May Walking Tour – Iris Collection

May 5, 2023 Shea Elstein , Horticulturist at Chatfield Farms

As you enter Denver Botanic Gardens Chatfield Farms you will first walk into the Lavender Garden. In early May, tufts of thick green fans will greet you along the fence borders. There are only a few irises waking up at this time, just enough to whet your appetite for the true sensory experience to come.

  • Make your way toward the historical iris collection by heading down the path along the western fence line. You will see pops of yellows, teals and purples as you pass through. When you reach the end of the fence, continue straight across the paved road (look out for vehicles!) and you will find yourself in the Iris Garden.
  • If you happen to be visiting during peak bloom (typically mid-May through the first week of June), take a few moments to walk down the small walkways between each iris bed and allow the irises to inundate your senses with vibrant displays of color and scents. Which irises are the most colorful? Which has a sweeter scent? 
  • All the irises in the collection are “bearded iris,” named for the small furry caterpillar-like form sitting at the base of each of the three lower petals (known as the “falls”). Take a closer look at the iris nearest you. Can you see the beard?
  • Walk straight down the main path to the bed nearest to the large cottonwood tree. Take note of the dates on each plant label. Many of the iris in the collection are hybrids bred for color, scent or size. This bed contains some of the oldest varieties in the collection, some originally hybridized as early as the 1600s. What is the oldest variety you can find?

If you are visiting early in May, be sure to come back and treat yourself to the Iris Garden when in full bloom. If you are a bit early to catch the iris collection at its best, fear not! There is plenty of beauty around you.

From the cottonwood tree, follow the small gravel pathway that leads up a gentle slope north of the Iris Garden. Here you will see two gardens cultivated by Assistant Manager of Horticulture Grace Johnson. 

  • At the base of the path sits a newly installed Cactus Collection. This garden is unirrigated and demonstrates a variety of colors and textures that thrive in our arid climate. Pay close attention to the large sandstone boulders. These large boulders add protection and capture heat for some of the more delicate cacti during harsher weather events. 
  • As you continue up the hill into the Plant Select® Garden, your eyes will immediately catch the tall white spheres of Allium ‘White Giant’. Continue to roam through the winding path and find other pops of white. Bright crimson waves of Delosperma ‘PWWG02S’ (RED MOUNTAIN® Flame ice plant) will grab your attention and the large teal leaves of sea kale (Crambe maritima) add striking structural elements to the display. All the plants in the Plant Select Garden have been trialed for several seasons before being accepted into the Plant Select program. Take note of the unique plants and cultivars here. Which would look the best in your garden?

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