WGI Spotlights Denver Botanic Gardens
Sarada Krishnan & Joe Tomocik
DBG's Monet Pool
Fostering Community Stewardship through
by Sarada Krishnan
Director of Horticulture
Denver Botanic Gardens
"Snowflakes are one of nature's most fragile
things, but just look what they can do when they stick together."
Vesta M. Kelly
At an elevation of 5,280 feet, one mile above sea level, Denver
is characterized by 300 days of bright sunshine per year, combined
with the climatic challenges of low precipitation, low humidity,
hot summers and cold winters. The average growing season in Denver
is approximately 16 weeks. Gardening in Denver is also challenged
by the incidence of high winds and summer hail storms. Adapting
to these natural climatic conditions, all the gardens at Denver
Botanic Gardens exemplify best management practices in environmental
stewardship and sustainability.
The horticultural displays at Denver Botanic Gardens (DBG)
demonstrate our botanical heritage while fulfilling our mission
of connecting people with plants, especially plants from the
Rocky Mountain region and similar regions around the world, providing
delight and enlightenment to everyone. The aquatic displays
at DBG are in the forefront in providing delight and enlightenment
to our visitors and volunteers, enriching the connection between
plants and people. The extensive water gardens at DBG, displaying
hardy waterlilies, tropical waterlilies, lotuses, marginals and
carnivorous plants, provide a sense of peace and tranquility
to our visitors.
The aquatic collections at DBG have grown to its current level
of significance through the diligent care and curation by Curator
Joe Tomocik. A significant part of the success of our collections
and annual displays is also attributed to the extraordinary support
and contributions of volunteers from the Colorado Water Gardening
Society (CWGS). Each year, CWGS volunteers contribute over 1,400
volunteer hours to DBG's aquatic program, making it one of the
best displays in the country.
The history of the association between DBG and CWGS stared
in 1983. On February 13, 1983, the Colorado Water Gardening Society
was founded in a Denver Botanic Gardens' classroom. Soon after,
the International Waterlily and Water Gardening Society (IWGS)
was created. The immeasurable contributions of the CWGS volunteers
along with Joe's dedication and enthusiasm have been instrumental
in DBG becoming a main force in water gardening programs in the
country. Some of our programs include indoor aquatic displays,
waterlily trails for introduction of new waterlily hybrids and
outdoor container displays. The summer displays on average include
more than 400 waterlilies and 1,000 plants, educating the public
about water gardening in an arid steppe climate. CWGS volunteers
assist in putting together our summer displays and in the fall
assist with dismantling them. In addition, volunteers also provide
water gardening education during the annual Spring Plant Sale
and the Water Blossom Festival.
The CWGS volunteers are like snowflakes, sticking together
to make DBG's aquatic program one of the best in the country
for the benefit and enjoyment of the community. Without their
commitment, endurance and selfless work, the aquatic program
at DBG will not be near what it is today.
Waterlilies and Denver Botanic Gardens'
by Joseph V. Tomocik
Curator, Water Gardens
Images by Joseph V. Tomocik
Click to enlarge
Tropical Waterlilies and Merle Moore
In 1972 Gardens Director Merle Moore called me into his office
announcing I could visit any botanic garden to learn procedures
and improving our collection. I narrowed the choices and selected
Missouri Botanical Garden (MBG), home of legendary tropical waterlily
hybridizer George H. Pring.
I was so excited. I researched (with gracious help from Walter
Pagels) everything he had written. I went to St. Louis in mid-summer
and was blown away with the size and stature of their stunning
waterlilies. MBG generously gave me tubers from their famed collection.
This prompted us to develop more successful propagation facilities.
We benefited enormously from an invaluable adviser, Patrick Nutt,
a much loved and respected waterlily expert, hybridizer and horticulture
manager at Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square, Pennsylvania USA.
Patrick had trained under Pring. In addition to his ongoing benevolence
to aspiring water gardeners, he kindly assumed a stewardship
of the Pring waterlilies.
We continue to display outstanding Pring hybrids such as the
pink Nymphaea General Pershing, blue N.
Marmorata and the stately white-flowering night bloomer
N. Missouri. I cannot imagine these proven
classics ever losing their prominence. As with the hardies, numerous
high quality tropicals (including many new introductions) from
other hybridizers exist.
At the Gardens we plant tropicals on or near June 10 and they
flower through September. We use five- or seven-gallon (19- or
26-liter) squat containers for most plants. Our average water
depth is 18-20 inches (46-51 centimeters). Starting with healthy
plants is important. Midge larvae infest our tropical waterlilies
as soon as we plant them, skeletonizing the leaves. Healthy plants
soon recover. Night blooming tropical waterlilies offer a welcome
addition to any water garden. For several years mallard ducks
have destroyed our night bloomers (those with dark leaves are
their favorite target) soon after planting.
Diverse tropical waterlilies sporting dazzling blue flowers,
enthralling purple blooms, exotic pads, and nighttime blossoms,
take over where hardy waterlilies leave. Star lilies with N.
gracilis parentage are some of my favorites. The huge plants
huge spread to 10 feet (3 meters) across with vibrant star-shaped
blooms reaching up to 18 inches (46 centimeters) above the water
surface. They are well suited to large pools
With variegated and mottled leaves, N. Albert Greenberg
(Birdsey) and N. Evelyn Randig (Randig) are
proven gems. I employ these and other tropicals with electrifying
leaves as specimen plants in our designs. Peculiar to Denver,
tropical waterlilies often develop dark rich leaves as the summer
N. 'Floyd Wohlfarth'
Tropicals continue to flower nicely on warm days through September
as hardy waterlilies decline. After Labor Day (early September),
hardies slow down noticeably. Many gardeners are not privy to
the added beauty and relative ease of growing tropical waterlilies.
Begin with healthy tropicals and plant them well after the threat
of frost has passed. We plant ours one month after the average
last frost day.
Our species collection has been enhanced thanks to the generosity
of Kenneth Landon and Dr. John Wiersema.
Denver Botanic Gardens and Colorado Water Garden Society hosted
the third symposium of the International Waterlily and Water
Gardening Society in 1987.
Enjoying a grand time with plenty of excitement, attendees
scrutinized our hardy waterlily collection. I heard some cordial
discussions . . . some just a bit testy.
Thats Rose Arey! said one. Not so,
its Rose Arey Hybrid! exclaimed another. Who was
right? Numerous similar disagreements abounded. I had some doubts
earlier. I had more now. Dr. Kirk Strawn (as honest as they get)
later suggested about half of the hardy waterlilies were labeled
I had labeled the waterlilies as they came from various nurseries.
I later confirmed one waterlily sported three different names.
Discussions and action followed, and a near miracle! IWLS and
its early leaders (Norman Bennett, Ray Davies, Bill Heritage,
Walter Pagels, Perry D. Slocum, Kirk Strawn, Phillip Swindells,
Charles B. Thomas, etc.) proceeded to identify and rectify many
errors that had crept into the trade. They created checklists
and established registration procedures. The Gardens and other
notable botanic gardens readily cooperated.
Perhaps the most significant contributions came from aquatic
nurseries. The results were miraculous. Ten years later the Gardens
displayed waterlilies for the thirteenth IWGS conference. Much
of the earlier identification confusion had melded into agreement.
A crushing hailstorm that unfortunately turned pads into confetti
failed to dampen spirits. Within two weeks, the waterlilies were
blooming profusely again.
Joseph Bory Latour-Marliac is renowned for his waterlily hybrids,
many of which were painted by Claude Monet in his famous paintings.
Allowing the bees to do the work, Latour-Marliac created a myriad
of distinguished hybrids in yellow, pink, red, and white. Outstanding
Marliac hybrid waterlilies we display in our pools include the
vibrant red N. Escarboucle, stately white
N. Virginalis, and wonderful, pink pastel
Pink N. Anna Epple (Epple), shell pink
N. Rosy Morn (Johnson) and award-winning cup-shaped
N. James Brydon (Dreer) show prominently in our
Perry Slocum, Kirk Strawn, Kenneth Landon, Rich Sacher, Bruce
and Brad McLane and many others have led a new era of remarkable
hybridization for both hardy and tropical waterlilies.
Moving to the forefront now along with IWGS is Water Gardeners
International (WGI) with its checklist of 1,800 waterlily names
(each entry with vital data), registration guidelines, and Truly
Named (internationally recognized waterlily certification program
for correct labeling). I use the excellent checklist often and
recommend its use to everyone interested in correct waterlily
N. 'James Brydon'
Rocky Mountain Legacy Collection
As many WGI/Victoria-Adventure readers know, eight outstanding
new waterlily hybrids have been evaluated, named and introduced
to the world by way of the Gardens Waterlily Trials. Major
participants have included CWGS, IWGS, Bruce and Brad McLane
(Florida Aquatic Nurseries [FAN]), Rolf and Anita Nelson (Nelson
Water Gardens), Paul Stetson (Paradise Water Gardens), Kirk Strawn,
Charles B. Thomas and Richard M. Koogle (Lilypons Water Gardens)
and the Victoria Conservancy.
The French vanilla N. Denver (Strawn) and
first salmon N. Colorado (Strawn, introduced
exclusively by Lilypons Water Gardens) make a breathtaking duo
displayed together. N. Joey Tomocik (Strawn)
is considered the brightest yellow hardy waterlily. All three
have been nominated amongst the 20 best hardy waterlilies over
the last 100 years. N. Joey Tomocik (Strawn)
and N. Colorado have won featured hardy
waterlily of the year awards from IWGS.
N. 'Denver', N.
'Colorado', N. 'Joey Tomocik'
tiny rose-colored N. Attorney Elrod (Tomocik)
persisted in our collection for over twenty years before receiving
its name. The elegant soft pink N. Denvers
Delight (Tomocik) has been grown in nearby Berkeley Park
for over fifty-five years. Named by Gardens supporter Carol
Purdy, it graces our pools in high numbers.
Growing during the season in a one-gallon (four-liter) container,
N. Cynthia Ann (Strawn) continuously produces
delightful small peach flowers. Bruce McLane spotted this little
gem in our pools and then FAN propagated it for the waterlily
N. Stan Skinger (FAN) is a small, darling,
heavy flowering apricot tropical waterlily. The rich variegated
leaves darken with age in our pools. When IWGS, the Gardens and
CWGS combined to host the first Banksian Waterlily Trials at
the Gardens in 1997, the vivid purple N. William
McLane (Florida Aquatic Nurseries) won the Banksian Award
as best over-all new waterlily.
Nancy and Trey Styler (Victoria Conservancy) led the effort
to formally register N. Denvers Delight,
N. Stan Skinger and N. William McLane
with the IWLS Nymphaea Registrar.
Individually and as a group the aforementioned extraordinary
waterlilies will long be celebrated, displayed and enjoyed by
water gardeners across the globe!
They comprise the Rocky Mountain Legacy!
Most Impressive Plant of the
N. 'Pink Ribbon'
Will Jones Photo
Denver Botanic Gardens visitors and the media could not get enough
of regal N. Pink Ribbon (Songpanich)! The
Gardens received one of only three released plants of this electrifying,
new, pink hardy waterlily. Joyce Grigonis (a WGI member, fighting
breast cancer herself) named WGIs Waterlily Beauty Contest
winner N. Pink Ribbon, matching the shade
of pink ribbons worn by supporters of breast cancer research.
A portion of the 2008 sales will go to breast cancer charities.
N. Pink Ribbon is displayed beautifully in
the Monet Pond. We look forward to displaying it again next year!
It helped make for an exciting summer at the Gardens. Moreover,
the Gardens proudly supports the fight against breast cancer
by displaying this inspirational waterlily.
Winter and Spring, Color and Activity
I am always thinking ahead to the next season, year or even
several years. A surprising touch of color always welcomes visitors
to our small but functional propagation facilities in greenhouse
3C. Here during all seasons we keep an assortment of vibrant
tropical waterlilies in full flower.
Remarkably, the venerable purple tropical waterlily N. Teri
Dunn (Frase) flowered for 51 weeks last year in the Boettcher
Conservatory. This feat is even more special considering the
water temperature and sunlight are both much less during winter.
Design, budget and interpretation meetings too, are part of
the off-season agenda. On the last Sunday of March the excellent
volunteers of the Colorado Water Garden Society (CWGS, the worlds
first water garden club) arrive to begin the process of preparing
our summer displays. The volunteers are such of a boost their
energy, joy and encouragement making things so much easier. Its
a bit apprehensive for me, realizing we are at the very start
of potting and getting in place over three hundred waterlilies.
Additionally, we display several hundred marginals in the pools
The volunteers energy, joy and encouragement make things
so much easier for me. Our aquatic displays would be minuscule
without the CWGS volunteers!
our pools fill in early April, here come the Canada geese, the
bad guys. They do little decorating the walkways and waste no
time dislodging and eating newly planted waterlilies and lotuses.
Before lowering our hardy waterlilies ever so slowly into the
pools, we secure them with bricks (kept off the lily crowns)
to thwart the geese.
The first week of May presents us the optimal time to plant
lotuses. We cover them with chicken wire cages to protect them
from the geese, which we tactfully encourage to leave.
Each summer the excitement throughout the Gardens and especially
the water gardens is at a feverish pitch. And each year is a
bit different with new surprises.
N. 'Teri Dunn'
After a prolonged absence, several turtles appeared in our
pools last year
and again this year. They were not friendly
to the waterlilies in the Japanese Gardens pool, and disturbed
the lotuses. This year they made the Monet Garden Pool their
home again. In addition, they provided extra fun for those lucky
enough to see them occasionally emerge above the water surface.
Mallard ducks are perennial favorites as they nonchalantly glide
from plant to plant.
Creating quite a stir this summer was the copper Zen
Doorway sculpture placed in one of the Rose Garden pools.
The rectangular doorway matched the formal lines of the nearby
Reflection Pool. The doorway nicely framed the viviparous
waterlilies or the artists at the opposite end of the pool. The
reflections were captivating!
Getting it Done!
Not to be forgotten are the many volunteers and supporters
who help to make the water gardens a magical place each summer.
The volunteers of CWGS remarkably provide the labor, skill
and enthusiasm each spring and fall in putting our gardens together
and taking them apart. Coordinator Bill Powell is amazing and
Nancy and Trey Styler (Victoria Conservancy) kindly provide
us with Victoria waterlilies and are cherished supporters. They
are invaluable, especially for their extended efforts with waterlily
registration and the intern program.
Larry Knowles (Associates) is the long-time Wednesday irrigation
technician. John Bayard with his dedication to the species waterlilies,
carnivorous plants and lotuses is the ultimate team player. His
contributions and importance are unsurpassed.
Volunteer icons and leaders on Sundays are Len and Doris Freestone.
Their work with tropical waterlilies and gardens maintenance
is very very special. Assisting them admirably this year have
been Carla Mascarenas, Lynn Novitsky and Michael Chan.
The college interns have again provided a big boost with their
energy, cheerfulness and energy.
Seasonal gardener Jermaine Brown has been a blessing. Thank
The inspiration and support of two-time world champion sprinter
Allyson Felix is deeply appreciated.
Our relationship with the International Waterlily and Water
Gardening Society continues with pleasure. The Gardens recently
received a plaque honoring us for our contribution of classic
hardy waterlilies used for the exhibition in the IWGS Annual
Symposium at Suan Luang Rama 9 Park, Bangkok!
New this year is collaboration with Water Gardeners International
and Victoria-Adventure (Kit Knotts). They are global leaders
in disseminating water gardening information. We are truly excited
about the enormous possibilities with WGI.
I recognize and appreciate the wonderful support of Director
of Horticulture Sarada Krishnan, and all of the splendid people
in Horticulture, Operations, Education, Interpretation, Records,
and the entire Denver Botanic Gardens staff.
See you at poolside,
Gallery of Additional
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