Friday morning when I arrived at the Denver Botanic Gardens the school children hadn’t arrived so there was an air of peace over the gardens. Because the sun hadn’t broken through the clouds, the morning wore an unwelcome chill, so my first stop was the Boettcher Conservatory with its perfect warm humidity. Diving into this atmosphere is always a welcome respite from our arid climate and I can feel my cells plumping up, heaving a sigh of relief like someone who has just gorged themselves at a holiday dinner and must unbutton their pants. The conservatory was resplendent with airy yellow orchids, scarlet ginger, and towering vine covered trees. A water feature runs through the rain forest and an undernote to the necessary heating system is a cheery peep of frogs and crickets. The only things missing were flocks of butterflies.
The gardens are actually a group of many gardens: formal rose plantings, alpine plants, native plants, Victorian cottage style, le potager, Japanese, wildflowers, and–my favorite–lilacs. It’s easy to get lost in the gardens and I recommend setting off on the paths and seeing where your eye, your nose, and your sixth sense takes you before consulting the detailed map. If you garden or are just fond of horticulture and like learning about native plants, the Denver Botanic Gardens are a must as you tour Denver. It’s also a great activity for families with the Mordecai Children’s Garden across the street from the main facility and family backpacks with activities and games for kids and adults available at the information desk. The gardens are centrally located in the middle of the historic Congress Park neighborhood. During the summer the gardens are open from 9am-8pm with a wealth of special events described here I try to see the gardens once a year and every time I visit, I discover something new.
The gardens have served different purposes for me over the years. Once upon a time, we would take our young children where they could roam, run, and explore the woodland paths; inventing fanciful games of hide and seek or pretending to be lost in a forest. Ms. A and I walked behind our boys, carrying on a perpetually interrupted conversation as our sons skipped, hopped, and implored us to “come and lookit!” A few years ago, the gardens served as inspiration for me as I gathered ideas for my own landscape “remodel”. The gardens have also served as a respite for me, finding an intrinsic peace I always manage to find when surrounded by art and nature.
My visit last Friday was one of quiet and melancholic contemplation. Two short months ago I had begun a fruitless vigil at my father’s bedside. Grief means it’s ok to cry when you need to. I’m not sure why the lilac garden triggered an overwhelming grief but it did. I found myself grieving other things, too. The lilacs filled me with a tremendous homesickness for my Oldest Friend because each of the giant shrubs (the size of small trees) would have been the perfect places for our ten year old selves to hide and create our own worlds. The only thing missing in the lilac garden was a bench. I was surprised because there were many other places with well-placed benches which offered spots of respite overlooking water or groves of trees.
My morning in the gardens passed quickly and by lunchtime the paths were filled with school children racing around identifying plants, homeschooled learning about pollination; artists constructing bamboo sculpture for the Kizuna show; and middle-aged matrons with romantic notions like me. It was a peaceful way to spend the morning after an incredibly busy and stressful week. Eeyore was right: no one can be uncheered by a garden.