There’s something familiar about the wild.
In Gunnison, where I grew up, there are more fields than parking lots. Cows outnumber people, grazing along highways and wandering through mountain roads. You can get lost in the stars almost every night, if you remember to look up.
When I moved to the city for college, I found it difficult to truly find a place where I could escape. It felt impossible, with herds of people finding their place in an urban, very concrete, habitat.
That is, until I found the Denver Botanic Gardens. It happened poetically—literally—since I won a haiku competition in my creative writing class. My professor, the brilliant poet Eliot K. Wilson, handed over two tickets to the Gardens as a prize.
During my initial visit, the Gardens had a Chihuly exhibit. They became a whimsical playground for this world-famous glass sculptor, and blew me away. I spent hours wandering through the different courtyards with my parents, jotting down notes and feeling ready to create, admiring the colorful stimulation. To this day, Dale Chihuly remains one of my all time favorite artists, and I feel so fortunate to have seen his work in person, against a beautiful botanic backdrop.
And, perhaps more importantly, I found a spot, in urban Denver, where I could feel a true connection to nature. It’s what I had been missing since leaving home, and made the city seem just a little more compassionate. Accessible. Honest.
In mid-November this year, I returned to the Denver Botanic Gardens once again, this time with a husband and pair of good friends by my side.
During this visit, I was able to focus on the botanic side of the estate, and connect with all of the beautiful landscapes and greenery that made it through the seasonally low temperatures.
Though garden flowers and grasses blossom and bloom in the spring and carry their color through the summer, I have an extra admiration for the chilly tone change of winter. In Gunnison, where I felt the most connected to the land and its bounty, I was surrounded by sage—rough, rugged, and dry. Our yard was patchy and thirsty, yet somehow quietly alive. There’s an air of survival and inherent toughness. Mother nature, in all her glory, continues to live and thrive. The Gardens, even in November, echo this sentiment.
We enjoyed a less crowded walk through several greenhouses and landscapes. I loved Asian-inspired walkways, modern architecture, and grand-scale designs. Signs listed out species names, and I was happy to see everything from Colorado Blue Spruce to succulents to a fragrant thyme, and nearly every greenish thing in between.
Highlights included an interactive and informational Science Pyramid (filled with exhibits and educational activities and kind, helpful staff), Japanese tea houses and structures, labyrinth-like paths that take guests off the cemented sidewalk, and of course, the single Chihuly piece that remains as a permanent structure in the Gardens.
Moments before my husband and I posed for a photo, we heard a plop. His sunglasses had dropped from his head into the pond below us. They never even bobbled at the surface; they were swallowed whole by the still water. We giggled over his $10 loss and the clumsiness of it all, while admiring the pond’s fierce energy. Here, nature rules.
The Denver Botanic Gardens can be described in a number of ways. It’s a family-friendly attraction, a gorgeous collection of biological diversity, a botanist’s dream. There’s a little something for everyone; those who love science can geek out, while spiritual beings can connect to the energy pumping through each vine.
And for those like me, that wish for a reprieve from the city’s madness, the Gardens offer a hideaway, in plain sight.
Members – Free
Adults – $12.50
Seniors – $9.50
Students – $9
Children – $9
Children ages 2 and under – Free
Hours: 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. weekends, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. weekdays
Remember: Parking is free. There are two entrances: one on York Street, and the other on Josephine (both one-ways). There is also an on-site café and gift shop, and plenty of restrooms.