GardenSmart :: EPISODES :: 2009 show28
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Show #28/1702
High Altitude Gardening


Highest Botanical Garden in North America
THEY'RE LOCATED AT 8,200 FEET IN ELEVATION, she considers this the highest botanical garden in North America, possibly the world. And, they strive to be the foremost authority on high altitude plants in the Rocky Mountain region. They're spread over 5 acres and showcase 3,000 species of plants. Vail is a well known ski resort but the gardens are also a great attraction and are open from snowmelt to snowfall. In the winter they're not open but in the summer about 100,000 visitors come through their gates.

Click here for more info

Children's Garden
The Garden, as mentioned, is 5 acres and is separated into 4 distinct sections. The Old Schoolhouse Museum, built in 1922, is the first area visited and one of the original school houses in the Vail Valley. THIS IS THE SITE OF THE CHILDREN'S GARDEN. The kids start at 8,200 feet, then have a simulated walk up to 13,000 feet, allowing them to see the different flora and fauna along the way.

Click here for more info

Mountain Perennial Garden
THEY ENTER AT THE MOUNTAIN PERENNIAL GARDEN. This part of the garden was developed to showcase plants that would grow at 8,000 + feet elevation. There were a lot of people coming into the community who didn't know what kind of plants would grow at this elevation thus this is a demonstration of tried and true perennials. One of the best reasons to have a public garden is for people to come and visit, get good ideas about what grows in the area.

Click here for more info

High Altitude Plants Have Vivid Color
Joe notices that THE PLANTS SEEM MORE VIVID IN COLOR. There are a number of reasons for that. Being high in altitude the ultraviolet light has a big impact. As well they have very cool nights so for the flowers it's like being in a florists cooler. They preserve really, really well and they last longer and hold up better than in most places.

Click here for more info

Traditional Perennials
BUT THEY ALSO HAVE SOME TRADITIONAL PERENNIALS. One of Nicola's favorites is Hieracium villosum Shaggy Hawkweed. It has hairy leaves that are typically found on plants that conserve water. Nicola likes the grasses in the garden, one of her favorites is Helictotrichon sempervirens Blue Oat Grass. The blue grey color really stands out in the garden.

Click here for more info

Saving Seeds
NICOLA GIVES US A QUICK LESSON ON SAVING SEEDS. She leaves the seed heads on the plant and doesn't cut them until they're ripe. She shows a Aquilegia caerulea Rocky Mountain Columbine. When picking the Columbine look at the seeds inside, these are still quite green which means they are not yet ripe. She will leave the seed head on the plant until the seeds turn brown or black, at that point she will know it's ripe. And they try to take the seeds just before the plant would naturally dispose of the seeds on its own. In most cases if the seeds were collected or saved when green they would not be viable. Leave them until nature says that they are ripe. But if you need to cut them, many seeds, depending on their species, will ripen on their own in a brown paper bag.

Click here for more info

Alpine Rock Garden
The next garden is the ALPINE ROCK GARDEN and a favorite of Nicola's. This garden demonstrates the life zones of the Rocky Mountains. In Colorado the mountains are divided into different zones - the Plains, the Foothills, the Montaine (which is about the same elevation as where Vail sits), the Sub-Alpine, then the Alpine, which is the area above the tree line. This garden takes one through the different life zones. The Dry Land Montaine life zone on the south south facing slopes is dramatically different from the north facing slopes.

Click here for more info

Trough Plantings
THE TROUGHS ARE A GREAT WAY TO DISPLAY THESE PLANTS. People across the country can do the same thing, and they don't need to just do this with Alpine plants. To learn how to make these troughs, click on the link below.

Make a Hypertufa Trough - Fine Gardening Article


Click here for more info

High Alpine Ranges In South Africa
Many of the plants in the next area are unusual and that's because they're mostly from the HIGH ALPINE RANGES IN SOUTH AFRICA which is in keeping with their theme of mountain ranges from around the world. They are mainly from the Drakensberg Mountains and many are new to the horticultural trade. They're testing them here, at this elevation, to see how they do. They're well established in Denver, in fact the Denver Botanic Garden has done a lot of re-introduction programs for these plants. Now Nicola and her group are seeing how they do at this elevation.

Click here for more info

Alpine Area
Nicola and Joe move up the steps. THIS AREA IS INDICATIVE OF ALPINE COUNTRY, BUT THEY ARE BACK IN THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS, the Montane life zone. Here it is dry land, with sagebrush eco systems, it's a very different feel in this part of the garden. The plants here are typical of the sagebrush areas. They have Artemisia spp., Penstemon barbatus Firecracker Penstemon. It's a real favorite with hummingbirds, they like the long, tubular red corolla. They also have Sphaeralcea coccinea Prairie Mallow, Cowboy's Delight which has a little orange flower. Castilleja coccinea (linariaefoloia) Indian paintbrush is a favorite Sagebrush. But, it's difficult to grow. Next to it is Oenothera speciosa Evening primrose which has beautiful white flowers.

Click here for more info

Trees
THE TREES HERE ARE ALSO INDICATIVE OF THE AREA. In the lower area one finds Pinus ponderosa Ponderosa Pines, then Pinus edulis Pinion Pines which are typical of the lower foothills in the Montane elevations. As one moves up in elevation and up in the garden there are higher altitude trees, like the Pinus flexilis Limber Pines, the Pinus aristata Bristlecone Pines and Abies lasiocara Subalpine Fir. They have all of the Conifers of the Rocky Mountains represented in these gardens.

Click here for more info

Vertical Rock Gardening
In the next part of THE GARDEN ROCKS ARE PLACED INTO THE SOIL VERTICALLY. This is a style of rock gardening developed in Czechoslovakia. They place rocks vertically rather than horizontally. What they've found is that the plants have a deeper root run, the plants are able to grow down between the rocks and the water flows down beside the rocks, which helps drain the soil but also gets water to the roots of the plants. The plants really like it and it's a very effective way of rock gardening. And although this is a technique that can be utilized in our gardens it also occurs naturally. In nature one sees rock formations one on top of the other, then an outside force comes in, pushes the rocks, tilts the rocks into natural anti-clines and sing-clines and that is what they have here. Some of the best landscaping techniques come from nature.

Click here for more info

The Aspen Area
Nicola and Joe reach the highest point of the garden, this is THE ASPEN AREA. It has Alpine pools and lovely granite boulders and an Aspen woodland. All of the plants in this area are native to the Aspen understory. The Aspen tree has a unique relationship to one another. Populus aspen Trees are the second largest organism, after coral reefs, in the world. They're actually all interconnected by an underground root system. If looking at a hillside when the leaves are changing in the fall one can easily tell because all Aspen groves will change color at the same time. It's quite amazing and quite beautiful.

Click here for more info

 


LINKS:

Betty Ford Alpine Gardens

Evergreen Lodge

Garden Smart Plant List



Complete transcript of the show.


In this Episode Garden Smart tours the Betty Ford Alpine Garden in Vail, Colorado. Some plants are recognizable but there are some new discoveries as well.
The Betty Ford Alpine Garden is stunning and the best time to visit is summertime. The colors are vivid, the plants beautiful. Ann Kurronen is the Executive Director and tells a little about the gardens.
THEY'RE LOCATED AT 8,200 FEET IN ELEVATION, she considers this the highest botanical garden in North America, possibly the world. And, they strive to be the foremost authority on high altitude plants in the Rocky Mountain region. They're spread over 5 acres and showcase 3,000 species of plants. Vail is a well known ski resort but the gardens are also a great attraction and are open from snowmelt to snowfall. In the winter they're not open but in the summer about 100,000 visitors come through their gates.
In 2008 they're celebrating their 20th anniversary and it also happens to be Mrs. Ford's 90th birthday. Years ago their founders approached Mrs. Ford and asked if they could name the gardens after her. President and Mrs. Ford put Vail on the map, they had a home here many years ago, for many years. They were very approachable people and Mrs. Ford said yes to the request and they've worn her name ever since. And, she has been active along the way. Years ago when she was still traveling, she would surprise the volunteers in the gardens and bring them box lunches. Everyone would be stunned to see the First Lady, she was a wonderful asset to the organization.
Top


The Garden, as mentioned, is 5 acres and is separated into 4 distinct sections. The Old Schoolhouse Museum, built in 1922, is the first area visited and one of the original school houses in the Vail Valley. THIS IS THE SITE OF THE CHILDREN'S GARDEN. The kids start at 8,200 feet, then have a simulated walk up to 13,000 feet, allowing them to see the different flora and fauna along the way. There is also the Mountain Perennial Garden, the Mountain Meditation Garden and the Alpine Rock Garden.
Nicola Ripley is the Director of Horticulture and Research. Nicola was born, raised and educated in England. She came to gardening in a round about way. Her dad was a mountain climber and hiker. He would take the family out hiking when they were children and she became interested in the environment. Later she went to the University of York for a degree in biology and ended with a Masters Degree in Ecology at the University College in North Wales. Thereafter she worked for the Nature Conservancy in England. She came to the U.S. about 20 years ago. At that time she was growing the alpine plants that were to be used in the beginnings of this garden, she worked for the nursery that was designing the gardens. After that she had her own business in environmental consulting, environmental impact reports, wetlands work but about 8 years ago she came back to the gardens to work full time. In addition to her duties as horticulturist at Betty Ford Alpine Gardens she is still doing research today.
Top


Nicola and Joe start the tour. THEY ENTER AT THE MOUNTAIN PERENNIAL GARDEN. This part of the garden was developed to showcase plants that would grow at 8,000 + feet elevation. There were a lot of people coming into the community who didn't know what kind of plants would grow at this elevation thus this is a demonstration of tried and true perennials. One of the best reasons to have a public garden is for people to come and visit, get good ideas about what grows in the area.
Top


Joe notices that THE PLANTS SEEM MORE VIVID IN COLOR. There are a number of reasons for that. Being high in altitude the ultraviolet light has a big impact. As well they have very cool nights so for the flowers it's like being in a florists cooler. They preserve really, really well and they last longer and hold up better than in most places.
Joe first notices the Ford waterfall, it's a seeping waterfall that was donated to the gardens by President and Mrs. Ford. It is very tranquil with the moss growing on the sides. This area is a series of perennial beds planted in the traditional English style to have things blooming at most times of the season with sunken pathways tying it all together. This is the most high maintenance, high impact part of the garden. As they move through the garden during the tour it transitions into areas that are more alpine and more native.
Nicola shows Joe the Xeric border. They are cognizant of the fact that gardeners in the west (and all parts of the country) need to be conserving water. Here they have a display of traditional Xeric perennials that emphasize Xeric gardening practices.
Top


BUT THEY ALSO HAVE SOME TRADITIONAL PERENNIALS. One of Nicola's favorites is Hieracium villosum Shaggy Hawkweed. It has hairy leaves that are typically found on plants that conserve water. Nicola likes the grasses in the garden, one of her favorites is Helictotrichon sempervirens Blue Oat Grass. The blue grey color really stands out in the garden.
Moving away from the perennials to a more indicative area of an alpine garden, they next visit the plants of the West European alps. These plants are representative of Switzerland and France.
Behind that are plants indicative of a Himalayan garden. All of these plants have been started from seed after being collected in the wild of the Himalayas. They buy the seeds from Himalayan collectors, then grow the plants themselves and display them in this garden.
Here they collect a lot of seeds from the garden, particularly in these two areas. They then give them to the Alpine Garden Society, the Scottish Rock Garden Society and the North American Rock Garden Society. And they get seeds back in exchange. Gardeners are always interested in collecting and saving seeds.
Top


NICOLA GIVES US A QUICK LESSON ON SAVING SEEDS. She leaves the seed heads on the plant and doesn't cut them until they're ripe. She shows a Aquilegia caerulea Rocky Mountain Columbine. When picking the Columbine look at the seeds inside, these are still quite green which means they are not yet ripe. She will leave the seed head on the plant until the seeds turn brown or black, at that point she will know it's ripe. And they try to take the seeds just before the plant would naturally dispose of the seeds on its own. In most cases if the seeds were collected or saved when green they would not be viable. Leave them until nature says that they are ripe. But if you need to cut them many seeds, depending on their species, will ripen on their own in a brown paper bag.
The next area visited is the Mountain Meditation Garden. It's designed to be a more tranquil place, it has less color that the Mountain Perennial Garden, somewhat of an Asian theme. It has a floating rock and a very quiet plant palette. It's a place for contemplation, a place to enjoy the quiet.
Top


The next garden is the ALPINE ROCK GARDEN and a favorite of Nicola's. This garden demonstrates the life zones of the Rocky Mountains. In Colorado the mountains are divided into different zones - the Plains, the Foothills, the Montaine (which is about the same elevation as where Vail sits), the Sub-Alpine, then the Alpine, which is the area above the tree line. This garden takes one through the different life zones. The Dry Land Montaine life zone on the south south facing slopes is dramatically different from the north facing slopes. That is demonstrated in this garden. Nicola shows the dry land, or the sagebrush areas of the sunny south facing slopes.
Nicola next shows Joe their trough plantings. These troughs showcase plants from different mountain ranges of the world. They have plants from the Colorado Rocky Mountains such as a small Aquilegia Biedermeier Group Dwarf Columbine which is in bloom. Penstemon debilis Parachute penstemon is a rare Colorado plant and grows on the Roan Plateau which is west of here and at the center of oil and gas development in Colorado. They are presently doing research on this plant. A plant from the Himalayas that is very unusual is Leontopodium jacotianum var. cespitosum Edelweiss and is one of the most asked-after plants in this garden. People love to see the Edelweiss. They have plants from the Andes and plants from the European Alps. And they have a very large Saxifrage collection of which they're very proud.
Top


THE TROUGHS ARE A GREAT WAY TO DISPLAY THESE PLANTS. People across the country can do the same thing, and they don't need to just do this with Alpine plants. To learn how to make these troughs, click on the link below.
Make a Hypertufa Trough - Fine Gardening Article
Top


Many of the plants in the next area are unusual and that's because they're mostly from the HIGH ALPINE RANGES IN SOUTH AFRICA which is in keeping with their theme of mountain ranges from around the world. They are mainly from the Drakensberg Mountains and many are new to the horticultural trade. They're testing them here, at this elevation, to see how they do. They're well established in Denver, in fact the Denver Botanic Garden has done a lot of re-introduction programs for these plants. Now Nicola and her group are seeing how they do at this elevation. And they're doing very well, many have come back from previous years. So although one might be able to buy these plants in Denver, 2,000 feet below here, once they're trialed here and they determine they're suitable here, then a retail customer in Vail could potentially go out and buy these plants within the next few years. Once the local nurseries become aware that these are hardy at this elevation they will then become available to the public.
Top


Nicola and Joe move up the steps. THIS AREA IS INDICATIVE OF ALPINE COUNTRY, BUT THEY ARE BACK IN THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS, the Montane life zone. Here it is dry land, with sagebrush eco systems, it's a very different feel in this part of the garden. The plants here are typical of the sagebrush areas. They have Artemisia spp., Penstemon barbatus Firecracker Penstemon. It's a real favorite with hummingbirds, they like the long, tubular red corolla. They also have Sphaeralcea coccinea Prairie Mallow, Cowboy's Delight which has a little orange flower. Castilleja coccinea (linariaefoloia) Indian paintbrush is a favorite Sagebrush. But, it's difficult to grow. Next to it is Oenothera speciosa Evening primrose which has beautiful white flowers.
Joe notices the soil here is very rocky. And that is on purpose. They use native soils on this site, it's important for a lot of these plants to have a very lean, dry soil. The plants want it well drained, if one were to add organic matter as one would normally amend a garden's soil, these plants won't like it. They'll get leggy and fall over, they don't keep their compact habit in an amended soil.
Top


THE TREES HERE ARE ALSO INDICATIVE OF THE AREA. In the lower area one finds Pinus ponderosa Ponderosa Pines, then Pinus edulis Pinion Pines which are typical of the lower foothills in the Montane elevations. As one moves up in elevation and up in the garden there are higher altitude trees, like the Pinus flexilis Limber Pines, the Pinus aristata Bristlecone Pines and Abies lasiocara Subalpine Fir. They have all of the Conifers of the Rocky Mountains represented in these gardens.
As they move to the the top of the steps, it represents the highest elevation of the garden, this is the Alpine zone. On the left hand side they have plants from the Rocky Mountains; on the other side, the international Alpine collection. They have been talking about the term Alpine but Joe wants to know the difference between an Alpine plant and a rock garden plant. The term is used very loosely. Strictly speaking an Alpine plant is any plant that grows in the natural area above timberline. A rock garden plant is any plant that's small enough to be suitable to grow in a rock garden. But the terms are used very loosely and Alpine becomes the term used for any rock garden plant. But a true Alpine plant only grows above tree line. An example is Eriogonum gracilipes Sulfur Flower.
Top


In the next part of THE GARDEN ROCKS ARE PLACED INTO THE SOIL VERTICALLY. This is a style of rock gardening developed in Czechoslovakia. They place rocks vertically rather than horizontally. What they've found is that the plants have a deeper root run, the plants are able to grow down between the rocks and the water flows down beside the rocks, which helps drain the soil but also gets water to the roots of the plants. The plants really like it and it's a very effective way of rock gardening. And although this is a technique that can be utilized in our gardens it also occurs naturally. In nature one sees rock formations one on top of the other, then an outside force comes in, pushes the rocks, tilts the rocks into natural anti-clines and sing-clines and that is what they have here. Some of the best landscaping techniques come from nature.
Top


Nicola and Joe reach the highest point of the garden, this is THE ASPEN AREA. It has Alpine pools and lovely granite boulders and an Aspen woodland. All of the plants in this area are native to the Aspen understory. The Aspen tree has a unique relationship to one another. Populus aspen Trees are the second largest organism, after coral reefs, in the world. They're actually all interconnected by an underground root system. If looking at a hillside when the leaves are changing in the fall one can easily tell because all Aspen groves will change color at the same time. It's quite amazing and quite beautiful.
Nicola has a take away message. She likes to think that what they've done in the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens is to create a sense of place, create a garden where the visitors feel like they're in Vail, Colorado. Joe has certainly gotten that feel. But if one lives in another part of the country, one doesn't need to make it look like Vail. Pay attention to plants that are happiest in your specific region. If you do that you'll have a great looking garden and a sense of place.
Well said. The Betty Ford Alpine Garden is a magical place, we enjoyed our time. Thanks to all.
Top



LINKS:

Betty Ford Alpine Gardens

Evergreen Lodge

Garden Smart Plant List

   
 
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By Stacey Hirvela, Proven Winners ColorChoice Flowering Shrubs, Photographs courtesy of Proven Winners

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