When Colorado gets a spring like it did this year, it can seem like it goes from snow to blazing heat entirely too quickly. But luckily, local gardeners can at least turn to museum and public gardens to get a fix of color, bloom and passionate creativity that they didn't have to sweat for.
Technically, the Denver Botanic Gardens, with two locations, at 1007 York St. in Denver and 8500 W. Deer Creek Canyon Road in Littleton, ranks as a museum. It's the big kahuna of Colorado public gardens, but it's not the only museum garden in town. Many area museums have splendid gardens on their grounds or nearby.
"Museums usually incorporate the garden only when sculpture is a part of the offering," said Cynthia Madden Leitner, founder and CEO of the Museum of Outdoor Arts, headquartered in Englewood.
But "landscape architecture and garden creation are an art form all their own. The most attractive synergy for art is when objects and installations are integrated thematically with the landscape, the flora and fauna, and the architecture," Leitner said.
"And it is sublime when the weather cooperates."
Cooperative weather or not, when you've finished with watering, weeding and mowing, try a visual respite in these museum gardens, many of them free.
The Arvada Center advances Colorado's art scene indoors and out. Inside, in addition to galleries, an intimate theater stages plays and concerts. Outside, an amphitheater is backed on the south side by a xeric garden with native plants.
Clarice Dreyer sculpted the birdhouses and birdbaths in the garden. The artist also created the cast aluminum vines that wend around the amphitheater's blue walls.
Don't miss: In the parking lot between areas D and E, see "Anemotive Kinetic 8/08" — a 17-foot-tall, kinetic sculpture by Colorado sculptor Robert Mangold.
6901 Wadsworth Blvd., Arvada; 720-898-7200; arvadacenter.org.
The Butterfly Pavilion
This museum devoted to butterflies in Westminster includes a butterfly garden and a nature trail. It's a symbiotic relationship: The butterflies need plants for food and shelter and plants need butterflies for pollination. Here, outdoor gardens include more than 300 plant species ideal for butterflies.
Don't miss: On the Big Dry Creek Nature Trail, a half-mile loop outside the pavilion, you might spot butterflies, but also hawks, eagles, other raptors and herons.
6252 W. 104th Ave., Westminster; 303-469-5441; www.butterflies.org.
Clyfford Still Museum
The leafy courtyard outside the museum is an artful, immaculate environment. The large, cobalt blue sculpture, "For Jennifer," adds interest to a gracious forecourt; there's a grove of roughly 50 London plane trees and a mass planting of 300 serviceberry shrubs, 2,200 kinnikinnicks and geometric swatches of sod.
In his architect's statement, Brad Cloepfil of Allied Works Architecture described the forecourt as "a place of contemplation, decompression and transition from the museum's surrounding urban context."
Don't miss: You don't need a museum ticket to enjoy the courtyard, but if you do go inside, check out two terraces, one with a succulent garden, another with a swath of turf — both modern gardens that go with the architecture.
1250 Bannock St.; 720-354-4880; clyffordstillmuseum.org.
The Denver Art Museum and Civic Center
The public piazza outside the Hamilton Building includes fountains, flowerbeds and benches. Or step across to Civic Center park, where you can stroll grounds adorned with some of the most spectacular annual gardens in the Mile High City. The densely planted beds and borders crescendo in late summer.
Don't miss: The large, shallow pool just across the street from The Denver Post was restored before the Democratic National Convention in 2008 and features sculptures of seals (which may or may not, given water restrictions, be spouting water).
100 W. 14th Ave. Parkway; DAM 720-865-5000; denverartmuseum.org.
Denver Museum of Nature & Science
Just behind the museum, two lakes, a lily pond, a rose garden, a handsome boathouse, and one of the best views of downtown Denver and the Front Range await visitors. To enjoy this vast public garden, you need not have tickets to the museum, and parking is free.
Don't miss: The Shakespeare elm near the corner of Colorado Boulevard and East 17th Avenue is a towering tree started as a scion from the bard's Stratford-On-Avon home.
2001 Colorado Blvd; 303-370-6000; dmns.org.
Headquartered in a historic studio, the Kirkland pays homage to celebrated Denver painter, Vance Kirkland, who was a gardener. Its collection includes glass, pottery, paintings and other works inspired by gardens or landscapes.
The museum includes a quaint sculpture garden hemmed in by brick walls and brick raised beds. Its 20 pieces include Bob Ragland's playful found-object musicians, another large Mangold kinetic piece and works by Angelo di Benedetto, Roger Kotoske, David Mazza, Todd Siler, Al Wynne, and Charles Parson.
Don't miss: Vance Kirkland's enormous outdoor painting, "Mysteries in My Garden," is hung in the courtyard.
1311 Pearl St.; 303-832-8576; kirklandmuseum.org.
Museum of Outdoor Arts
The museum exhibits its collection in gardens, office parks, on thoroughfares, as well as inside buildings. Its indoor galleries at South Santa Fe Drive and West Hampden Avenue in Englewood are showcasing Claudy Jongstra's textile arts. An artist from the Netherlands with roots in the high-fashion world, Jongstra grows her own plants as a source of dyes for her wool. She installed a miniature labyrinth made of wool and a second, made of stone in the atrium outside the museum.
Don't miss: For the grassy, 1-acre sculpture garden outside, David Owen Tryba — one of Denver's leading architects — designed a large, interactive fountain. In summer, the fountain includes programmed colored lights. A kinetic sculpture by Lin Emery, "Duo," catches wind in giant, red-rimmed flower petals.
1000 Englewood Parkway, 2nd Floor, Suite 2-230, Englewood; 303-806-0444; moaonline.org.
Colleen Smith is the author of "Glass Halo," set in part in Denver gardens, and "Laid-Back Skier."