Spring colors pop at Betty Ford Alpine Gardens’ Alpine House in Vail | VailDaily.com

Spring colors pop at Betty Ford Alpine Gardens’ Alpine House in Vail

If you go …

What: Alpine House.

When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays.

Where: Betty Ford Alpine Gardens Education Center, Ford Park, 522 South Frontage Road, Vail.

Cost: Free.

More information: Visit bettyfordalpinegardens.org.

High above treeline in alpine climates, barren rock and jagged peaks dominate the landscape. Yet, if given a closer inspection, a vast ecosystem grows in the unforgiving environment.

Luckily, thanks to the Alpine House at the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens in Vail, people can step into that ecosystem without having to trek for it.

The Alpine House, which is attached to the Education Center at the gardens, was built in 2015, and according to Nick Courtens, senior horticulturist, it’s one of the first of its kind in North America, due to its construction and purpose.

“The ability to grow these alpine (plants) in here, which is in a more controlled environment than outside, is we can adjust things,” Courtens said.

The building houses plants from mountainous regions around the world, and it’s kept cold in winter, which makes it different from a conservatory or other gardens. This helps keep a more natural habitat for plants that succeed in cold weather.

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In February, when the sun starts getting more intense, things start to bloom in the Alpine House. Well before outdoor wildflowers begin stealing the show, people can marvel at these winter colors.

“Our whole idea behind this was we wanted to extend our season of color and plants for the gardens and have something for people visiting Vail to enjoy, seeing plants they wouldn’t see in April,” Courtens said.

Uncharted territory

Setting up the Alpine House took a lot of research, Courtens said. Finding the tufa rock that forms the base for the display wasn’t easy. The rock is unique, since it’s limestone formed from organic matter and water, and it was acquired from South Dakota.

Finding plant species was also challenging, since it’s specialty vegetation. Yet, with patience and perseverance, the garden came to fruition.

Courtens said it’s more of a landscape garden than a greenhouse since the plants are permanent. Sand is used as the soil since most alpine plants get their nutrients and minerals through the rocks on which they grow.

Shade, vents and fans help keep the growing environment ideal, despite conditions outside. Also, with the installed technology, Courtens said it could run on auto.

“I can rely on the technology in this alpine house to act on its own,” he said. “I’m relying on this alpine house to take care of itsself when I’m gone.”

Now that the Alpine House has been established, Courtens and his team will continue to develop new plant species and put more research into the garden.

“It’s been exciting to watch it grow,” he said.

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