April Walking Tour – Shady Lane

April 2, 2021 Mario Bertelmann , Assistant Curator of Shade Gardens

It is a beautiful spring morning and you have just arrived at Denver Botanic Gardens for a relaxing stroll. The birds are singing, and the spring bulbs are blooming. The trees and shrubs are budding out, and perennials are waking up and emerging from the freshly thawed soil. As you walk through the entrance you are greeted by a natural oasis to explore. There is so much to see that you don’t know where to begin, so you start meandering down the main pathway with an overwhelming sense of wonder and excitement.  

As you continue your adventure through the Gardens you come across Shady Lane, a vast shade garden filled with blooming bulbs, perennials and crabapple (Malus) trees ready to burst with aroma and color. You find a bench in the garden to stop, rest and take it all in.  

The very first crabapple trees in the Gardens were planted in 1976 along the south side of the walkway and the collection was expanded after the completion of the greenhouses and Orangery in 2010 on the north side of the walkway. Fourteen different ideal varieties of crabapples are displayed in Shady Lane and they can be seen in full bloom from late April through mid-May with a palette of white and magenta blossoms that are incredibly aromatic. In autumn, they produce striking red fruit that attracts birds and wildlife. These trees, along with Austrian pines (Pinus nigra), provide a lush canopy that creates an ideal range of shade conditions for understory perennials and shrubs that favor low light conditions.  

Ostrich ferns (Matteuccia struthiopteris), hydrangeas, hellebores and hostas can be found growing on the south side of the garden. The north side receives partial sun exposure throughout the day and showcases plants that are well adapted to both high light intensity and low light intensity conditions including columbines (Aquilegia), tulips (Tulipa), irises, lilies (Lilium) and phlox varieties.  

The tulips, winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) and Brunnera macrophylla will begin blooming in early to mid-April. The columbines, irises and lilies will begin blooming in mid-April to early May. Some of the timing of the blooms is dependent on weather and precipitation patterns but the recent moisture has primed the garden for some impressive blooms this spring. 

If you are looking for ideas for a shaded area in your home garden, Shady Lane is an excellent place to gain inspiration and learn what plants are well suited for low light conditions of varying degrees in Colorado.  


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