Nothing says spring like the smell of fresh flowers blooming in the radiant Colorado sunshine. And, just like any season, this time of year is just a little sweeter in Northern Colorado. Against the backdrop of the Rocky Mountains, spring is never more vibrant than at The Gardens.

This season take a moment to experience The Gardens throughout Centerra. With five impressive locations in the community, this collection of native plants features some of the best horticulture in the state. Whether you’re just visiting, or you call the area home, come enjoy the beauty of The Gardens.

The New Gardens

Horticulture has always been a cornerstone of Centerra and Jim Tolstrup, executive director of High Plains Environmental Center (HPEC), is taking that to the next level with this new garden endeavor.

In 2019, Tolstrup started working on the concept which calls for a series of garden plots throughout the Centerra community.

This new idea is based loosely on similar gardens he studied at Harvard University called Boston’s Emerald Necklace, which is a series of parks in the Boston area that includes the Franklin Park Zoo and various community greenbelts.

The idea for The Gardens is similar but on a smaller scale. When complete, it will span from the west side of Centerra to the east side of Interstate – 25 (I-25). Some of the gardens, such as those at HPEC and Chapungu Sculpture Park, allow people to walk through while others can be viewed while driving.

The locations of The Gardens include:

  • HPEC – A 275-acre park with extensively restored natural areas and ponds, three and a half miles of trails and areas of intensively managed landscaping.
  • Old Canal Park – A three-acre portion of HPEC with an island separated from the surrounding land by the Greeley Loveland Irrigation Canal.
  • Citizen Hahn – Named for John Hahn a settler, farmer and civic leader of the late nineteenth century. Citizen Hahn is an area planned for development adjacent to HPEC and will include a farm-to-table restaurant, a boutique hotel, shops and public gathering spaces.
  • Chapungu Sculpture Park – A 26-acre park that houses 82 stone sculptures created by Zimbabwean artists. The majority of the park is a maintained natural area, interspersed with spectacular horticultural displays featuring a large-scale demonstration garden.
  • Kendall Parkway – This is currently under construction and will be intensively landscaped with scenic views of the lakes and mountains and will connect all of these features within a five-minute drive.

Like any garden, the project is a work in progress but The Gardens have already drawn attention and high praise. “The Gardens at Centerra are unique in so many ways: incorporating what is essentially a botanical garden and native plant nursery as an integral part of a housing and business development represents a profoundly sensitive statement,” Panayoti Kelaidis, director of outreach at Denver Botanic Gardens, says.

High Plains Environmental Center

HPEC has played an integral role in the Centerra community since 2001. The idea for the center was originally conceived by Tom Hoyt, president of McStain Neighborhoods and builder of High Plains Village at Centerra. His long-held belief that conservation and development go hand-in-hand was one of the driving forces behind the creation of HPEC. The center officially registered as a non-profit on March 21, 2001.

Today, Tolstrup oversees the operation with his green thumb and a spark of creativity. Tolstrup joined the team in 2007, bringing his love for nature to Northern Colorado. Tolstrup oversees everything from HPEC’s land management program to maintaining native plant gardens to day-to-day administrative tasks.

Tolstrup has always had a love for the outdoors, plants, birds, and wildlife, making his position at HPEC the perfect fit. Tolstrup played a huge role in getting Centerra designated as Colorado’s first Certified Community Wildlife Habitat in 2018.

“For many years horticultural and restored environmental features, of exceptional quality and scope, have been evolving at Centerra,” Tolstrup says. “We know of no other collaboration in the world, between a visionary developer and a non-profit 501c3, that approaches the scale and scope of Centerra, and provides such a rich and varied experience for visitors, all with no charge for admission.”

HPEC’s influence goes beyond simply attracting people. The flowers and installations are extremely impactful and helpful to the bees and insects, creating a pollinator-friendly environment and ecosystem, in turn making life better for all.

Volunteers and the HPEC

The HPEC relies heavily on volunteers in order to accomplish its mission. It has volunteer opportunities throughout the year for individuals to get involved with its mission.

“Everything is built by volunteers, aside from structures. It’s entirely built through community engagement,” Tolstrup says.

The Gardens provide a respite for those looking for a little escape. A place to slow down, enjoy some solitude and soak in the variety of flowers and installations Tolstrup and his team have worked so hard to bring to life.

Tolstrup’s focus on The Gardens continues to transform Centerra’s natural parks and amenity spaces into a “must-see” destination, but he can’t do it without help.

If you’re interested in learning more about volunteer opportunities, please check out the HPEC events calendar on their website to find upcoming ways to dig in and help out. And make sure to follow HPEC on social media to learn more about volunteer opportunities, upcoming events and its conservation efforts on Facebook and Instagram.