Getting to know … Nicola Ripley |

Getting to know … Nicola Ripley

Sarah L. Stewart
Dominique TaylorNicola Ripley is the director of horticulture and research for the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens in Vail.

Nicola Ripley has traveled throughout the Rocky Mountains and as far south as South America’s rugged Patagonia region, all in the name of plants.

From monitoring rare plant sites around the state to collecting seeds of alpine plants from around the world, the director of horticulture and research at Vail’s Betty Ford Alpine Gardens has made it her mission to help protect the threatened plants of the world.

Ripley has worked for the Betty Ford Gardens in various capacities since its inception 20 years ago, helping to amass a database of alpine plants used by researchers across the country and the world.

Now, as the gardens begin to awake from another long winter, Ripley is planning her next trip: A plant mission to Mongolia.

Growing up in England, I was always very interested in the environment. I went to university and did a degree in biology and took all of the plant options. My first job out of university was working for the Nature Conservancy in England looking for sites of rare plants in northern England. … My dad was a mountain climber and used to always take us hiking when I was little. I think that’s where my interest, particularly in the alpine plants, came about.

In the gardens themselves, we grow a lot of Colorado native alpine plants and we also grow a lot of alpine plants from around the world. … They are all catalogued in a huge international database, so that if ever a particular plant becomes more rare (researchers will know where to find them). They’re thinking now that a lot of these alpine plants might become more rare because of climate change. … They’re concerned about alpine plants because they have nowhere to go.

It becomes more office based, but there’s still a lot of work ” writing grants, database entry. I do get called upon to do a lot of lectures and things. I try to prepare as many of those as I can in the wintertime.

I guess I just always have a passion for life to have a meaning. I was just talking to my head gardener the other day, saying I want to make a difference in the world, and how am I going to go about doing that? I think (by) really focusing on saving some of these plants and making people aware of them, and just making people aware of the environment, I feel like I will have done something useful at the end of the day.

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