Read about Joe Tomocik


Diary of a Professional Water Gardener

Chapter 4
Winter 2008

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 reflections.

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 LED lights. 

Building a Future…A Bold Plan for Denver Botanic Gardens

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 arrival courtyard.  

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 Collection.

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 as well.

Our best performing tropical waterlilies in the greenhouse now are N. 'Teri Dunn' (Frase) and N. 'White Delight' (Winch).

I now act as a liaison for new water gardens in the San Juan Mountains of Telluride, Colorado. The more water gardens, the better.

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.

Volunteers Carla
Mascarenas, Doris
Freestone and Len
Freestone cleaning and
storing tropical
waterlily tubers

Nymphaea 'Teri Dunn'

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 Zimbabwe countryside.

See you at poolside,

Joe T. 

WGI ONLINE Journal Table of Contents

Water Gardeners International
Home | Join WGI | Members' Exclusive | Gateway to Water Gardening