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Rocky Mountain Steppe Summit

The Gardens' Second Annual Rocky Mountain Steppe Summit features four leading speakers on the Steppe Regions. Learn about Denver's unique ecosystem, as part of one of the steppe regions of the world.



9 a.m. Plants and Adventures Along the Silk Road with Nick Courtens

10 a.m. Coffee Break

10:30 a.m. From Hippodrome to Wild Peonies and Fermented Horse Milk with Mervi Hjelmroos-Koski

11:30 a.m. Lunch (provided) Interlude to Steppe Garden with Mike Bone

1 p.m. Conservation of Crop Wild Relatives in Kyrgyzstan David Gunn

2 p.m. STEPPE CULT - Three Years of Thoughts and Actions in the Steppe Garden with Kevin Williams



Tajikistan & Uzbekistan – Plants and Adventures Along the Silk Road

Nick Courtens

Curator of Plant Collections

Betty Ford Alpine Gardens


In April of 2018, Nick Courtens traveled to Tajikistan and Uzbekistan through a grant to learn about and document the region’s flora as research for building a new rock garden at Betty Ford Alpine Gardens dedicated to Central Asia. Through photographs and stories, Nick shares his experiences of these less travelled steppe countries full of unusual plants, colorful architecture and celebrated culture. Nick speaks in depth about how he built the new Silk Road Garden and gives an update on the successes and failures of growing unusual Central Asian plants at 8,200 feet.


Nick hails from the Catskill Mountains of New York where he developed a passion for plants and gardening on his family’s organic vegetable farm. Upon graduating from the Professional Gardener Training Program at Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania, Nick moved out west in search of mountains, skiing and horticulture at Betty Ford Alpine Gardens. For the past nine years, Nick has been responsible for all horticulture and maintenance at Betty Ford while also building new rock gardens, an alpine house and expanding the plant collections as well as many other major renovation projects for the gardens this past summer.


From Hippodrome to Wild Peonies and Fermented Horse Milk

Mervi Hjelmroos-Koski

Manager of the School of Botanical Art & Illustration

Denver Botanic Gardens


Mervi shares her experience on a recent School of Botanical Art and Illustration arts and archives tour along the Silk Road from Istanbul to Samarkand and the Tien Shan mountains.


Mervi Hjelmroos-Koski is a Finnish-born scientist with a Ph.D. in quaternary biology from the University of Lund, Sweden and D.Sc. in aeropalynology from the University of Stockholm. The author and co-author of a large number of scholarly publications, Mervi has researched and taught at universities on four continents. Since 2007 she has coordinated and managed the School of Botanical Art and Illustration at Denver Botanic Gardens.


Conservation of Crop Wild Relatives in Kyrgyzstan

David Gunn

English Woodland Collection

Missouri Botanical Garden


In 2018, the Missouri Botanical Garden formed a partnership with Gareev Botanical Garden in Bishkek to conserve the threatened and endangered tree flora of Kyrgyzstan’s ancient walnut-fruit forests. To date, teams have completed four trips to western Kyrgyzstan, scouting for and collecting seeds and vegetative material from Malus niedzwetzkyana (Niedzwetsky’s apple), Pyrus korshinski (Korzhinski pear), Amygdalus bucharica (wild almond), Armeniaca vulgaris (wild apricot) and various other wild relatives of modern fruit crops. These species are in danger of extinction due to habitat loss and other factors. This talk discusses the project’s ongoing efforts toward conservation, including the development of new infrastructure for ex-situ collections at Gareev Botanical Garden.


David Gunn has been with the Missouri Botanical Garden since 2012, where he manages the English Woodland Collection and leads a crew of climbing arborists to maintain the Garden’s diverse tree collection. Mr. Gunn has participated in several botanizing and plant collection trips throughout the United States and abroad, most recently a two-year project to conserve fruit tree genetics in Kyrgyzstan for in-situ and ex-situ conservation. Mr. Gunn is an ISA-certified arborist and holds a degree in horticulture.



STEPPE CULT - Three Years of Thoughts and Actions in the Steppe Garden

Kevin Philip Williams


Denver Botanic Gardens


The Steppe Garden at Denver Botanic Gardens opened in 2016 with the mission of bringing together the floras of the major steppe regions of the world. Through four seasons of constant collection building, revision, expansion and articulation, an expanded ethos emerged. STEPPE CULT exists extranationally and interrelationally, between the garden and the gardener. It is the space in which both actors are changed by each other and the force by which the future of the Steppe Garden, the steppes and possibly all Earth biomes will be shaped.


Kevin Philip Williams is a horticulturist for Denver Botanic Gardens where he stewards the Steppe Garden, Dwarf Conifer Collection, Lilac Collection, Josephine Streetscape Gardens and co-coordinates Denver Botanic Gardens’ Horticulture Internship Program. Since joining the Gardens in 2015, Kevin has explored and plant-collected throughout the North American steppe. Kevin is an alumnus of the Longwood Graduate Program in public horticulture, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden Horticulture Internship Program and is a former horticulturist for The High Line in Manhattan, NY.


*times and speakers subject to change


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