In September, planting finally began at the Rocky Mountain Botanic Gardens (RMBG), a new outdoor space in Lyons dedicated to native plants. At this exciting moment for the garden, we’d like to share the story of how the long-held dream of Garden’s Director Garima Fairfax, became a reality, with the help of many from our community.
The idea first came in 2006 – botanical gardens are wonderful, and there wasn’t a single botanical garden in Boulder County. Lyons is such a spectacular location, with the two branches of the St. Vrain River tumbling down from the mountains to meet the grassland. It was a perfect spot, at the convergence of ecosystems, for a native plant botanic garden. So, gathering a few botanist and gardener friends who wanted to help, we, the gardening group, set out to make a garden.
The garden is focused on plants native to Colorado with two goals in mind: For gardeners, we wanted to show off how beautiful local plants, adapted to our soil and climate, could be, in order to encourage their planting. We also wanted this garden to serve as a place for those who enjoy being out on the trails to learn more about the plants around them. To capture the variety of Colorado flora, the garden is designed in five sections, each hosting plants from a different ecological zone:
Foothills ~ the landscape that surrounds Lyons, with ponderosa pines, junipers, shrubs, and wildflowers
Prairie Grassland ~ representing the plains to the east, with yuccas, prairie flowers, and grasses
Riparian ~ featuring plants that grow along rivers and lakes in Colorado, such as cottonwoods, willows, and chokecherries
Montane ~ plants that grow up above 8,000 feet, a conifer forest with wildflowers
Southwest ~ plants from west of the Rockies and southern Colorado, including cacti, sagebrush, and unique flowers
Over many years, with the help of three mayors, we searched for a suitable piece of land for the garden, in or around Lyons. Then the flood came along in 2013. The Foothills Mobile Home Park, tucked along the South St. Vrain River, near Bohn Park, was sadly destroyed in the flood. The land it stood on became Town of Lyons property as a deed-restricted buyout, purchased with flood recovery funding under an agreement that the land would remain undeveloped, due to its flood-prone location. We submitted a proposal for our new use for the site; and finally received permission to plant our botanic garden there, in December 2018.
Despite the season, our all-volunteer garden crew started work right away, gathering a few mornings a week to weed and prepare the soil. We also built a shed, a patio, a fence, and more than 800 feet of ADA-accessible pathways. Often while working, signs of the homes that used to be on this piece of land popped up: a blooming tulip, a giant pipe, a speck of pottery.
After a year and a half of preparation, our first day of planting was June 23, 2020. With lots of fun as well as careful social distancing and masks, 12 volunteers planted 284 plants from 18 species native to the Great Plains in our Prairie Grasslands garden. This first round of plants included the attractive local grass Blue Grama, Wild Blue Flax with its delicate flowers, and Sand Cherry shrubs, which will flower come spring. We are watering the young transplants while they settle in, but most of these species can handle our fluctuating Colorado weather and will need little water once established.
Like at any good official botanical garden, the plants have signs with common names, botanical Latin names, and plant family names. Each sign is a little educational springboard for visitors to dive into learning about another species.
We’ve continued adding more plant diversity to the gardens throughout the summer, and we will keep planting next year until the garden is packed full of foliage, blossoms, color, and life. As the plants grow, we hope to attract an abundance of local birds and pollinators, as well as bird-watchers and artists.
The garden is not yet open to the public, following Town of Lyons pandemic precautions for the parks. We very much look forward to opening and sharing this beautiful spot with the wider community. When that happens, we’ll ask that bikes and dogs remain outside the garden fence and that visitors remain on paths for the well being of plants and soil. We hope everyone will enjoy spending time among the plants and meandering paths.
The volunteers of Rocky Mountain Botanic Gardens have also created the Lyons Walking Arboretum, a self-guided walk around Lyons visiting forty trees, each a different kind. (See our Letter to the Editor, with a list of the dozens of volunteers we wish to thank.)
Usually, the RMBG holds a plant sale in May, an always-popular spring event in Lyons with the dual purpose of raising money for the garden and making garden-friendly native plants readily available to local residents. This year, due to the pandemic shutdown, we skipped it, but we hope to be back next spring. Donations are welcome, and can be sent to Rocky Mountain Botanic Gardens, PO Box 613, Lyons, CO 80540.