"To actively protect the classical, pastoral character of Denver's City Park."
Denver Botanic Gardens in City Park
Stand at the west entrance to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science in City Park and you will not only see a stunning view of the mountains to the west, but you will see where Denver’s first Botanic Gardens was established in 1952. You will see where flower gardens, hedges, mountain canyons falling to a lily pond and also a pinetum were created for Denverites to enjoy. And you will also see that much of what was created still remains.
The dream of a botanic garden took shape in 1944 when the Colorado Forestry and Horticulture Association (CF&HA) was created. Denver landscape designer and city planner, Saco DeBoer was a pivotal member of the group and became an energetic booster of the effort to find a place and create a plan for a botanic garden for Denver. After considering many different locations, it was decided that 100 acres be set aside in City Park for the project. The President of CF&HA, John Evans, Sr., the grandson of Territorial Governor, John Evans, cinched the deal when he stood on the terrace of the museum with his wife, Gladys Cheesman Evans, in 1951 and announced that the couple would donate a master plan to be executed by Saco DeBoer.
Let’s see what Denver’s first Botanic Garden looked like, according to Saco DeBoer’s original master plan, featured above. Look below the museum staircase leading from the museum down into the park and you will see the Gates Interactive Fountain in front of you. This was an oval Water Garden for the original Botanic Garden. Today there are rose beds on either side of the fountain. The rose bed to the south is where the original rose beds lay. Beyond those beds were collections of peonies, chrysanthemums and iris. To the north of the fountain stretched beds of hollyhocks, delphiniums, Fall asters, shade plants and a section for annuals. Look beyond the flower beds to the northwest and you will see a line of lilac bushes that is part of the original Botanic Gardens design. Walk to the east to the south side of the museum and the Boettcher Plaza and you will see the original Pinetum, its pines and firs still standing tall. Look below the Pinetum to the southeast and you will see the DeBoer Canyon and Waterway that leads farther south to the now-deserted Lily Pond with its obloid seed beds and stone retaining wall in place. All these remaining features bear testament to the vision of Saco DeBoer after whom the DeBoer Canyon and Waterway are named.
Over time, it became untenable to house the Botanic Garden in a public park. The garden needed to be enclosed for security purposes. In 1958, Ruth Porter Waring donated the beautiful Waring House on the corner of 9th and York St. for the new Denver Botanic Gardens headquarters, and in 1959, the Cavalry Cemetery to the north of the house became home to the gardens themselves. City Park’s plant collections were transferred to the new Denver Botanic Gardens, becoming the spine of their plant collections.
Today we can still enjoy the original dream-come-true of Saco DeBoer and early Denver leaders in City Park. City Park Friends and Neighbors is sponsoring Color Field, an art installation at the Lily Ponds, this summer. The installation, composed of 6,000 garden stakes painted in vibrant colors and massed in the Lily Ponds’ seed beds to shimmering effect, is the conception of noted Denver artists, Sarah and Josh Palmeri. Sponsors for the project are Denver Arts and Venues, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, the Denver Zoo, Denver Parks and Recreation, the City Park Alliance and the Denver Botanic Gardens. Together, we will bring back to life this historic and now-abandoned spot, part of what remains of the precursor to the Denver Botanic Gardens! Stay tuned for progress reports and special features about this exciting happening in City Park.