Slowly stroll through an oasis of cooling greenery, aromatic blooms, reflecting ponds, and striking statuary. The Denver Botanic Gardens (DBG) is where you can escape from the frenzy of the city and enjoy a refreshing, rejuvenating walk in nature. Even when the gardens have lots of visitors, you can still find yourself a quiet spot for reflection or to just enjoy a beautiful plant.
Established in 1951, the Denver Botanic Gardens offers the Denver citizens and visitors a beautiful oasis in the heart of this Rocky Mountain city. The DBG calls two locations home. The York Street Gardens are 24 acres of botanic beauty located in the heart of Denver where you will find the tended gardens, art exhibits, and most of the major events. The DBG is supported by a 750-acre suburban nature preserve, Chatfield Farm, where you will find unique outdoor experiences away from the city center.
As cities grow, interesting history develops, and land usage shifts out of necessity. The plot of land the York Street Gardens sits on was once a Catholic cemetery. Through the years, the city bought up the site and moved most of the bodies to their new resting place. It is estimated that there are still several hundred bodies under the gardens. As they are unearthed during reconstruction projects. they are moved to a more respectable spot. Wouldn’t having an eternal view of an ethereal bamboo forest be a beautiful place to rest, though?
York Street has five distinct gardens. Each is particularly special, so we have listed them individually below, along with additional reasons you should take time to enjoy DBG any time of year.
1. Gardens Of The West
The Gardens of the West is a collection of 18 arid gardens with plants that are indicative of Colorado’s climate. These arid-tolerant and xeriscape plants provide a softness against the harsh and hardscrabble Rocky Mountain terrain.
This collection includes fascinating gardens like the Green Roof, where more than 100 drought-tolerant plants grow on a roof. The Ornamental Grasses garden is filled with gracefully flowing ornamental and prairie grasses. The Roads Water-Smart Garden is a living experiment of bringing flowering drought-tolerant plants from around the world together and grouping them by watering requirements for a more ecologically friendly garden scape.
Growing and blooming in the Wild West requires extremely hardy plants that can withstand harsh conditions while continuing to thrive. You will certainly find a hardy plant type or two that you can add to your own garden while exploring these interesting plantings.
2. Internationally Inspired Gardens
The Internationally Inspired Gardens offer visitors a peek into gardens from Japan, China, South Africa, and the tropics. The Bill Hosokawa Bonsai Pavilion and Tea Garden house artistic Bonsai that require years of delicate pruning and care. Depending on the season, the Bonsai can be an indoor or outdoor exhibit, but either way, the tiny trees invite close inspection of the horticultural artwork. A walk through June’s Plant Asia Garden takes you through a bamboo forest where towering delicate plants bend and sway in the soft Denver breeze. These peaceful bamboo pathways wrap you in soft greenery and impart a zen-like ambiance.
3. Ornamental Gardens
The Ornamental Gardens show off plants we may have in our home gardens like irises, daylilies, roses, and other flowering plants and herbs. The highlight of the gardens is The Ellipse in Honor of Nancy Schotters anchored by Chihuly’s Colorado. The Gloria Falkenberg Herb Garden is packed with culinary and medicinal herbs, some you may grow in your own kitchen garden. Take time to explore the Orangery, a French-inspired greenhouse where you will find many tropical and citrus plants potted for your sensory enjoyment.
4. Shady Gardens
The Shady Gardens include all kinds of shade-loving plants. The Woodland Mosaic garden displays a multitude of low-light evergreens punctuated by a solarium that glows with an aged patina. Walk through Shady Lane to experience a profusion of blooms in a cooling, shaded garden setting.
5. Water Gardens
The Water Gardens are made up of only two individual gardens, but they are the most photographed gardens at DBG. The Monet Pool takes you right to the heart of Giverny where you can feel the soft sunlight of Monet’s brush strokes. The Four Towers Pool takes a bit of searching to find but is well worth the effort. The pool is fed by the waterfall towers that are instrumental in the water conservation and recirculation process. Where beauty and function meet is a picture-perfect crossroads.
6. Year-Round Events
The DBG Event Calendar is chock full of events for every interest. Listing tours, botanical classes, writing series, and the gardens showstopping classics, the calendar is a wealth of planning information. There is a neverending catalog of events at the DBG, and it is worth checking their calendar for a little pre-visit planning to ensure you don’t miss something amazing. I’ve highlighted three of their many classic events below.
Held during January, the Orchid Showcase is a riotous display of fun tri-petaled flowers proudly showing off their funky tropical colors.
Blossoms Of Light
During the December holiday season, the gardens twinkle with thousands of colored lights to delight guests and capture the imaginations of children.
Summer Concert Series
The summer concert series brings musical artists together to perform in the gorgeous outdoor setting surrounded by the garden’s beauty. The DBG offers about 15 concerts per year. This year’s schedule is starting to take shape and you can view it here.
7. Chihuly Sculpture
Central to the Ornamental Gardens in the Ellipse in Honor of Nancy Schotters is the brilliant red, yellow, and orange work of Dale Chihuly. The enormous glass sculpture, Colorado, stands as sentry near the York Street entrance. This amazing installation is breathtaking. If you have never viewed a Chihuly exhibit, this is a chance to get an up-close look at one of his signature works.
Chihuly’s glass work is mind-bendingly magical, fanciful and thought-provoking, and drenched in vibrate color. The contortion of glass and methodology of his artwork is a master class in color and form. If you ever get a chance to visit a Chihuly exhibit, grab it and enjoy.
8. Guided Tours
Any time of year you can visit the DBC is a good time to visit. Docent-led, seasonal tours show off the gardens at their best as they evolve and change with the seasonal weather. Your knowledgeable tour guide holds all the garden’s secrets, knows what is showing off its prime blooms, and can point out what is just beginning to peek through the ground with promises of things to come.
Private, customizable tours are available so you can explore the garden at your own pace with a focus on exactly what you want to see. You can arrange your own personal tour for a very reasonable rate. Click here for information about the Denver Botanic Gardens’ guided tours.
9. Butterflies At Chatfield Farms
The Butterfly House at Chatfield Farms is a seasonal habitat for hundreds of butterflies. Open to the public from Memorial Day to Labor Day, visiting a butterfly house is an adventure every nature lover should experience.
While you wander through the greenhouse setting, you are submerged in the sweet aroma of colorful flowers in bloom. Observe the butterflies as they sip the sweet nectar from the blossoms dancing delicately as they float from one to the next. You can only stare in awe of their vibrant beauty. Experience firsthand the types of plants you can keep in your own yard to attract butterflies like swallowtails, monarchs, mourning cloaks, and painted ladies.
10. The Art
Works of art are strategically placed around the gardens, enhancing the beauty of the gardens and providing central focal points.
Additionally, indoor galleries and pop-up outdoor galleries showcase renowned and up-and-coming artists from around the world. The exhibit schedule changes frequently, so there is always something new and exciting to see.
11. It’s Affordable
Parking is free -- isn’t that crazy? -- and the entrance fee is less than the cost of a movie theater ticket. Whether you visit for the opportunity to walk among the beautiful gardens or are looking for a peaceful place to write in your journal, you will love the DBG and all it has to offer.
Pro Tip: Any time of year is a good time to visit the Denver Botanic Gardens. To avoid a crush of visitors, try to go early or late on a weekday. Keep in mind, during wedding season, there is a steady stream of ceremonies and photography sessions on the weekends taking up the best photography spaces.