Diary of a Professional Water Gardener
by Joseph V. Tomocik
Curator, Water Gardens,
Denver Botanic Gardens, Colorado
Images by Joseph V. Tomocik
Click images to enlarge
A snow storm is expected to dump up to ten feet (three meters)
of snow in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California this first
week of January and is headed our way. We expect to get some
snow; the amount is in question.
December 2007 was the sixth snowiest December on record for
Denver. This is good news for hardy waterlilies resting in tanks
between the greenhouses or under a mulch of bagged leaves in
an outside bin. The snow serves as mulch to help prevent the
plants from freezing.
Measurements January 3 showed ice depths of one half to three
inches (one to eight centimeters) in the tanks and four inches
(ten centimeters) in the Monet Pool. Fingers crossed, our waterlilies
are safe for the rest of winter.
Hardy waterlilies tucked
away for the winter
Reflections, Icebergs and Blossoms of Light
This year we decided not to drain our outside pools. This
allows a better presentation with scintillating reflections.
Reflections are constantly present, though not always noticed
and appreciated. Fall and winter are excellent times to enjoy
Freezing temperatures clog fountain jets making dramatic iceberg
sculptures. One such work of art reaching eight to ten feet (two
to three meter) high developed recently in the Monet Pool.
Our award-winning Blossoms of Light holiday display was scheduled
for December 1 through January 20. The Gardens become a fairyland
of electrifying twinkling lights, reaching up trees and lining
the pathways and pools. Each year we convert more lights to energy-efficient
Building a Future
A Bold Plan for Denver
As we move forward in the New Year, Denver Botanic Gardens
is poised to make many much-needed and exciting changes. The
profound and ambitious Master Development Plan provides us a
programmatic vision inspired by our mission statement "connecting
people with plants".
Last November Denver voters approved a bond initiative that
directs significant funds to DBG for enhancing our Gardens. A
capital campaign will augment the funding. And a new brand (new
logo, enhanced commitment to excellence, leadership and service)
will communicate better to the public our core values of Diversity,
Relevance, Sustainability and Transformation. This represents
an exciting blueprint for updating and enhancing our aging gardens
that first opened it is doors in 1960.
Our aquatics collection and waterways exist in the midst of the
new transformation as a core collection and garden theme. The
signature Eckbo waterways "throughout the Gardens reinforces
its life-giving, cleansing spiritual and restorative properties."
Of course, our bountiful, exhilarating summer displays, will
continue. The collections, education and research will evolve
to even loftier heights. The waterways will extend into the new
Highlights of 2007
Noteworthy was our newly developed affiliation with Water
Gardeners International (WGI). The Diary of a Professional Water
Gardener was born, this being the fourth edition. Director of
Horticulture Sarada Krishnan collaborated with me for a Spotlight
feature article (October, 2007) on stewardship and our water
gardens. Here, I introduced the Rocky Mountain Legacy Waterlily
DBG was one of two botanic gardens selected to work with WGI
in introducing the amazing pink hardy waterlily Nymphaea 'Pink
Ribbon' (Songpanich). Three plants were auctioned yielding US$1500,
all of which was donated to The Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer
Foundation, with two of the plants then sent to gardens at the
request of the high bidder. N. 'Pink Ribbon' was a favorite of
Gardens' visitors and photographers.
We received a plaque in recognition for our donation of waterlilies
to the Thai Certified Collection displayed at King Rama IX Public
Park, Thailand. This was part of the International Waterlily
and Water Gardening Society (IWGS) annual symposium.
We again received rave reviews for our marvelous displays.
The Colorado Water Gardening Society (CWGS) continued to play
a major role in supporting DBG and the water gardens.
Tropical waterlilies produce tubers more readily in three
to four inch (eight to ten centimeter) pots which is why we have
an indoor propagation facility to maintain our collection. We
search for tubers in the fall from plants displayed outside in
five to seven gallon (19 to 26 liter) pots. In October we found
tubers in 19 of the 30 pots we searched. Usually we do not do
Our best performing tropical waterlilies in the greenhouse
now are N. 'Teri Dunn' (Frase) and N. 'White Delight'
I now act as a liaison for new water gardens in the San Juan
Mountains of Telluride, Colorado. The more water gardens, the
Our carnivorous plant display continues at the information
desk. Carnivorous plants (flytraps, sundews and pitcher plants)
can be displayed indoors with relative ease year-round.
Freestone and Len
Freestone cleaning and
Have you ever tried the prickly waterlily Euryale ferox?
It grows easily from seed and can be planted a week or two earlier
in the season than tropical waterlilies. The undersides of the
leaves reveal a rich purple.
Stay tuned to Water Gardeners International (WGI) for the
latest water gardening news!
Chapungu, Zimbabwe and Magical Drums
During 2004 Denver Botanic Gardens hosted 'Chapungu",
an enormously popular African sculpture exhibit. In 2007 DBG
welcomed "Chapungu" back, this time with 57 monumental
stone sculptures from Chapungu Park in Harare, Zimbabwe. Again
warmly received by DBG visitors, the exhibit was a major factor
in propelling us to an attendance record in 2007.
Swing Me Mama
"My young mother Mainini is still a child herself. We play
many games. We will grow up together."
Master Zimbabwean Chuapungu sculptor
Brian Nyanhongo, creating a masterpiece one stroke at a time
Guided tours, workshops, a gallery and even a reading group were
featured around the compelling event. The varied sculptures were
placed strategically throughout the gardens. My favorite, Swing
Me Mama, 1995 (Dominic Benhura) hovered ceremoniously over
the Monet pond. The sculptures were created by Shona artists,
descendents of the Shona people who migrated to southern Africa
in the tenth and eleventh centuries C.E. (Common Era) to establish
a powerful, wealthy society.
Leap Frog, 1996, Dominic Benhura,
and the Reflection Pool
Adding a special touch was drummer/story teller Jonathan Knox
who migrated through the gardens recounting tales of early Shona
culture to the accompaniment of the rhythmic and magical drum.
Jonathan Knox at the Zen Doorway Garden
I was very much at home with Chapungu, knowing that many of
our most glamorous tropical waterlilies are of African origin.
N. micrantha, N. caerulea, N. capensis, N. colorata and
N. sulfurea are important African species waterlilies
(search the WGI website and GRIN, Germplasam Resources Information
Network, to find reliable updated information regarding waterlily
nomenclature and taxonomy).
Chapungu founder/curator Roy Guthrie and master sculptor Brian
Nyanhongo confirmed that pink and blue waterlilies decorate the
See you at poolside,