Denver Botanic Gardens draws in the visitors

Michael Fox

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Heath in bloom at Denver Botanic Gardens.
Heath in bloom at Denver Botanic Gardens.
Heath in bloom at Denver Botanic Gardens.

At the recent Garden Tourism Conference in Toronto, the Denver Botanic Gardens was recognized as the most-visited public garden in North America with 1.4 million visitors in 2014. It was also named one of the 10 gardens worth travelling for in North America.  I’m attending a magazine conference in Denver, so decided to check out the garden’s draw.

Denver has this fabulous mile-long 16th Street pedestrian mall with free shuttle buses. I stopped in at the tourist information office to innocently ask if Denver has a botanical garden. The woman said it was definitely worth visiting because the trees are budding and the bulbs are coming up. She also mentioned the recent news about being the most-visited garden. I asked how to get there, and she quickly mapped out how to catch a public bus ($2.25 each way) for a 15-minute ride from downtown to within two blocks of the garden.

Pasque flower (Pulsatilla vulgaris) growing in the dry soil.
Pasque flower (Pulsatilla vulgaris) growing in the dry soil.

At the tourism conference, the point was made that business travellers sometimes have a gap of a few hours in their schedule, and look for places to go out-of-doors as a break. My flight from winter in Toronto to spring in Denver had given me that break. (It’s true what they say about Denver being a friendly city – even on the bus most of the passengers, young and old, said “thank you” to the bus driver when they got off the bus.)

The 0rangery is open on one side to the spring sunshine.
The orangery is open on one side to the spring sunshine.

At the garden, I paid the admission and mentioned I was a first-time visitor, so they suggested I check out the orangery and Japanese garden, as well as the spring bulbs. There were many people simply strolling through the quiet garden in the sunshine, enjoying the 20°C afternoon.

A new structure, the Science Pyramid, opened in 2014 and includes displays that explain the climate, weather patterns and some of the botanical research of the garden staff. Colorado receives less than 15 inches (38 cm) of rain a year, so there are displays related to plants native to the mountains that can survive in high-altitude, low-precipitation gardens.

Good plant markers make it easy to appreciate what's in bloom.
Good plant markers make it easy to appreciate what’s in bloom.

I spent about 90 minutes at the garden, so including my travel on the bus, it was a very pleasant two-hour break from the business routine.

More info about Denver Botanic Gardens at

Top 10 gardens worth travelling for

At the Garden Tourism Conference, awards are presented to gardens that have distinguished themselves in the development and promotion of the garden experience as a tourism attraction. The 2015 recipients of the ‘Top 10 North American Gardens Worth Travelling For’ Garden Tourism Awards are (in alphabetical order):

  • The Butchart Gardens. Brentwood Bay, British Columbia
  • Chanticleer Garden. Wayne, Pennsylvania
  • Denver Botanic Gardens. Denver, Colorado
  • Desert Botanical Garden. Phoenix, Arizona
  • Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. Miami, Florida
  • Huntington Botanical Gardens. San Marino, California
  •  Jardin Botanico de Culiacan. Culiacan, Mexico
  • Longwood Gardens. Kennett Square, Pennsylvania
  • Montréal Botanical Garden. Montréal, Québec
  • Vallarta Botanical Gardens. Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

 The Canadian awards at the conference included recognition for Annapolis Royal and other garden destinations in Canada.

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