Betty Ford Alpine Gardens in Vail continue conservation
VAIL — Most visitors who stroll through the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens may not know what’s growing beyond all the beautiful flowers they can actually see. Executive director Nicola Ripley and her team at the gardens have implemented extensive conservation and research efforts to support plant sustainability all over the world.
Betty Ford Alpine Gardens has been working with the Bureau of Land Management for many years to monitor and survey some of Colorado’s rarest plants. This information is critical to understanding how to manage land for the preservation of these plants. These plant monitoring efforts have been focused on observing two rare plants in Colorado: Penstemon debilis, or Parachute Penstemon, and Astragalus debequaeus, or DeBeque Milkvetch, both from Garfield County.
Parachute Penstemon is one of North America’s rarest plants, federally protected by the Endangered Species Act since 2011. Ongoing monitoring of this extremely rare plant is essential to understanding population trends. Garden staff is working to develop propagation protocols with the hope that plants can eventually be established for re-introduction into the wild.
DeBeque Milkvetch is only found in Colorado and grows in Garfield County in the Colorado River Valley. It is an attractive low mounding plant with white pea like flowers. Ongoing monitoring efforts are contributing to the understanding of the life cycles of this rare plant. Valuable information has been recorded about the conditions needed to grow the plant and the difficulties of re-introduction to the wild.
Climate change monitoring began in 2014 as Betty Ford scientists joined a Bureau of Land Management-led team of biologists to set up plots on the alpine tundra of the Mosquito Range to look at species composition trends. The sampling plots are a vegetation sampling design that can be used for assessing plant communities at multiscale. Over time, scientists will be able to determine if the composition of plants on the alpine tundra is changing as the climate warms.
“We are also a Seeds of Success partner,” Ripley said, “and the Seeds of Success program is run through the BLM to collect seeds for various different reasons. The goal is to get a lot of native plants growing at the federal nurseries, as well as banking native seeds, so that if a devastating fire were to come through the area, we would have a source of plants and seeds that could be used to restore that area.”
International Value for Research
Betty Ford Alpine Gardens also has the national collection of Colorado’s alpine flora, making it an official piece of the Plant Collections Network of the American Public Gardening Association.
“Because these plants have conservation value, we take all of the data of all of the plants we’re growing and submit it to a database run by Botanic Gardens Conservation International out of London,” Ripley said. “They have international value for research — this is not just a bunch of garden plants.”
In addition, Ripley works directly with BGCI and the Center for Plant Conservation to develop action plans for what steps may need to be taken in the alpine environment in light of climate change.
Activities at the Gardens
At 8,200 feet in altitude, the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens are known to be the world’s highest botanical garden, now with an Education Center, it hold a dynamic schedule of educational and interactive programs.
Garden tours are $5 per person and begin at 10:30 a.m. on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays through Labor Day. Many events and activities are held at the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens, including yoga, live bluegrass, photographer workshops and a series of Intimate Evenings.
For kids, a variety of activities are available at the Education Center and in the interactive Children’s Garden. Try the self-guided treasure hunt to delight and inspire young ones to become stewards of nature.
Located in Ford Park, the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens is a short walk from the center of Vail. It is free and open to the public from dawn until dusk throughout the year. A $5 donation is appreciated. Visit the Events Calendar at http://www.bettyford alpinegardens.org, or call 970-476-0103 for more information and to register for select programs.