Not-so-secret gardens

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A red Asiatic lily blooms only a foot from the bike path. You'll be riding by and you won't be able to stop. The flower is too thick with red and the gate to the Yampa River Botanic Park is unlocked -- always.

A gravel path winds from the red lily into the rest of the garden, which is like a patchwork map of Steamboat.

The park is 6 acres dotted with Steamboat residents down on their knees pulling weeds and designing landscapes.

Among the acreage is a new Children's Garden where the Wee Sprouts from Yampatika learn what it's like to get their hands dirty and watch a seed grow into something you can eat.

Next year, in the same garden, the Botanic Park staff hopes to build a children's amphitheatre for weekly programs. The new garden was built this spring with a $5,000 grant for the plants and landscaping.

The children have a bean teepee, but they are still waiting for the tiny bean plants to grow.

The rest of the garden is busy with adult activity. Every Wednesday and Saturday, a group of volunteers shows up for "social gardening."

They weed and trim and help to create a garden so unique that it was featured in a recent five-page spread in Country Living Gardener Magazine.

The goal of the garden, indicated by its title, is to grow native plants from the Yampa River Basin.

The Yampa River Botanic Park still owns irrigation rights to the river from the time when the land was a hay field. It diverts its share of water through the park, into ponds, then recycles the unused water back into the river. The result is the sound of water trickling over rocks, past sculptures, flowerbeds and shaded fences.

The serene labyrinth started in 1996 with Kerry's Garden, named for Kerry Kaster, the former director of Steamboat Springs Parks and Recreation.

It expanded from there to form a culinary herb garden, grown and used by L'Apogee/Harwigs Restaurant; a medicinal herb garden grown by local herbalist Mary O'Brien; a garden grown by the Over the Hill Gang; a Pioneer Garden based on the plants that early settlers brought to the Yampa Valley and the Grove Garden grown and maintained by the employees of TIC.

In order to get a garden plot in the Yampa River Botanic Park, an individual or organization must first submit a design plan to the park's design committee.

Each garden is accompanied by a sitting area, usually a bench that someone purchased and dedicated to friends or family as a fund-raiser for the park.

The park is continually looking for new ways to support itself. It relies on private donations, membership fees, grants and a private endowment set up by Audrey and Bob Enever. The Enevers were the original owners of the land and donated it in the 1990s to the city of Steamboat Springs in hopes of preserving it.

The park is open dawn to dusk with special "Music on the Green" concerts at 12:15 p.m. each Thursday through the summer, sponsored by Strings in the Mountains.

To get to the park, take U.S. Highway 40 between from downtown Steamboat toward the mountain. At the Sinclair Gas Station, turn right on Trafalgar Lane. Turn left on Pamela Lane and drive to the end of the road to a parking lot. The park is in the far left corner of the parking lot. Follow the signs.

Visitors are encouraged, however, to access the park via foot or bike from the Yampa River Core Trail, take the bus, or carpool because parking is limited.

To reach Autumn Phillips call 871-4210

or e-mail: aphillips@steamboatpilot.com

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