December Walking Tour – Winter Interest

December 5, 2022 Jennifer Miller , Horticulture Coordinator

In winter, Denver Botanic Gardens connects us to the wild in a way that no other season can. Stripped of the froth and finery of summer, it feels more rugged and spontaneous, as if some things are just the way they happen naturally. Our imagination becomes freer to believe the dead tree trunk angled through a grove in Gates Montane Garden or the waterfall tumbling nearby into a pond are unplanned, and we are drawn to the very things we seek out in the wild – contemplative places and expansive views.

Come with me on a snowy day as we wander side paths and explore the nooks and crannies of the Gardens in search of a cultivated wild. I’ll share some of my favorite vignettes and features that on a quiet winter day may just transport you to an untamed faraway place.

  • The stonework in the Steppe Garden is home to treasures and one of my favorites is a trickling fountain sandwiched between two big slabs of buff rock. Crouch down at the opening and imagine you’re as tiny as a Lilliputian then take in the grandeur of this pint-sized chasm. 
  • In Dryland Mesa, just before the main path curves north toward Monet Pool, you’ll find a side path that leads up rustic steps through an outcrop of boulders. Hunker down at the bottom and look up toward a weathered Utah juniper (Juniperus osteosperma) and you could be deep in the Rockies on a hike.
  • Walk the southernmost path in the Rock Alpine Garden and look down a meandering brook across a rugged vista of boulders, shrubs and trees. On a cool winter’s day, you can almost taste mountain air. Of course, one reason we love vistas is that they exceed our expectations and even though this one is small, it’s exhilarating.
  • Trees are what give the Gardens its sense of grandeur and in winter the evergreens anchor us most in nature. Stand at the base of the giant yellow cypress (Chamaecyparis nootkatensis ‘Pendula’) in the southwest corner of the Rock Alpine Garden and look up. Its upcurved branches draping down with green foliage feel as if they command the sky.
  • According to scientific theorists, humans are soothed by fractal patterns in nature, those that repeat at different scales, and now is the time when these patterns pop at the Gardens. Evergreen succulents and subshrubs stand out against a neutral palette of spent perennials – from large spiraling rosettes of Adam’s needle (Yucca) in Roads Water-Smart Garden to the geometric wonder, prickly thrift (Acantholimon), in the Steppe Garden – nature’s little geodesic dome.
  • In the wild, hikers often talk of feeling recharged by wind blowing around them and through the landscape, and in the Ornamental Grasses Garden, a similar feeling can be had. The grasses here are almost always in perpetual motion. The tiniest waft of air can send the delicate seed clouds of sand love grass (Eragrostis trichodes) quivering or the wands of silver grass (Miscanthus) swaying as gently as feathers.

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