The Betty Ford Alpine Gardens |

The Betty Ford Alpine Gardens

Special to the DailyBetty Ford at the opening of the gardens named after her in Vail.

Homeowners watched their autumn yards fill with snow. Aspen trees lost their delicate golden leaves. Temperatures plunged. The snow gods gave more. And more and more and more. Even in April. Usually in May. Sometimes in June and July, they were still generous. Skiers were delighted. From far and wide, they came to Vail for these winters. But it was for the summers, they stayed.At an elevation of 8,150 feet and a growing season the length of a horticultural minute, the early settlers gracefully accepted Vails fate as the land of the three summer Ps: pansies, petunias and poppies…if you were a skilled gardener, that is. Until one day in 1983, on its way home to Vail, Marty Jones truck refused to climb Georgetown Hill. Luckily a neighbor, Helen Fritch, happened by and gave Marty a ride. From that moment on, the seed was planted for Vails alpine palette to blossom by hundreds. And for Betty Ford to be a joyful part of Vails future. Marty Jones was a landscape designer. He owned Planters of Vail, a plant nursery specializing in alpines. He had become interested in native Colorado plants through Panayoti Kelaidis, Curator of the Rock Alpine Garden at the Denver Botanic Gardens. Helen was an enthusiastic gardener. So its no wonder their conversation on the ride home from Georgetown was, well, all about plants.As Helen recalls, Marty saw Vail as an ideal spot to build a public alpine garden. It had a suitable altitude and climate. Furthermore, as a resort community, it drew visitors from lower and often warmer climes. They certainly would be interested to learn about Rocky Mountain native wildflowers! To a gardener like me, Helen says, it sounded like a good idea and I got involved. Serendipitously, the Town of Vail was just then asking for public participation in the planning process for a large park, soon to become Vails cherished Ford Park. June Simonton, another early Vail resident and friend of Helen and Marty, suggested their idea for an alpine garden be incorporated into the park. They organized their friends who became a group known as Friends of the Alpine Garden and the Town accepted their idea for a garden.In February 1986 the supporters incorporated as Vail Alpine Gardens, Inc., a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. And then, as Helen says, the Friends really went to work.In addition to developing a site plan and budget for the garden, they of course had to raise funds. Having already gathered $3,700 in seed money, they had succeeded by September of that year with the leadership of John Galvin in increasing their supporting membership to over 100 Friends, most of whom contributed $10,000 each. To help the fledgling group attract more donations, the Vail Valley Foundation offered to forego their plans for traditional landscaping at the entrance to the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater they were building on the east side of Ford Park and allow the Alpine Gardens the space for a display. This could show potential donors what the Vail Alpine Gardens group was planningMarty Jones used his genius to create miniature mountain cliffs, dry land, peat bog and forest micro-climates to simulate those of the Rocky Mountains. Martys vision thus became a reality; the prototype of the larger Vail Alpine Gardens was born. But it still would take a few more years for this garden to grow. During the next year, 1987, the Friends of the Alpine Garden organized a plant sale, awards for outstanding private Vail gardens and flower displays, winter landscaping prizes, a Memorial & Honorary Gift Program, summer wildflower tours, and a seed exchange. Most of these programs and fundraising activities were extended valley-wide and continue, with wide support, to this day. But the gardens itself would never be what it is today without the support of its namesake, Elizabeth Bloomer Ford.Vail Colorado

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