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Betty Ford Alpine Gardens

Betty Ford Alpine Gardens


Nestled in a dramatic mountain valley in Vail, Colorado, Betty Ford Alpine Gardens  are the highest botanic gardens in the world at an elevation of 8,250 feet.  Now nationally recognized, the garden receives 100,000 visitors annually.


Just twenty years old this year, the gardens are spread over five acres to include five distinct landscapes; Alpine Rock Garden, Children’s Garden, Mountain Perennial Garden, Mountain Meditation Garden and a native ‘Back to Nature’ area. Plant collection groupings are based on type of habitat, geographic origin, taxonomy and need for conservation. 


A visit to the gardens in May and early June will find the alpines at their best. Native Rocky Mountain gems such as spring beauty (Claytonia spp), alpine phlox (Phlox condensata) bloom alongside alpine poppy (Papaver kluanense) and well loved favorites such as old man of the mountains (Hymenoxys grandiflora) and sky pilot (Polemonium viscosum). In the Czech style crevice garden worldwide alpine plants such as the alpine morning glories (Convolvulus sp) , spring gentian (Gentiana verna), Edraianthus pumilio and Veronica bombycina thrive in the rare mountain air.


A deep long snow cover in winter and dry summers with cool nights provide ideal conditions for many difficult plants. Some special plants are found in the Himalayan garden with lilies such as Notholirion bulbiferum and N. macrophyllum, Nomacharis sp and Lilium duchartrei blooming with poppies (Meconsopsis sp) and a variety of primroses.


For visitors the most sought after plants are the European favorites. Huge trumpet gentian (Gentiana acaulis) mats are covered with iridescent blue flowers accentuated by the high ultra violet light at 8,000 feet. Traditional eidelweiss (Leontopodium alpinum) looms over its much prettier dwarf cousin Leontopodium nivale and Ramonda myconi  peeks out from the limestone crevices.


Later in the season, in July and August, the perennial borders are at their peak with many traditional mountain perennials enjoying the cool mountain air. A large variety of delphinium, foxglove and monkshood species thrive alongside panther lily, deep red montbretia and species peonies.


The changing of aspen leaves in mid to late September herald the end of the season but not before the fall blooming Himalayan gentians and a variety of autumn blooming crocus (Colchicum sp) have had their time.


To see for yourself visit the gardens next time you head out west. The gardens are free of charge, funded by private donations and grants. For more information visit the website at


Nicola Ripley
Director of Horticulture and Research
Betty Ford Alpine Gardens


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