It’s springtime, and the Denver Botanic Gardens’ beds are full of activity. But it’s the plants themselves that are in a state of change, not so much plant lovers buzzing around to see them.
The institution’s many walkways and trails have been vacant since Denver and Colorado issued stay-at-home orders due to the novel coronavirus outbreak. Still, nature’s calendar stops for nothing. It’s time for new growth and planning for the gardens.
Mario Bertelmann has worked in horticulture here for about six years. On a warm Tuesday, he’s moving some echium from an ornate greenhouse out into the sun.
Bertelmann said the flowers, bushes and trees here may very well be affected by the absence of crowds. He’d heard the theory that talking to plants helps them grow, and he more or less believes it.
“The plants are missing the people,” he said. “Plants feed off of the interactions with people just like they feed off interactions with wildlife.”
Still, he’s noticed more wildlife creeping into the gardens, so that might help keep the flora from getting lonely. He’s seen more rabbits and birds lately. A resident hawk seems to have gotten closer than ever, now that nobody’s around to scare it away.
The real victims here, he said, are the people who love visiting the space. Especially in a moment so fraught with stress, they’re likely missing the calm of the gardens.
That’s one reason why gardens staff have become increasingly active online. Horticulturalists, scientists and their colleagues have begun to fill their blog and social feeds with much-desired glimpses of the beauty at DBG. Some even offer virtual tours. They’ve begun a webinar series, Therapeutic Thursdays, that includes topics like “building a relationship with plants” and “meeting trees.” Other posts offer help to at-home gardeners, a gesture that might keep people connected to DBG while they try to green their thumbs.
“It’s a great way to get your mind off the craziness,” Bertelmann said. “Its one of the safest and healthiest things you can be doing at home.”
In a steppe garden closer to the entrance, Kevin Williams is scraping away dead foliage left over from the winter. His job, he said, has become hectic in some ways. DBG puts hundreds of volunteers to work each year, especially in the spring. But none are allowed to pitch in at the moment, so he’s got to go at it alone.
“They’re extremely helpful,” he said. “It’s definitely peaceful in that it’s much quieter, but there’s a certain sense of urgency.”
The increased emphasis on social media means he has an opportunity to display the space through his eyes, but he misses the questions and crowds.
Jenny Miller, who was digging into an ornamental grass garden, agreed.
“We always love the quiet because you can hear the birds,” she said. “But we wouldn’t trade our visitors for any quiet. It’s the visitors that makes this place come to life. It’s all part of the sounds that we enjoy here.”
The staff is also eagerly awaiting the opening of the new building on campus, the Freyer – Newman Center. The art galleries, educational spaces and coffee shop — all open to the public without admission — is “99 percent complete,” according to DBG spokeswoman Erin Bird. It’s supposed to open in May, and Bird said they’re so far not expecting a delay.