City Park’s lovely 1950s-era lilacs are the perfect spot for a Mother’s Day walk | Opinion

Editor’s note: This is part of The Know’s series, Staff Favorites. Each week, we will offer our opinions on the best that Colorado has to offer for dining, shopping, entertainment, outdoor activities and more. (We’ll also let you in on some hidden gems). 

My mom has never been one for Hallmark holidays. Birthdays? Sure. But Valentine’s Day, Halloween and, yes, even Mother’s Day? You can mostly count her out. I think she’d rather have her kids visit her on a regular basis than make a big deal out of a particular square on the calendar.

I have a similar mindset. But when it comes to mom, I’m still going to honor Mother’s Day every year — even if I do it on a Tuesday or a Thursday, a week early or a week late.

My favorite way to do that since 2020 — when we had to stay outdoors during social distancing restrictions — has been with a walk through the mind-boggling aromatic avenue of lilac bushes that run from the Denver Museum of Nature and Science partway down toward Ferril Lake. I got the idea for the walk from my wife, who loves to meet her own mom in the same spot. Not only are the lilacs beautiful, but the bouquet also reminds me of the ones that grew in my family’s Denver backyard and in the alley behind our house when I was growing up in the 1970s and ’80s.

The lilacs at City Park were planted in 1952 by Saco DeBoer’s famed landscaping and design firm. DeBoer had his hand in beautification projects all over Denver as the city’s official designer, not to mention other cities in Colorado. In addition to many of the elements at City Park, his firm’s legacy includes Speer Boulevard, the Bonnie Brae neighborhood and the Denver Botanic Gardens.

And, in fact, the lilacs were part of the DBG’s original 100-acre space in City Park — before the organization moved to its current home at 1007 York St. in 1958 and 1959. At the time, the gardens also included a pine forest (still there) roses (still there), peonies, irises, delphiniums, chrysanthemums, hollyhocks, asters and more. The existing fountain behind the museum was a water garden.

What I didn’t know until I talked with another Denver mom, Georgia Garnsey, is that the four dozen or so hedges in “Lilac Lane,” as it is known, are French hybrids (some imported especially) donated by attorney and lilac enthusiast Milton J. Keegan as a way to build interest for the botanic gardens.

In recent years, though, the hedges had “become overgrown,” said Garnsey, who is the president of the nonprofit City Park Friends and Neighbors organization. “They were a mess.”

So, last year — with the support of the city-employed horticulturalists — members of the group’s three-year-old Adopt-a-Flowerbed program donned their sunhats and gardening gloves and spend many hours pruning, removing dead branches, shaping and cleaning things up. (The program, maintained by three neighborhood groups, is always looking for volunteers, by the way, Garnsey said.) They also cleared debris from the dirt path that runs between the hedgerows.

“This spring is the ‘grand opening,’” Garnsey said. “The fragrance is wonderful.”

And, indeed, the bushes have all bloomed beautifully over the past two weeks, splashing the park not just with that fragrance, but with a lovely array of colors — pink, violet, purple and white — as well.

And they make for a beautiful spring walk — on this Sunday or any other day.

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