Nonprofit creating botanic garden in former Lyons mobile home park destroyed by 2013 flood

Garima Fairfax grew up in Hawaii and always looked forward to visiting botanic gardens. In 2006, she dreamed of designing the first botanic garden in Boulder County.

And on June 23, the first flowers, grasses and shrubs were planted at Rocky Mountain Botanic Garden in Lyons. The garden, an idea almost 15 years in the making, has taken over the land that once housed the Foothills Mobile Home Park before the 2013 flood came, destroying or damaging more than 200 homes in the town.

“It’s so perfect. We’ve got so much here,” Fairfax, president of the nonprofit, said of the garden’s home, which is tucked away near the intersection of Fourth Avenue and Prospect Street.

A bee collects pollen from a sunflower at a native plant garden in Lyons on July 31, 2020. Rocky Mountain Botanic Gardens is replanting the garden after it was vandalized. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)

The garden is divided into five ecosystems that correlate with the surrounding foothills of Lyons, Fairfax explained. The gardens will feature native plants to each ecosystem, which she hopes one day will create an educational experience and a peaceful getaway.

The project already has been a getaway for volunteers — mostly in their 60s or 70s — amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s been so good to have some sort of relating with friends,” Fairfax said. “The whole time we work six to eight feet apart. Otherwise, we’d all be sitting at home.”

Before the nonprofit purchased the parcel of land from the town in 2018, there were still abandoned trailers tipped over with wreckage strewn along the grounds. As soon as the town approved the idea, volunteers got to work and began weeding the land.

Lyons resident and volunteer Cindy Kalyan says the difference in the land is “night and day.”

“You wouldn’t even be able to tell it was a mobile home park at one point,” she said. “It’s amazing what they’ve put together.”

Fairfax on Friday estimated there are now 300 plants in the ground, but still, she said the garden is only 10% completed. Funding for the free garden and its plants comes from donations, grants and fundraisers, and the nonprofit’s annual plant sale.

The garden has been closed to the public in alignment with the town’s park closures to combat the virus.

On July 22, someone pulled out some black-eyed Susans from the dirt and threw some rocks around in the garden. A police report was filed, but Boulder County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Carrie Haverfield said there is no known suspect, though an individual was taken on a mental health hold in connection to reported criminal mischief in the area that night.

While the garden has been closed, the little free library at the entrance has remained popular.

“It’s been so popular during the pandemic because no one has any other source,” Fairfax said. “Every time we put books in they just disappear.”

Still, those passing by crossing the South St. Vrain Creek heading to Bohn Park admire the work of the gardens.

“Garden looks great, Garima,” one walker said on Friday. heading toward Prospect Street.

Fairfax plans on finishing two of the five ecosystems this year and the remaining three next year.

“We’re thinking of this as a gift to the community, Fairfax said. “I think everyone has that choice. You can take something or you can give something. Plus, we’re all giving to ourselves because it’s so fun.”

Director and volunteer Garima Fairfax unpacks supplies for volunteers at a native plant garden in Lyons on July 31, 2020. Rocky Mountain Botanic Gardens is replanting the garden after it was vandalized. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)