.

Monarch Spur Park, adjacent to Monarch Spur Trail, in winter

When an early arctic cold wave puts your garden to sleep, and it's not yet time for seed and plant catalogs to send you dreaming of spring, what can you do to get inspired?

One way is to visit Habitat-Hero-Award-winning public gardens to look at their winter "architecture." Study the design of their habitat garden areas, notice the layers and structure, see what natural food is available, and look for lists of what plants they use for ideas for your own habitat gardens.

Tip: Use your smart phone as a garden idea assistant. Snap photos of plants and signs, and also record notes and thoughts as voice memos. If you use a program like Evernote, you can record your voice notes within the program, and store them with your photos in a virtual garden ideas notebook. (Or you can use a real notebook, and make sketches and take notes by hand. Either way works!)

DBG@ Chatfield

The moist meadow in August with the Chatfield cupola. Photo: Lauren Springer Ogden

Even after only two full growing seasons since it was planted in 2012, this naturalistic prairie/foothills/mountain habitat garden is a stunner. Designed by Lauren and Scott Ogden, the Visitor Center gardens at Denver Botanic Garden at Chafield, our Outstanding Public Garden for 2014, incorporate more than 10,000 plants, most native to the intermountain West. One genius of the Ogden's design is that even though each individual plant was placed by hand, the gardens look like they just grew that way.

A close-up view of the rain garden/ moist meadow in summer. Photo: Lauren Springer Ogden

Sure, the gardens are DBG@ Chatfield are likely a lot bigger than your garden, and the designers had DBG's Mike Bone to grow species not available to the public. Still, there are plenty of ideas here for smaller gardens, and then there's the sheer beauty of the place to inspire you.

If You Go

DBG@Chatfield is located at 8500 W. Deer Creek Canyon Road, Littleton, CO, just off route C-470. It is open 9-5 daily except major holidays. If you don’t belong to Denver Botanic Gardens, admission fee is $5 per car.

Highlands Garden Village, Denver

Diagonal Walk at Highlands Garden Village in summer

The formal Diagonal Walk at the busy urban corner 38th and Tennyson in northeast Denver harks back to the original entrance to Elitch's Gardens, a historic amusement park that was also Denver's first botanical garden, opening in 1890. In 1995, the amusement park relocated to nearer downtown Denver, leaving the 27-acre site ripe for infill development.

Entrance to the Diagonal Walk at Highlands Garden Village

Now a public garden maintained by an organized group of volunteers, the Diagonal Walk and adjacent Plant Select garden are landscaped not with the high-water and high-maintenance exotics of yore; they feature hardy perennial shrubs, grasses and flowers that provide color and inspiration in season and year-round habitat for urban wildlife from native bees, butterflies and hummingbirds to the foxes and even the occasional coyote.

If You Go

The Diagonal Walk and Plant Select garden are visible from 38th and Tennyson; parking is available off 38th at Utica St, one block west of Tennyson. The gardens are free and open every day. The cupola building once sheltered Elitch's famed carousel and organ; both are still in use in Burlington, in far eastern Colorado.

If you see the Highlands Garden Village volunteers working in the gardens, stop and say Thank you!

Horticultural Arts Society, Colorado Springs, CO

Heritage Garden in late summer

Tucked into the City-owned Monument Valley Park system just north of downtown Colorado Springs are three demonstration gardens maintained by the 52-year-old Horticultural Art Society, an organization of amateur horticulturists. Over the decades, the gardens have evolved from a more eastern design vision to a reflection of the West, with native and regionally adapted perennial flowers and shrubs flourishing under a graceful canopy of tall Blue Spruces, American Elms, Plains Cottonwoods, and Douglas-fir trees.

If You Go

All three Horticultural Art Society gardens are free and open to the public as part of the Monument Valley Park system. The Heritage Garden is at 1117 Glen Avenue; the Demonstration Gardens is at 222 Mesa Road (a block and a half south of the Heritage Garden, and the Pinetum is across the Monument Creek.

Richardson Wildscape Corridor, Aurora, CO

Richardson Wildscape Corridor, Aurora, CO

Take one enthusiastic member of Audubon Rockies, add an unused 100 yard long by five- to ten-yard-wide strip of Aurora Water land next to a seasonal urban drainage way, and what do you get? A wildscape corridor Richardson landscaped on his own to provide food and habitat for pollinators, especially native bees and honeybees, right in the midst of suburban Aurora.


If You Go

The Wildscape Corridor is across the street from Apache Mesa Park, at E. 7th Place and Laredo in Aurora, CO. (Look for the wooden bench that says "Ponder Here." It is open to the public and free.

Monarch Spur Trail, Salida, CO

A former railroad right-of-way becomes a popular trail and now, a wildlife corridor.

Faced with invasive weed and fire-control issues along a popular and heavily used 2.5-mile-long city-owned public trail, the City of Salida and its partners turned the challenges into an opportunity to restore the former railroad right-of-way to productive wildlife habitat, while providing education opportunities for local 6th graders and forming a coalition of city, county, non-profit organizations and ordinary citizens to support and maintain the trail system.

Youth Conservation Corps members planting an in-town habitat island along the trail.

If You Go

Monarch Spur Trail runs from the Coors Boat Ramp in downtown Salida, CO, to near US Highway 50. Access is free, and it is open every day of the year. Monarch Spur Park, a public Plant Select® garden, is located where the trail crosses Third Street.

Join Audubon RockiesPlant Select® and High Country Gardens in promoting wildscaping. Be a Habitat Hero.

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