Read about Joe Tomocik

Diary of a Professional
Water Gardener

Chapter Six
Winter 2009

by Joseph V. Tomocik
Associate Director and Water Gardens Curator
Denver Botanic Gardens, Colorado

It was a beautiful blizzard and I am most happy to have escaped the accidents.

As I work on this update I am wondering, not in a small way, how the hardy waterlilies (Nymphaea) will survive the winter. Because of the construction, we have more plants than ever covered with bags of leaves in our now waterless pools. We also have a good number of waterlilies in galvanized tanks. The tanks are in an exposed area as opposed to the old protected location between the greenhouses. 

Autumn 2008 was an extension of the summer, sunny and mild. Before Christmas it got brutally cold with the temperature dipping to -19 F (-18 C) degrees one night.

The worst scenario is that many of the plants will be lost. This is not as it sounds, as there are a number of gardens and nurseries that can replenish our plants quickly. I often exclaim that the hardy waterlilies are hard to kill, which is true. This winter may be an exception.

New at the Gardens

A newly published book by Denver Botanic Gardens is Flourish: A Visionary Garden in the American West, edited by Senior Curator and Director of Outreach Panayoti Kelaidis. Highlighted with discussions, photos and botanical drawings from over 30,000 accessions are 50 select plants. Victorias (V. cruziana and V. 'Longwood Hybrid') are amongst the most popular plants displayed. At our mile (1.6 kilometer) high altitude they are a bit of a challenge, though not really that difficult. In late summer with their huge fairy-like leaves, they are the plants visitors most want to see. Fine specimens are also displayed at nearby Hudson Gardens and the University of Denver. 

Cyperus papyrus in
El Pomar Waterway

The signature exhibit for 2009 is Jurassic Gardens: Evolution and Extinction. Included in our displays will be 14 life-sized realistic dinosaurs from the Cretaceous and Jurassic periods of the Mesozoic era. Aquatic plants featured include horsetails (Equisetum hyemale), waterlilies and algae.
Construction is well underway as we dismantle old buildings, build a new parking lot and greenhouses and create new awe-inspiring gardens. Huge cranes, bulldozers and other construction equipment are seen everywhere. New waterlines including one for recycled water are being installed. The Entrance Garden at the new visitor center will include two water features. 


The horticulture staff remains dedicated to once more create and maintain outstanding displays. The Colorado Water Garden Society is again poised to host their popular Get Wet! (April 20) and Water Blossom Festival (August 16) events.  

Remembering 2008
Let the Games Continue…
Late Summer, 2008

Sensory Garden Gem

Created by the 2008 interns and expertly maintained by Horticulturist Angie Andrade-Foster, this delightful water garden features tumbling water and a classical, tiny, red, Latour-Marliac waterlily Nymphaea 'Ellisiana'. This darling garden is beckoning to see you.


N. 'Cynthia Ann'

Romantic Gardens Pool

The featured Rocky Mountain Legacy Collection (RMLC) waterlilies are displayed here and all are unique, beautiful and Gold Medal winners.

The six hardy RMLC waterlilies are: N. 'Denver' (Strawn), N. 'Denver's Delight' (Tomocik), N. 'Colorado' (Strawn), N. 'Cynthia Ann' (Strawn), N. 'Joey Tomocik' (Strawn) and N. 'Attorney Elrod' (Tomocik).

The RMLC waterlilies have again performed magnificently all summer and are also displayed in the Victoria Pool and Monet Pool at Denver Botanic Gardens.

Victoria Waterlily

All eyes are now on the Victoria Pool as we anxiously await the first flower of Victoria 'Longwood Hybrid' (Nutt). The three Victorias are healthy and getting larger each day. The large plate-like leaves are a trademark of this wondrous, astonishing plant marvel. The white nocturnal flowers are deliciously fragrant, the fruity fragrance carrying a distance of 20 yards (18 meters) or more.


The Tranquil Zen Doorway Garden

Blue and purple tropical waterlilies of African origin are very much relevant around the copper Zen Doorway sculpture. Simplicity and reflection are dominant themes here. The waterlilies are now at their peak, several measuring more than ten feet (three meters) across. Photographers have made this garden one of their favorites.

Joe leading tour at Zen Doorway Garden

Fusion by Sarian, a Touch of Eloquence at the Monet Pond 
The Monet Pond has never looked better thanks in no small part, to an exquisite container garden at the base of the Monet deck. Chief Executive Officer Brian Vogt and Director of Horticulture Sarada Krishnan are the co-creators of this regal display, Fusion by Sarian. Featured plants include a richly variegated spider lily (Hymenocallis liriosome 'Variegata'), the imperial taro (Colocasia esculenta 'Illustris'), umbrella plant (Cyperus alternifolius) and Alocasia plumbea 'Nigra'.  



In the trial Gardens southwest of the Gazebo are exciting new introductions for 2007 and 2008 from leading hybridizers Craig Presnell (N. 'Ostara') and Richard Sacher (N. 'Star of Zanzibar'). These plants are Truly Named approved (Water Gardeners International) assuring they are true to labeled name.

Also here, find the RMLC waterlilies and exquisite, tiny yellow-flowering favorite N. 'Helvola' (Latour-Marliac). It is the smallest yellow waterlily and is also well known for its darling, minuscule horseshoe-shaped leaves. 

Celebrity Pool (north side of the Monet Pool)

Champion tropical waterlilies here include Don Bryne's hybrids N. 'Angela', N. 'Crystal' and N. 'Shirley Bryne'. Trevor Cole's favorites are: N. 'Colorado' (Strawn), N. 'Joey Tomocik' (Strawn) and N. 'Texas Dawn' (Landon). Also, find here rare N. 'Mary Mirgon' (Winch) and N. 'Doris Freestone' (Florida Aquatic Nurseries).

N. 'Foxfire' (Presnell)
IWGS Best New Waterlily 2004 >


Fighting Cancer, 'Pink Ribbon' and 'Lindsey Woods'

A portion of the sales of the vibrant N. 'Pink Ribbon' (Songpanich) goes towards combating breast cancer (Susan G. Komen for the Cure). In a similar way, a portion of the sales of deep purple N. 'Lindsey Woods' (Nelson Water Gardens) goes to the Texas Children's Hospital in Houston. These showy waterlilies are on the east side of the Monet Pool at the end of the east-west pathway.

Monet Pool >

Japanese Garden

Dramatic Lotuses

Lotuses (Nelumbo cultivars) are tastefully displayed throughout the Gardens' pools. The yellowing, plate-like lotus leaves in the Romantic Garden are the first sign of a late summer transformation. Shorter days and cooler temperatures echo a push towards dormancy.


On the plus side, the waterlily leaves now take on a new dimension characterized by color changes to red, orange and purple. Moreover, reflections are more dramatic in response to a lowering sun.

The prized hourglass shaped seed pods remain intact for our visitors to enjoy through out September. Splash some water on the water resistant leaves and ponder why it is impossible to get them wet. And, discover why.  

Fly Trap Feast

Carnivorous venus fly traps (Dionaea muscipula) and pitcher plants (Sarracenia cultivars) are found at both entrances to the Fly Trap Feast. Close to the north entrance is a demonstration display showing the use of aquatic plants as filters, a fine example of sustainability, one of the Gardens' important core values.

Enjoy the lively container gardens here and also tactfully framing the Victoria and Monet pools.

Leisurely Walk and a Celebrated Waterlily

CWGS provides expert
Gardens guides

A gentle walk through the Japanese and Gates Gardens might be much appreciated considering all of the excitement in the upper pools. Can you find a hidden bench to rest and dream your heart away?

Leaving our renowned Rock Alpine Garden we find a newly-created, naturalistic peaceful water garden (Birds and Bees) with soothing churning water and another fine specimen of N. 'Denver's Delight'.  


Allyson Felix … Olympian
Bill Powell/Marge Oleson … Volunteer Coordinators, CWGS
Cleo Parker Robinson … Community Icon
Daniel L. Ritchie … Chancellor Emeritus University of Denver, Chairman and CEO of the Denver Center of the Performing Arts
Devin Riles … Irrigation Specialist
Jermaine Brown … Seasonal Gardener
Jim Arneil … Coordinator, Water Blossom Festival
John Bayard ... Stealth Volunteer
Larry Knowles … Longevity Volunteer
Len/Doris Freestone … Bernice Pete Peterson Award
Mark Hathaway … Arborist, University of Denver
Mike Bone … Propagator
Ron Tomocik … Accordionist

Associates, Denver Botanic Gardens
City Park Greenhouse
Denver Botanic Gardens Staff
Denver Zoological Gardens
International Waterlily and Water Gardening Society (IWGS)
Victoria Conservancy
Water Gardeners International (WGI

A final thank you to all who have so kindly contributed to the 2008 water garden displays.

See you at poolside,
Joe T.

Storied Colorado Water Garden Society leaders Marge Oleson, Lynn Jewett, Mary Mirgon and Nancy Jewett at Water Blossom Festival

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