Betty Ford Alpine Gardens
Vail, Colorado
August 2010

This is an extremely interesting little garden. The gardens opened to the public in 1988. At more than 8,000 feet in elevation, it is the highest public garden in the United States. It covers only about an acre of land, most a steep hillside, but more than 3,000 species of alpine plants are displayed. The garden is surrounded by alpine forest and ski areas. In the picture below you can just see a garden entrance sign in the bottom left corner.

Garden Setting

The garden’s trail system is designed as a series of long switchbacks, which provides a lot of trailside garden space and makes the garden feel much larger than one acre.

trail switchback

The main entrance is very pretty, but unimposing. The landscaping blends into the surrounding landscape. Looking at it gives no impression of the gardens inside, which I think is a positive. It makes the gardens themselves feel even more special when you arrive at them.

Alpine Garden entrance

Inside this main entrance is a perennial bed, demonstrating perennials that do well in this alpine environment. Although the bed is small, it explodes with color and is a great contrast to the dark evergreens surrounding it. There is also a very nice interpretive sign explaining the effects of alpine conditions on plants.

perennial bed

From this point you begin to slowly climb and the garden quickly becomes more alpine in feel with rocky slopes and gravelly beds.

Alpine Bed

As you continue up, there is an amazing array of plants, tucked into rocks or spreading across gravel. Most are small, ground-hugging forms with small or few flowers but the variety of colors, textures and forms is as exciting as flowers.


With such densely planted beds of small plants labeling must be a challenge, but they have done very well. They’ve used a mix of sizes of plant labels so I found the labeling unobtrusive while still informative.


The garden features alpine plants from around the world. It’s very interesting to see how similar in growth form alpine plants are, regardless of their origin. Here is an area devoted to South African plants. Here, and in other areas, the garden makes good use of troughs to display a wider variety of plants.

South African Bed

Water is also a major feature of the garden. There is a stream with several waterfalls, as well as ponds and marshes. This diversity of habitats adds to the variety of plants that can be grown and adds great visual interest.


For such a tiny garden, the richness of plant diversity displayed is amazing. And the density of the plantings means you can spend a lot of time looking at each bed if you want to see every plant. It’s a nice garden for a leisurely stroll through alpine woods, but has enough interpretation and an interesting enough plant collection, that spending more time can be very rewarding. We went through the entire garden twice, seeing much more the second time. I’m sure we could have found even more on a third walk-thru.

Click here to see more photos of the Betty Ford Alpine Garden.
here to visit the website of the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens.

blog comments powered by Disqus