A Brief History of Betty Ford Alpine Gardens
With Comments by Betty Ford
Betty Ford Alpine Gardens, at 8,250 feet above sea level in Gerald R. Ford Park, in Vail, Colo., is the highest botanical garden in the United States - and perhaps the world - providing free access to an estimated 100,000 visitors annually. Recognized as the foremost authority on high-altitude plants in natural and cultivated landscapes in the Rocky Mountains, the Gardens not only contributes staff and expertise essential to conservation efforts throughout the region, but also provides an environment for rare, exotic and imperiled alpine wildflowers and plants.
“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.”
The Gardens also plays an important role in encouraging summertime flower displays throughout the Vail Valley, at both private homes and businesses.
“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.”
Founded by the Vail Alpine Garden Foundation in 1985, the charitable organization's mission remains to inspire a passion for plants in high altitude communities through beautification, conservation, education, and research programs. Its vision is to be recognized as the foremost authority on high-altitude plants in natural and cultivated landscapes in the Rocky Mountain region and similar environments.
In 1988, Betty Ford Alpine Gardens was named in honor of former first lady Betty Ford for her many contributions to the Vail Valley, our nation and beyond. Its location in Gerald R. Ford Park next to the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater, named to honor of her husband, the 38th president of the United States, made a fitting tribute to the 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.) Additionally, the Gardens is one of the early adopters within the botanic gardens field to offer horticulture therapy classes to those seeking the restorative powers of connecting with nature. 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.
The Gardens partners with other organizations to promote habitat conservation and restoration, such as the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Botanic Gardens Conservation International and the Colorado Natural Heritage Program. In the summer of 2008, Betty Ford Alpine Gardens celebrated its 20th anniversary. Plans are underway to use this milestone to expand its presence within the local and tourist community. Partnering with likeminded organizations, the Gardens will increase its education offerings for people of all ages to help them appreciate the wonders and intricacies of our mountain landscape and engage them in sustaining it for years to come.
“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.”
You are invited to take a Virtual Tour through the Gardens.