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April Walking Tour - Alpines

By Mike Kintgen, Curator of Alpine Collections

Alpines are opportunists, programed to bloom as soon as the weather warms in their native habitat--in Denver that translates into a wave of color in April. One of the last places visitors might think of taking in the spectacular show of alpines is the Mordecai Children’s Garden. This garden was built to replicate the wide array of habitats found in Colorado. The entire top of the garden (on top of the parking structure) mimics an alpine summit complete with alpines and alpine-like plants. 

Phlox grayiUpon emerging from the cave at the entrance visitors come upon a wide open vista filled with color and a pergola. Following the path to the right of the pergola brings visitors along a bed filled with bright pink Phlox longifolia ssp. brevifolia (synonym: P. grayi) and other early season color, as the path bends yet more seasonal color comes into view.

Taking the right fork where the path branches on the solid woodwalk brings visitors past bright cushions and mats such as Oxytropis multiceps. Taking the moving wooden walkway to the left at the fork will delight visitors young and young-of-heart. Where the wooden path joins the main concrete path on the west side of the garden a small crevice garden filled with various gems explodes into color. Here it is possible to see Silene acaulis, various Draba, Pulsatilla, Telesonix, Phlox bifida and Phlox kelseyi ‘Lemhi Purple’ and a wide array of choice rock garden plants all in full bloom in April. Crevice garden

Joining the main path and following its curve around to the right, take the side path that leads up Marmot Mountain. On the right as you climb, check out the largest crevice garden constructed in the Children’s Garden. This particular garden fills a choice north facing slope, a cooler and better location for growing alpines in Denver’s hot summer climate. Here are many choice alpines from the high peaks of the world’s various mountain ranges. This will be this crevice garden’s first spring and we are particularly excited to watch it come into its own. Make sure and make your way to the summits of Marmot Mountain and Pika Peak for a pika’s eye view over the alpine section.

Oxytropis multicepsWhile the Children’s Garden may seem an unusual area to cultivate alpines, we have found the excellent air circulation provided by the rooftop location and the well-draining expanded shale mix used in the beds on the green roof creates a very good environment for growing alpines.

Thankfully the gardens overall mission of showing off the Colorado life zones from the mountains to the plains and deserts allows the opportunity to create thriving alpine environments in the heart of the city. Make sure and visit the Mordecai Children’s Garden this spring. It offers not only an excellent opportunity for youth to experience Colorado’s ecosystems but also offers a spectacular garden setting for those who enjoy beautiful blossoms in a very inspiring wonderful garden setting.

Photos by Mike Kintgen