Visit to Denver Botanic Gardens: Sun-drenched perennial borders

Before vacationing in Rocky Mountain National Park earlier this month, we stopped in Denver to visit the Denver Botanic Gardens, which I’d long wanted to see. Though the day grew hot, reaching 100 degrees F, the gardens did not disappoint, glowing with high-country color against a bright-blue sky and accented with monumental bamboo sculptures like the one flowing down a slope in this image.

Although Denver Botanic Garden is compact, sandwiched as it is amid downtown streets, it’s divided into numerous and varied types of gardens—too many to show in one post. Since today is Bloom Day, I’ll start with images of flowering, xeric perennials from the Birds & Bees Walk and the O’Fallon Perennial Walk—like these monarda, goldenrod, and lavender visited by a swallowtail butterfly.

Lavender and goldenrod

A southwestern look: lavender flowering against an adobe-style wall


A grape arbor offers respite from the sun, while perennials flower with abandon along the fence rails.

A drier but no less beautiful garden greets you near the entrance, in the long perennial borders flanking a main walkway, hedged with green walls on either side.

We arrived right at opening, 9 am, but you can see that even then the sun was high and intensely bright, making photography a challenge. A number of eager visitors and photographers, like us, were there right as the doors opened.


The bees loved these ghostly, prickly flowers.

Garlic seedheads stood like comical elfin hats.


Candy-colored yarrow

I don’t know this plant but admired its burgundy leaves and yellow flowers. Update: Fairegarden Frances thinks it’s Lysimachia ciliata.


As we left the perennial walk we entered a sunny plaza rustling with ornamental grasses.

A long, rill-like waterway, with vertical fountains spouting up at times, was bordered by several varieties of ornamental grasses, and these pale-yellow hollyhocks.

In a line down the middle of the waterway stood blue pots of bamboo muhly grass.

Beautiful texture and color

A closer look

Swirling grasses in gold and blue played against hot-colored perennials.

Bright, bright sun, but something caught my eye over here by this bench.

Pretty persicaria, much taller than any I’ve ever seen in Austin, but that’s not what I noticed.

It’s this simple combination of Mexican feathergrass (Nassella tenuissima) and purple sage (Salvia offinalis purpurea), which I have in my own garden at home. Hey, it looks even prettier with the burgundy leaves of barberry behind it. We could also use loropetalum at home.

And I leave you with a last glimpse of sweet hollyhocks. I’ll have more tomorrow from Denver Botanic Gardens—DBG’s Grasses & Cholla for Foliage Follow-Up—and for several posts to come. Please click the links for more posts about my visit to the gardens.

For more Bloom Day posts from around the world, visit May Dreams Gardens.

All material © 2006-2012 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

19 Responses

  1. Frances says:

    Lovely Pam, thanks so much. With the weather we seem to be having lately, I think planting ideas from this garden are very helpful. The red leaf, yellow flower looks like Lysimachia ciliata, perhaps the cultivar ‘Fireworks’. The next shot is a Verbascum. Denver has cold winters, hot and dry summers and good drainage. The plant choices, like the Stipa and purple sage are inspired and beautiful!

    Thanks for the IDs, Frances! —Pam

  2. This is a garden I definitely want to see sometime, your pictures will be the next best thing!

    I have a lot of them, Loree. Probably about 4 or 5 posts’ worth. This will be Denver Botanic Garden week. —Pam

  3. jenny says:

    I think it is hard to match Denver as a Botanical garden. Every time we have been there is something new to see and their plantings are just spectacular. Did you see how they raise the money from bonds and just how much those areas cost to create? Wish that Austin could do something like that.

    I saw that on your post, Jenny. Yes, I wish Austin’s Zilker Botanical Garden could get some fundraising going. They need it! —Pam

  4. So lovely Pam. Thank you for sharing. The photos are beautiful indeed!

    My pleasure, Lee. —Pam

  5. Sue says:

    Thanks for the lovely tour! I’ll be looking forward to the the follow-ups. Living in the northeast, I’m always amazed at how much beauty can be achieved in a hot, dry garden.

    Me too, Sue. Gardening with plants that suit one’s climate gives you a head-start on creating a beautiful garden, no matter where you live. —Pam

  6. ricki says:

    I am so impressed by what they can do in difficult conditions. Thanks for the ongoing tour.

    Even better to come, Ricki. Stay tuned! —Pam

  7. greg says:

    I’ve been three times and always find new levels of delight. Colors are more vivid in high altitudes with cooler nights and low humidity. During my visit through Colorado last month I was quite aware of all the Alcea prevalent in peoples gardens and also in Wyoming. One plant which was really overused was Karl Foerster Calamagrostis. Loved the tour.

    And yet how I’d love to be able to grow Karl Foerster grass here in Austin. The grass is always greener, right? —Pam

  8. Thanks! What Greggo said, including on the over-used, but regardless, that high plains city and those decent clay soils can really pull off some interesting things. Especially with a financially and horticulturally well-endowed staff. Hope to visit this summer and fall; it’s been a while.

    I hope you are able to, David. I’d love to go back one fall and see all those grasses in bloom. —Pam

  9. Hoov says:

    Thanks, I really enjoyed the visit. Grasses are so right for the high elevation plains. Surprising how lush it can look despite Denver being so dry and having such a brutal climate.

    Yes, that’s true, Hoov. I’ll show some of their drier gardens in subsequent posts. —Pam

  10. Lea says:

    Thanks for the tour!
    Happy Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day!
    Lea’s menagerie

    And to you, Lea. —Pam

  11. Renee says:

    Those are some wonderful pictures! I’ll have to keep those gardens in mind next time I’m up there, because that looks like a lot of inspiration. Are you going to try and recreate the feather grass + purple foilage combination?

    I already have the feathergrass/purple sage combo and love it. What I’m missing is the burgundy foliage behind it. —Pam

  12. Les says:

    One of the charms of DBG is its compactness. You do not run yourself ragged trying to see every part of the garden, like you might elsewhere. I look forward to the future posts. Happy GBBD!

    I’ll have more posts from DBG all this week, Les. —Pam

  13. louis says:

    simply beautiful! I really love the eryngium and lavender. That garden is full of delicious texture!

    It really is, Louis. You’d love it. Though I don’t recall any palms. —Pam

  14. Pam, your photos leave me breathless. Even in the bright sun, you manage to make every photo stunningly beautiful. Thanks for the tour! I had no idea so much color would be in Denver this time of year!

    Thanks, Rebecca! I’m glad you’re enjoying the virtual tour. —Pam

  15. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Hollyhocks do like this hot dry weathers. They are what have done best in my garden this year. I was at the Botanic garden several times about 25 years ago. I am sure they have changed a lot since then. Reading your posts is making me want to go back to this part of the country.

    I’ve been longing to see this garden for a couple of years and would love a repeat visit. I hope you get one too, Lisa. —Pam

  16. I’ve never been to Denver Botanic Gardens. Thanks for sharing. I love the color and texture combos.

    It’s worth a long visit if you’re ever in Denver, Patsy. —Pam

  17. commonweeder says:

    I am not familiar with this type of landscape at all, although I hope to visit some day. This beautiful post makes a visit seem even more imperative.

    I have a list of botanic gardens to visit, and DBG has long been near the top. I hope you get to see it one day soon, Commonweeder. —Pam

  18. How gorgeous those photos you took are Pam! I think the row of bamboo muhly grass in pots is such a neat look!

    I liked that too, Heather—creative and unexpected. —Pam

  19. Loved the photos. What is the tan colored bamboo structures about? Intriguing! Plus hollyhocks with no rust! Some day I would like to see this place!

    The bamboo sculptures are a temporary art exhibition, Debbie. DBG always seems to have some sort of sculpture on display in the gardens. —Pam