Protecting the alpine environment

"In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we have been taught.”

A World of Alpines At 8200′

Founded in 1985 by the Vail Alpine Garden Foundation & named in 1988 in honor of former first lady Betty Ford, an internationally acclaimed collection of alpine plants in the Rocky Mountains

Our Mission

To protect the alpine environment through education, conservation and living plant collections.

Our Vision

Betty Ford Alpine Gardens is the leading global advocate for alpine environments.

Betty Ford Alpine Gardens is an internationally acclaimed botanic gardens known for its alpine horticulture, education and conservation. Located in the small resort town of Vail, Colorado which attracts a global audience for its skiing and outdoor recreation, Betty Ford Alpine Gardens is the highest elevation botanical garden in North America situated at 8,200’ (2,700 m) in the central Rocky Mountains. The Gardens attracts more than 200,000 visitors annually to see its unique collection of alpine and mountain plants collected from around the world.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Policy

Betty Ford Alpine Gardens is committed to creating an equitable, diverse and inclusive culture where the contributions of all community member are valued, respected and appreciated. The Gardens will constantly re-examine our professional values, modify our existing practices and remove all barriers to being diverse and inclusive.

Gardens are places that are inspired by nature, intrinsically they are open to all and build no barriers. We celebrate this inclusivity and welcome all people without exception. In addition we recognize the needs of our local community and partner with other organizations to introduce our underserved populations to the joy of nature.

Guiding Principles

We follow these guiding principles in all that we do:

Excellence – We are committed to a standard of excellence in all we do. This requires being focused on our priorities where we can use our resources both
effectively and efficiently.
Impact – We create, develop, and improve our gardens and our programs with the over-riding purpose of profoundly affecting people’s understanding and behaviors.
Inspiration – Our gardens will be inspirational because we show the uniqueness and beauty of alpine plants and habitats.
Integrity – We believe that internally and externally our actions must be of the highest ethical standards.
Expertise – We achieve our goals and our local and national standings through our scientific expertise in horticulture, education, and conservation.
Relevance – We must be vigilant that our programs are always relevant and inclusive to our many stakeholder communities.

History of the Gardens & Betty Ford

Mrs. Ford said in 1991, “As someone who has always loved gardening, it fills me with a great sense of serenity. Just walking along these winding paths, with the abundance of beauty so close to the touch, brings an introspection & sense of calm too often missing in our lives.”

“When I was a little girl, I spent many cherished hours with my mother in her garden,” Mrs. Ford said. “She wisely marked off an area for my very own plants. As we worked together, she nurtured me as she nurtured my love of gardening. This nurturing mother-daughter relationship, with its love growing strong in a garden, has been passed along to my daughter, Susan, & her two girls.”

Marty Jones, Helen Fritch and Betty Ford turning the first shovel of dirt in the Gardens.

Founded in 1985 by the Vail Alpine Garden Foundation & named in 1988 in honor of former first lady Betty Ford. Located in Ford Park next to the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater–named in honor of her husband, the 38th president of the United States–the Gardens made a fitting tribute to this remarkable former first lady.

The original idea came through the collaboration of two longtime Vail residents, landscape designer Marty Jones & Helen Fritch, a gardening hobbyist who listened to Jones’ ideas for a botanical garden during an automotive journey through the Colorado High Country in 1983. “To a gardener like me,” says Fritch, now the Gardens’ president emeritus, “it sounded like a good idea & I got involved.” As the organization expanded in size & commitment, an executive director & garden staff were hired. Currently, volunteers & docents support a five-member staff with more than 3,500 hours annually maintaining the Gardens, giving educational tours, running the gift shops & working at promotional & educational events.

Today, Betty Ford Alpine Gardens is comprised of four distinct sections; Mountain Perennial Garden (1989), Mountain Meditation Garden (1991) Alpine Rock Garden (1999), & the Children’s Garden (2002.) Our plant collection showcases more than 3,000 species of high-altitude plants, many of which are from the Rocky Mountains, as well as some from other regions of the world.

Like most public gardens there is a strong emphasis on education. Children’s programs are offered most days of the week as well as an annual butterfly launch for over 500 Eagle & Lake County third graders. We are one of the first public gardens to offer horticulture therapy classes to those seeking the restorative powers of connecting with nature. Docent-led tours give visitors in-depth insight into the world of alpine plants.

The Gardens has a strong commitment to plant conservation & in partnership with other organizations such as the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Botanic Gardens Conservation International & the Colorado Natural Heritage Program, works to study and conserve Colorado’s rare flora.

“When we first talked of plans for the Vail Alpine Gardens, I never dreamed it would grow and flourish to such magnitude. But as each season brings new blooms & greater beauty to the Gardens, they become a source of infinite pride & pleasure for all of us,” Mrs. Ford said. “I visit as often as I can, but it is never often enough. Each week provides a different, more beautiful picture.”

Learn more about Betty Ford and her life at the following websites:

Board of Trustees

Betty Ford Honorary Director in Memoriam

Helen Fritch President & Founder in Memoriam

Sheika Gramshammer – Life Trustee

Susan Frampton President

June Rossetti – Vice President

Mary Beth Ottley Treasurer

Samantha Thompson - Secretary

Kathy Borgen

Pedro Campos

Dave Chapin - Town of Vail

Holly Elliott

Jeanne Fritch

John Hathaway

Linda Hill

Jenny Maritz

Jill Posnick

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Nicola Ripley

Executive Director

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Born in the British Isles, Nicola learned a love of alpine plants in the Scottish and Welsh Mountains. Nicola has a BS in Biology and an MS in Ecology. Nicola has traveled widely giving talks, collecting seed and studying alpine flora.
Nicola has been with the Gardens for almost twenty years in different capacities and has been the Director since 2011. Nicola was Board Member of the American Public Gardens Association for 7 years serving a 2 year term as President. She is the recipient of the 2016 Award of Merit from the North American Rock Garden Society and the 2017 Service Award from the American Public Gardens Association.

Ellen Lorenz

Operations Manager

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Originally from Columbus, Ohio, Ellen moved to Colorado to obtain a degree in environmental science and philosophy from CU Boulder. She has spent the last ten years in the high rockies cultivating a love for the alpine, which she serves through her volunteer work with the Front Range Pika Project and other local efforts. Having held positions at environmental nonprofits and an award winning wedding planning company, Ellen is driven by her passions for environmental sustainability, detail and organization.
When she’s not working alongside her colleagues ensuring the Gardens are as impactful and efficeint as possible, she is on a river, mountain or trail.

Jeri Powles

Volunteer Engagement Coordinator

A Midwest girl who wanted to live in the mountains since early childhood, Jeri found the Gardens not long after moving here permanently. She joined the staff in 2011 as manager of the schoolhouse gift shop & become the Volunteer Engagement Coordinator in 2014. A Colorado Master Gardener, Jeri has a degree in secondary education from The University of Iowa, has had several careers including being a successful entrepreneur & has volunteered for several organizations & nonprofits throughout her life.

Nanette Kuich

Education Director

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Nanette became a part of Betty Ford Alpine Gardens with the design & building of the Education Center, completed in 2015, & has been responsible for all educational programming. She holds a Master’s Degree in Science Education Free Choice Learning from Oregon State University.

Nanette grew up on the East end of Long Island, NY, received a B.A. in Earth & Space Sciences from State University of New York at Stony Brook, & taught secondary science and math for two years before heading to west to attend graduate school at the University of Texas, Dallas.  She worked as a geologist & geochemist for two major oil companies for 19 years before moving to Colorado.  Plant science became an interest through the Colorado State University Extension’s Master Gardener & Native Plant Master Programs, where she instructed for both.

Colin Lee

Senior Horticulturist


My interest in plants all began my junior year in high school when my science teacher asked me to help choose a subject to learn about for a semester in our class. With inspiration from my mother’s garden & trips to botanic gardens, I chose botany. Little did I know, that simple choice would set me on a career path to become a horticulturist at Betty Ford Alpine Gardens.
As soon as that semester in high school ended I knew I’d be studying plant science in college. I started my collegiate studies at Metropolitan State College of Denver studying plant biology, & eventually transferred to Colorado State University in Fort Collins where I obtained my degree in horticulture & a minor in botany. I found Betty Ford Alpine Gardens in 2016 when I was granted an internship opportunity during my junior year at CSU, & each summer since then I have been asked to come back as seasonal staff to help the gardens continue to grow & bloom. I am honored to become a part of BFAG’s full time staff & to continue my pursuit in becoming a professional horticulturist. I look forward to exploring my potential here at the gardens as well as exploring more of the Rocky Mountains that I’ve always called home.  I am very grateful & humbled in where I am & how I got here, & I look forward to working with all types of plants & people in this amazing alpine environment we have here in Vail, Colorado.

Susan Swimm

Gift Shop Buyer & Manager


Susan Swimm came to the Vail Valley from Scotland in 1991. Susan is the vision behind the Gardens’ Vail Village Gift Shop. After graduating college in Scotland with a degree in Retail Display & Merchandising and British Display Society Diplomas I & II, she began a career with the House Of Fraser Retail Group. Their sister Scottish store is “Frasers of Buchanan Street” (think Harrods of London!), in the heart of Glasgow’s City Center. This is where Susan spent 5 magical years dressing windows and decorating everything from Chanel to kitchen utensils! Susan worked with the Paris, Ralph Lauren display team in creating, designing and building their first store in Scotland which was located within Frasers. Susan launched dozens of fragrances, skin care, and cosmetic companies as well as designer lines such as Mulberry, Hermes, and Armani.

Susan began to get “itchy feet” in the early ’90s. So with the USA calling her name, she left all she loved and arrived in New York with no real idea of what her plan was or where it would lead. Fate “or destiny!” would bring Susan to the Vail Valley after months of adventures touring this great and vast land! She drove into Vail, decided to stay for a few weeks before heading back on her return ticket to Scotland….familiar story here in the Vail Valley! Susan never left and the Valley is brighter for it.

Melissa Ebone

Development Director

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“What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?” The answer to this question brought Melissa Ebone, Development Director, to Colorado almost a decade ago. She discovered the call of the mountains during her time as a counselor at Cheley Colorado Camps in Estes Park, CO & had dreams to make the West her full-time home.
She recently graduated from ILD, the Institute for Leaders in Development, a professional program for fundraisers through Denver University. When she’s not in the office, you can often find her guiding backcountry & international expeditions, sharing her love of discovery & the outdoors with young people from around the world. Before arriving at Betty Ford Alpine Gardens, Melissa was leading the fundraising & community partner efforts at the Children’s Hospital Colorado Burn Camps Program. This is a rehabilitative medical speciality program designed to help pediatric burn survivors heal together in a community of their peers. Wherever she is, Melissa loves building community & creating good together.

Emily Griffoul

Conservation Scientist

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Emily joined the Gardens in the summer of 2020 as the new Conservation Scientist. She has worked on ecological and conservation research all over the West, but fell in love with the unique beauty of alpine plants and the magic of Colorado. Emily is leading the implementation of the North American Botanic Garden Strategy for Alpine Plant Conservation, a blueprint developed by the Gardens to promote understanding and protection of vulnerable alpine species and habitats through ex-situ collections, surveys and mapping of alpine areas and rare plants, collaborations with partners in other gardens and federal agencies, and public engagement. She received a Master’s degree in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from University of California, Irvine, and previously worked for The Morton Arboretum in Lisle, IL, where she worked to build a Tree Observatory with the Center for Tree Science. Emily is particularly interested in connecting and engaging with the public and invites everyone to come learn about conservation science and what we can do to protect alpine habitats.

Nick Courtens

Curator of Plant Collections

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Born in upstate NY, Nick grew up on an organic vegetable CSA farm where he developed a passion for plants & growing. Nick graduated from Longwood Gardens Professional Gardener Training Program & made his way west for a summer internship at Betty Ford Alpine Gardens in May 2010. Nick is responsible for growing, maintaining, & developing the plant collections. He has traveled around the world studying rock gardens & alpine plants & has given several presentations to plant societies & botanic gardens.