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Rock Alpine Garden
By Mike Kintgen, Senior Horticulturist
Nothing beats spring in the Rock Alpine Garden. Programmed to flower during a short favorable season, many rock garden and alpine plants bloom in March, April and May in Denver. A plethora of Draba, Saxifraga, Primula, Phlox, and species bulbs rush to flower before the heat of summer arrives.
Starting at the east entrance of the Rock Alpine Garden, take in the crevice garden to your right filled with western phloxes, Lesquerella (bladder pods) and other dryland plants that paint exposed buttes and rock outcrops with color throughout the west each spring. Take time to stop and admire the troughs on the left side of the path with Primula and Saxifraga native to rock outcrops in the high Alps. Continuing down the main path into the Rock Alpine Garden proper, a multitude of Muscari (grape hyacinth), Phlox, Pulsatilla (pasque flowers) and assorted mustards (Alyssum) paint the scene blue, pink, purple, white and yellow. In the Upper Meadow to the right of the paved path, species tulips may be blooming in yellows and orangey reds. These are the wild relatives of cultivated tulips native to the steppes and high mountains of Eurasia.
To the west of the meadows another crevice garden holds more moisture-loving plants than the one at the entrance. Here Aethionema, Erysimum, Draba, Veronica, and Primula are some of the first flowers of the season; later an ever-changing array of other rock garden plants bloom in the crevices as the month progresses.
Taking the path along the lower section of the meadow along the stream brings one past the North ledge full of Erica (heather) and Pulsatilla and perhaps even the fuzzy flowers of several low growing willows (Salix). Turning right at the North Ledge and heading toward the large white fir, a small crevice garden becomes apparent. Toward the end of the month and into May this garden is ablaze with color from a wide variety of Primula and Saxifraga, This comparatively small vignette is one of my favorites in the entire garden.
Spring is truly a special time in the Rock Alpine Garden, however in reality it is a year-round garden that is beautiful and ever-changing throughout the entire year.