Diary of a Professional Water Gardener

by Joseph V. Tomocik
Photos by Joe Mascarenas - Click to enlarge

Joe Tomocik and Bob Hoffman

Denver Botanic Gardens . . . Among the Finest

Giant praying mantis watches over the
Boettcher Conservatory.
Botanic gardens are impressive cultural facilities. I often explain to people that it is great to be a part of something magnificent. Denver Botanic Gardens is an ever-growing vibrant institution serving well the Denver community, with tendrils reaching across the globe. Major departments include Special Events, Development, Research, Education and Horticulture. The main site (formerly a cemetery) takes in 23 acres (9.3 hectares) and is a mere ten minutes from downtown Denver, Colorado USA. 

The Boettcher Conservatory is an architectural landmark. Orchids from our renowned collection are often displayed here.

On the outside grounds are a myriad of expertly designed, maintained and interpreted gardens. Notable Gardens include the Rock Alpine Garden, the Japanese Garden, the Romantic Gardens and the Water-Smart Garden. 

Japanese Garden
Denver Botanic Gardens is a celebrated leader in low maintenance and low water requirement (xeriscape) gardens. These include the Ponderosa Border, Sacred Earth, Dryland Mesa and Plains Gardens.  

A Water Garden Runs Through It 
Traversing the grounds from east to west is an elaborate connected waterway with two huge pools (Victoria Pool and Monet Garden Pool) and a number of channels, falls, and smaller pools. Five of the smaller pools also display aquatic plants.
In all, we maintain sixteen water features at our main site. We display waterlilies and other aquatic plants in most of these. Featured plants include Victoria waterlilies, hardy waterlilies, tropical waterlilies, lotuses and marginals. Fly Trap Feast represents an assortment of container water gardens showcasing carnivorous plants. 

Lair O' the Bear

Often on my off day, I take an easy 35-minute ride to scenic Bear Creek Canyon. Here, a 392-acre open space park, Lair O' the Bear (part of Jefferson Park Open Space), includes a number of superbly maintained and marked trails.

I usually hike the 1.1-mile Bruin Bluff Trail which parallels Bear Creek (originating from the 14,000 ft. peaks of the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains), and then heads up the mountainside before returning again to the churning waters of Bear Creek. I do not come here to work. I may take a book or newspapers. I know where all six of the benches are located. My favorites are the two with backs. I take my binoculars to watch the birds and other animal life. Last Thursday I spotted numerous brown butterflies with yellow wings.

I do not go to Bear Creek to study, rather to be there, and to take in whatever comes my way. Signs along the creek explain that fly-fishing only is allowed. Yes, I have caught a few. Rainbow trout must immediately be returned to the water. Two brown trout may be kept. There are many picnic areas, each having charcoal grills (I have grilled a steak or two on these) and trash receptacles. The grills are cleaned regularly, usually by volunteers who are courteous and official looking. I often see them taking notes and policing the area.

The information station offers an abundance of information discussing the history, trails, birds and dangers of the nature park. Rules and regulations are clearly posted. Signage cautions against feeding the wildlife and wandering off paths. Dogs must be on a leash.

I always feel refreshed as I leave Lair O' the Bear, and I return often. What an excellent example and model of conservation and environmental stewardship it provides. The chances are good that our children and future generations will be able to enjoy the fishing, picnicking, hiking, history, education and solitude of Lair O' the Bear.

Blue heron, frequent visitor to DBG 

Denver Botanic Gardens too, is committed to environmental stewardship and is taking various steps in support of this. For example, the Gardens are a signatory of the Voluntary Codes of Conduct for Botanic Gardens and Arboreta (Center for Plant Conservation). 

Recently I spoke with fellow WGI member Kelly Billing who, along with Richard (Dick) Shuck, has done work using aquatic plants for removing pollutants from water. We will demonstrate this in our gardens, while educating about the dangers of using destructive invasive plants.  

Big Bugs and Carnivorous Plants

Meanwhile, until June 24 WGI Member Denver Botanic Gardens is displaying the thought-provoking Big Bug Exhibit created by David Rogers. In the Monet Garden Pond we have fun working around and with a dragonfly measuring 17 feet (5.2 meters) by 17 feet (5.2 meters). More Big Bug photos

Plant-insect relationships are a major theme for us this year. Our lobby court is divided into four areas. I am designing and maintaining an area featuring carnivorous plants. Using glazed containers turned at various angles, we are growing signature carnivorous plants including the Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula), butterwort (Pinguicula sp.), pitcher plant (Sarracenia sp.) and sundew (Drosera sp.).

Giant dragonfly

< Pitcher plants More photos

^ Venus flytrap

At the information desk we have an arrangement where visitors can activate the "traps" of the flytraps. We have 72-pack trays with the plants having seven or more traps each. That is 504 chances of fun.

Our carnivorous plant collection is growing and we display them in different ways. I have long been excited about these most curious of all plants. This fast-growing area has a boundless future. With the carnivorous plants we have the umbrella plant (Cyperus alternifolius), green taro (Colosia esculenta) and Mexican petunia (Ruellia brittoniana 'Purple Shower').

Celebrity Waterlilies

Yes, we know a bit about waterlilies too!

Through our Waterlily Trials and in conjunction with leading hybridizers and nurseries, we have evaluated, named and introduced a host of exciting new waterlilies. Plus there are so many old favorites that are fun to display.

In our Celebrity Pool this year we display and label Nymphaea 'Mary Mirgon' (Winch), N. 'Shirley Bryne' (Bryne), N. 'Colorado (Strawn), N 'Stan Skinger' (Florida Aquatic Nurseries), N. 'Foxfire' (Presnell), N. 'Charlie's Pride' (Winch) and yes, N. 'Joey Tomocik' (Strawn).  

Miami Valley Water Garden Society

I had the pleasure in March of being invited to give a presentation to the Miami Valley Water Garden Society in Dayton, Ohio. I was treated like royalty from the moment I got off the plane by society leaders Patricia and Jerry Woodbury. The audience was large, cordial and responsive. Congratulations to Patricia, Jerry and the Society on their success and exciting plans for the year!

Colorado Water Gardening Society

Meanwhile, the Colorado Water Gardening Society (CWGS) has been averaging 16 volunteers now for six straight Sundays at Denver Botanic Gardens. The society remains vital to our water gardens program and continues to excel in education and support of the Gardens and the Denver community. More volunteer photos

See you at poolside, Joe T. 

More Photos of Big Bugs, Pitcher Plants, CWGS Volunteers
Profile - Joe Tomocik

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