Betty Ford Alpine Gardens provides unique indoor alpine garden to the public |

Betty Ford Alpine Gardens provides unique indoor alpine garden to the public

The alpine house at the Betty Ford Alpine Garden Education Center is home to high-alpine species from around the world, including plants from the Himalayas and South Africa.
Townsend Bessent | | Townsend Bessent | Townsend@vail

Traveling Exhibit

What: “Then & Now: The Changing Arctic Landscape” traveling exhibit.

When: May 2 to July 10.

Where: Betty Ford Alpine Gardens Education Center, Ford Park, Vail.

Cost: Suggested donation of $5.

More information: Visit

It’s hard to live in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, but imagine being a plant and trying to thrive in the harsh conditions.

The Betty Ford Alpine Gardens in Vail are helping alpine plants from all areas of the world do that, and locals and visitors alike are encouraged to check out the Education Center.

“It’s a very rare environment, and it’s something we really strive to protect,” said Liz Campbell, director of development. “Our mission is to deepen the understanding and promote the conservation of the alpine environment. That’s really what we’re all about.”

The nonprofit, donation-based organization has grown to cover about 5 acres in Vail, with nearly 3,000 different alpine species. The Education Center features a unique indoor botanical garden, with some of the rarest alpine species planted in about 20 tons of rock.

“We are not just a pretty place to come visit. There’s a lot going on behind the scenes.”Nicola RipleyExecutive director, Betty Ford Alpine Gardens

“We didn’t really have a home for the gardens,” Campbell said of the Education Center that opened last year. “Now we finally have a home.”

The Education Center lives up to its name, a place dedicated to teaching people about the alpine environment with interactive displays. It is located toward the west end of the gardens at Gerald R. Ford Park near the tennis courts and houses the alpine house.

“What makes this building extremely unique is this alpine house,” Campbell said. “We don’t know of any others that are open to the public like this.”

The alpine house is a cold greenhouse monitored and regulated through temperature control. If the sun is beaming down for too long, then the room activates the blinds and cracks some windows to bring the temperature down.

With only 3 percent of the Earth’s surface considered alpine (above treeline, not necessarily altitude), the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens bring in some of the rarest plants, and now’s a great time to stop by, as many of them are blooming.

“Aren’t they just awesome?” Campbell asked. “They’re just so cool. Every day you come in here and it’s just a little bit different.”


Employees and volunteers at the gardens do a lot of conservation work, working with the Bureau of Land Management to re-introduce endangered plants. They also have a seed bank, which they use to do trades and exchanges.

“We are not just a pretty place to come visit,” said Nicola Ripley, executive director. “There’s a lot going on behind the scenes.”

The Betty Ford Alpine Gardens work to bring global issues to the public. A traveling exhibit from the University of Alaska will be at the Education Center for about two months, beginning May 2.

“Then & Now: The Changing Arctic Landscape” will feature a variety of media, including photos of the arctic 100 years ago compared with photos from today.

“What ‘Then & Now’ really demonstrates is the changes in weather patterns are having a drastic effect on the environment,” Campbell said.

Some alpine plants struggle to even grow in Denver, but Betty Ford Alpine Gardens will continue to bring them to the public here in Eagle County via the Education Center.

“We have the perfect conditions for growing alpines here,” Ripley said, “but this gives us an opportunity to showcase things year-round.”

Reporter Ross Leonhart can be reached at 970-748-2915 and Follow him on Instagram at colorado_livin_on_the_hill.

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