Three Trees And A River

The Garden Club of Denver tree project for the Garden Club of America Centennial purposefully reflected the unique climate in which we live. Denver is located on Colorado’s eastern plains high desert, where native vegetation is highly adapted to scarce water conditions. The South Platte River and its tributaries flow from the foothills west of Denver, through the Chatfield Reservoir and an adjacent multi-purpose site maintained by the Denver Botanic Gardens. We chose to highlight three Colorado native trees that grow along the waterways at this site:

o Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii var. glauca, a distinctive evergreen growing in the foothills west of Denver).
o The Cottonwood (Populus sargenti is the grandest and most numerous along plains creekbeds).
o Scrub Oak (Quercus gambelii, an attractive shrubby native).

The aim of our four-year project was threefold: to propagate, photograph and plant these trees at Chatfield; to educate ourselves and the public about these trees and the streams that provide them and us with vital water; and to raise money for the DBG at Chatfield.

We began in fall of 2009 with a club propagation project from seeds collected at Chatfield. We grew douglas fir from pinecones, shrub oaks from acorns and, on a chilly January day, cut cottonwood whips from mature trees. That summer, we partnered with the Cottonwood Institute to bring 6th grade students from an inner city school to plant these flourishing whips directly into riparian habitat at Chatfield. A dry, dry summer and fall doomed these hopeful saplings to failure and we began the process again with the Cottonwood Institute and a new group of schoolchildren in 2011.

Our GCA flower show in 2011 featured a large scale Power of Natives conservation exhibit focused on Three Trees and a River. A repeating slide show, a design demonstrating the different tree ecosystems along the river, live tree installations and extensive interactive and take-away educational materials earned the exhibit two Garden Club of America awards. (Needless to say, when we were done with the live trees they were planted at Chatfield.)

During this ongoing educational process, we also met with representatives of the Colorado State Forest Service and Denver Water to learn about efforts to mitigate fire danger around the foothills watersheds for reservoirs along the South Platte. We also heard a presentation from a Colorado History Museum representative on the South Platte and Cherry Creek and their importance to the history of migration and development in our state.

In October 2012, we rounded up our commitment to this project with a merry picnic dinner and auction at the Green Barn at Chatfield. We raised $5000 to help Denver Botanic Gardens to complete an extensive native garden around their new Visitors Center.

We are pleased with our long-term partnerships with DBG at Chatfield, with our public education and outreach to city children, by our propagation efforts and the integration of our flower show conservation exhibit into this GCA Centennial celebration. We are humbled, as always, by the difficulty of growing trees (without irrigation!) in our harsh climate. We have been reminded repeatedly why there are so few native trees on the Colorado eastern plains.