At 8,250 feet above sea level in Gerald R. Ford Park, Vail, Colorado Betty Ford Alpine Gardens is the highest botanical garden in North America and perhaps the world – providing free access to an estimated 100,000 visitors annually. In dramatic gardens with streams and waterfalls, a vast array of alpine and wildflower provides a colorful display from June through September. When the winter comes and snow covers the ground the Gardens takes on a more peaceful magic.
“As someone who has always loved gardening, it fills me with a great sense of serenity,” Mrs. Ford said in 1991. “Just walking along these winding paths, with the abundance of beauty so close to the touch, brings an introspection and 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, and her two girls.”
The organization was founded in 1985 by the Vail Alpine Garden Foundation, and then in 1988, Betty Ford Alpine Gardens was named in honor of former first lady Betty Ford. Its location in Ford Park next to the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater, which is named in honor of her husband, the 38th president of the United States, made a fitting tribute to this remarkable former first lady.
The original idea for the Gardens came through the collaboration of two longtime Vail residents, landscape designer Marty Jones and 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 and I got involved.” As the organization expanded in size and commitment, an executive director and garden staff were hired. Currently, volunteers and docents support a five-member staff with more than 3,500 hours annually maintaining the Gardens, giving educational tours, running the gift shops and working at promotional and 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), and the Children’s Garden (2002.) The Gardens’ 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 and Lake County third graders. Betty Ford is 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 an in depth insight into the world of alpine plants.
The Gardens has a strong commitment to plant conservation and in partnership with other organizations such as the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Botanic Gardens Conservation International and 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 and greater beauty to the Gardens, they become a source of infinite pride and 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.”
To read more about Betty Ford Click Here to go to the Gerald R Ford Library and Museum website.