Heritage Garden: A great place to grow, connect, revitalize

Story and photos by Becky Hurley

Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings at Monument Valley Park’s Heritage Garden are a great place to hang out.

Just ask Colorado Springs’ Horticultural Arts Society members who meet weekly to volunteer their time pruning, planting, weeding, rearranging and generally caring for native vegetation. It’s a great place to connect with Mother Nature – and each other.

Today, for example, a group of Colorado Springs Horticultural Arts Society volunteers are working in the partially shaded Woodland Rock Garden area. The mood is upbeat as volunteers Darcy Nelson, Gayla Gallegos, Louise Conner along with Suzanne Downs and daughter Allexia are already busy planting. Armed with sun-screen, hats and drinking water, the women’s conversation and laughter suggest they’re enjoying every minute.

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Horticultural Arts Society Garden Manager Diane Brunjes says the Vegetable Garden is often visited by local bunnies.

That’s not surprising. Psychological studies have shown that time spent in the garden adds to a sense of well-being.

“It’s definitely therapeutic,” Gayla announces, stepping down from a rock. “But it can also be a fun, sweaty and healthy way to get your exercise.”

Nearby, volunteer Pat Nelson, a State of Minnesota retiree who moved to the Pikes Peak region with wife Darcy a few years ago stands, drill in hand, ready to repair a gate latch near the office. Soon local photographer Richard Mitchell stops by to capture peonies in full bloom before shooting vines of vibrant roses for his personal portfolio. Talk about a happy place!

The HAS, founded in 1962, was named the city’s very first “Friend of the City” and has earned a respected reputation for its award-winning Demonstration Garden, the Heritage Garden and the Pinetum (along Monument Creek at Colorado College). Best of all, there’s no charge to visit the gardens which are open to the public year-round.

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Photographer Richard Mitchell makes frequent visits to the Heritage Garden.

Garden Manager Diane Brunjes’ responsibilities are wide-ranging. She not only provides horticultural information and direction to volunteers and catalogs all new plants added to the garden (complete with Latin botanical name and location) but also oversees the group’s two annual fundraisers: the June Plant Sale and a fall Bulb Sale.

“They help fund our mission, and this year’s plant sale was a big success,” she says, adding that the organization receives no taxpayer funding. The city’s Parks department does, however, provide water and periodic supplies of drought-fighting mulch.

And while the Heritage Garden is not an official “therapeutic” garden designed to meet the physical, psychological, social and spiritual needs of people and their caregivers, family members and friends, it does fulfill powerful human needs.

The gardens, for example, attract a number of groups that appreciate its benefits. Among them: children with anxiety disorders who work in small teams on garden projects as a therapy that helps them conquer their fears. The HAS also has volunteers who have been diagnosed with depression and PTSD.

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Louise makes sure native rock garden plants get the water they need.

“A couple [of them] have told me that working in the garden has helped more than many of the drugs they’ve tried – and they’re now off medication completely,” Brunjes says.

Others come in search of solace after the loss of a loved one. She also has seen parents who have lost a child – one of life’s toughest challenges – have told her that gardening, along with the love of family and a supportive community, helps with the continuing struggle.

So whether you love all things green, you’re looking for a great place to volunteer and meet people or your soul simply needs a fix, the Heritage Garden at Monument Valley Park offers a restorative and energizing place to connect. For more information on the Colorado Springs Horticultural Arts Society, its programs and services, visit www.hasgardens.org or call 719-357-9427.

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Upbeat volunteer Pat Nelson inflates plant cart tire at the Heritage Garden.

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