THE LAND BEYOND THE TREES, THE BETTY FORD ALPINE GARDENS - VAIL,CO
This week we continue our high elevation garden lens in Vail, Colorado at The Betty Ford Alpine Gardens, leaders in the research and conservation of North American alpine plant communities.
The Alpine Zone has long been one of interest to plant enthusiasts worldwide across time and space for the sheer admiration for and interest in these rugged and resourceful plants and wildlife who’ve evolved to endure and thrive in the Alpine’s extreme conditions – extreme cold, wind, sun, heat, drought and/or snow and ice. As the conditions of our generous planet change with the climate crisis, the Alpine Zone becomes a last refuge for plants and wildlife migrating in search of cooler conditions. As a result, the Alpine Zone is of great interest to researchers looking not only preserve the beauty, diversity and integrity of this highly sensitive environment, but also looking for lessons on adaptation for us all.
Nicola Ripley is the Executive Director and Nick Courtens is the Curator of Plant Collections at The Betty Ford Alpine Gardens. The garden’s team of scientists have authored the North American Botanic Garden Strategy for Alpine Plant Conservation, which includes multiple objectives for increasing awareness and understanding about Alpine environments, to further conservation efforts for alpine zones and the lives who have co-evolved there worldwide.
Nicola and Nick join me this week in conversation about their high-elevation enthusiasm and efforts.
The Betty Ford Alpine Gardens collection is of national significance, and in the conversation, Nicola and Nick share the importance of documenting, collecting, growing and researching alpine plants as we face a warming climate and hope to learn conservation lessons from the plants of the Alpine Zone - plants who have co-evolved there and plants migrating closer to the Alpine Zone now. The Alpine Zone is of great interest to researchers globally working to not only preserve the beauty, diversity and integrity of this highly sensitive environment, but also looking for lessons on adaptation for us all.
A new book highlighting the history and work of the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens published earlier this summer. Written by Sarah Chase Shaw, On the Roof of the Rocky Mountains the Botanical Legacy of the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens, Vail’s Alpine Treasure is both beautifully illustrated with photographs (primarily by Todd Pierce)of these rich alpine gardens, and a celebration of the global reach of the alpine ecosystem and the unique climate that supports and sustains the hardy plants and animals that inhabit it from pole to pole.
You can follow The Betty Ford Alpine Gardens on Instagram @betty_ford_alpine_gardens or online at BettyFordAlpineGardens.org.
Photos courtesy of Caitlin Atkinson, from Under Western Skies (Timber Press, 2021). All rights reserved.
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Thinking out loud this week:
And so August is here – round and redolent – ripe and heavy with the season….I treasure the early cool mornings at home in the garden this time of year – and treasure too outings to meet plants both old and new to me in meadows, along the coast or creeks and in the mountains – whether it’s the Sierra or Cascade ranges of my now home or the Rockies of my birth place.
As many of you know, I was born and raised at 8,000 feet in Colorado and so even to listen to Nicola and Nick describe the Betty Ford Gardens in Vail seems homey to me - but then – have you noticed that no matter where you go, if you recognize plants there you automatically feel more at home?
Yep - me too.
The double edge of Nicola’s first description of the Alpine Zone is sitting with me through this conversation – The Land Beyond Trees.
I am in awe of the resilience and resourcefulness of the impressive diversity of plants and animals who make their lives in this zone above treeline, but this phrase is both strength and possible cautionary tale in a way too, don’t you think? A land, time without trees?
The shadowy edges of that treeless image haunt me.
Which is perhaps a good thing – an unyielding guard rail on my choices and priorities? I hope so.
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