The Denver Botanic Garden gets better every time I visit.
There are new buildings, like the Science Pyramid pictured above, at the end of a marvelous walk and water feature called the El Pomar Waterway.
There are new gardens like the Steppe Garden honoring the steppe biome and landscapes across the world with climates and plant communities similar to Denver’s semi-arid region.
Love these stone planters in the Steppe garden – self contained rock gardens.
And the existing gardens only get better as they mature and respond to the impeccable maintenance by the Gardens’ horticulturists.
When, years ago, I first saw the Roads Water-Smart Garden, a long border of drought tolerant plants, I wondered quietly to myself if any but the most knowledgeable gardener would appreciate the beauty of these tough plants.
But now that they have matured, backed by the tall mixed conifer hedge, this collection showcases a variety of shapes and colors equal to the most sophisticated mixed borders. And within the border we find unexpected beauties surprisingly well adapted to ornamental horticulture.
As the Roads Water-Smart Garden has matured, the O’Fallon Perennial Walk continues to illustrate why it is a model of a mixed perennial border. Even in autumn when the asters come into their own the border is stunning.
I fell in love with this Calico Aster (Symphyotrichum lateriflorum) named ‘Lady in Black’ seen in the middle of the border in the photo above. Those of you who have followed along on my Find the Photo lessons will see the picture within the picture.
But I photographed her from every angle. Another lesson of garden photography I have learned: when conditions are right don’t move away too quickly from a beautiful scene. Work it.
Looking back the other way, see how wonderfully she pairs with the Red Bistort, Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘Firetail’:
It is rather remarkable that the classic design concept of a mixed perennial border, combining different colors and shapes so that they complement each other, can be so well executed with two vastly different collection of plants.
The Roads Water-Smart Garden and the O’Fallon Perennial Walk could not have a more different plant palette, but the border design, backed with conifer hedges, is nearly identical.
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My favorite parts of the Denver Botanic Garden are the grasses that are used throughout the entire Garden. They tie together the varied sections while evoking the native landscape beyond the city limits, the short grass prairie.
Indeed, the Porter Plains Garden is largely composed of native plants and grasses, with the majority of seed collected within 30 miles of Denver.
This prairie garden is a sophisticated and subtle combination of plants that, to my mind, look their best in autumn. Grasses have flowered, their leaves are showing fall colors, weaving together the earth tones of fall foliage with late season sunflowers, asters, and goldenrod.
And speaking of Goldenrod they are spectacular in autumn, and it just so happened that the Painted Lady butterfly migration was at its peak, a marriage made in heaven.
The grasses at Denver Botanic Garden are certainly not confined to the natives in the prairie garden, in fact they have their own Ornamental Grasses Garden. I have spent hours in this Garden over the years.
I fondly remember working on my techniques on backlighting for hours with the grasses in this garden in 2009, here finding a specimen of Panicum virgatum ‘Dallas’Blues’ that I could isolate against the shadows beyond the ornamental grass garden.
Grasses have a marvelous way of looking great with any number of different types of plants so that even the most naturalistic pairings look ornamental. Here is a Tree Chola cactus (Cylindropuntia imbricate) looking ever so comfortable in a bed of Blue Grama grass (Bouteloua gracilis) in Drylands Mesa garden.
One of the most exciting things to happen at Denver Botanic Garden since my last visit is the development of a second site, at Chatfield, a working farm and environmental center about 30 minutes from downtown.
In autumn at Chatfield the corn maze is a huge attraction for families, but I spent all my time photographing the extensive native plant meadow gardens designed by Lauren Springer Ogden surrounding the visitor center.
Also at Chatfield the staff are able to display choice plants well adapted to local gardens, such as this ‘Fireworks’ Goldenrod (Solidago rugosa).