August Walking Tour - Water Gardens

August 5, 2019 Tamara Kilbane , Curator of Aquatic Collections

With cooler weather and an overnight hail storm punctuating the early weeks of our growing season, the water gardens got off to a slightly slower start this year. Fortunately, our extensive collection of aquatic plants has made a triumphant comeback, and August is a great month to take a walk around the ponds to see them in their full glory. 

Begin your stroll at the small pool in the Ellipse garden, home to the Chihuly sculpture, Colorado. A unique plant displayed in this pool is mosaic plant (Ludwigia sedioides). This South American native thrives in warmer water, making this small pool the ideal spot for it to show off its intricate pattern of tiny floating leaves arranged in a mosaic pattern on the water’s surface. Hardy and tropical waterlilies (Nymphaea hybrids), along with Colocasia and Canna hybrids, round out the display in this pond.

Head west to the Romantic Gardens’ pool, where you will find a display of Australian waterlily species and hybrids. These waterlilies are also a bit finicky, requiring consistently warm water and sunny weather to grow. Too many cloudy, cool days and they can quickly decide to go dormant. The Romantic Gardens’ pool is not connected to our recirculating waterway system and therefore the water temps stay an average of seven to 10 degrees warmer, making it the perfect summer home for these tropical day-blooming waterlilies. Flowers can reach up to 10 inches in diameter and are held high above the water, making for a show-stopping scene. In the center of this pool, two Santa Cruz water platters (Victoria cruziana) surround a central recirculating fountain.

Continuing to the west, you will find the Four Towers Pool. This pond borders the south and west sides of the Science Pyramid and showcases a collection of hardy intersubgeneric waterlilies (crosses between hardy and tropical waterlilies that have proven to be winter hardy here in Denver) as well as gorgon plants (Euryale ferox), hardy waterlilies, tropical waterlilies and an assortment of marginal plants (plants that typically grow in shallow water around the margins of a pond), including Canna ‘Ermine’, C. ‘Blueberry Sparkler’, Egyptian papyrus (Cyperus papyrus), Mexican papyrus (C. giganteus), swamp hibiscus (Hibiscus ‘Peppermint Flare’), and golden reed (Phragmites australis ‘Aurea’).

As you follow the waterway heading west to the Steppe Garden, you will find bog bean (Menyanthes trifoliata) flanked by islands planted with marginal plants including marsh marigold (Caltha palustris), calla lily (Zantedeschia aethiopica ‘White Giant’) and monkey flower (Erythranthe guttata). Curators are currently experimenting with other steppe region species to see if they will also thrive in the boggy soil on these islands—stay tuned!

The next pool on our walking tour can be found at the west end of the Steppe Garden just as you enter the Annuals Garden. This pool is home to a collection of taro (Colocasia) hybrids that showcase the range of foliage and stem colors that have been developed in this genus.  Colocasia esculenta is also displayed in this pond with an interpretive sign detailing its importance as a food crop in tropical regions. Hardy and tropical waterlilies accent the display along with the native mare’s tail (Hippuris vulgaris).

As you walk through the Annuals Garden, you will come to the next ponds on our tour which are situated on either side of the walkway at the north end of this garden. These pools highlight the Rocky Mountain Legacy Collection—waterlilies that have been tested for performance at Denver Botanic Gardens over the years and which have historical significance. This collection includes the hardy waterlilies ‘Colorado’, ‘Denver’, ‘Denver’s Delight’, ‘Joey Tomocik’, ‘Bea Taplin’, ‘Attorney Elrod’ and ‘Cynthia Ann’. Tropical waterlilies in the collection include ‘Stan Skinger’, ‘William McLane’ and ‘Bob Hoffman’.

The Sacred Earth waterway to the south of The Hive Garden Bistro is next on our tour. This small pool is home to a collection of native aquatic plants including Rocky Mountain pond lily/spatterdock (Nuphar polysepala), bog bean (Menyanthes trifoliata) and broadleaf arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia).

Finally, the last stop on our walking tour is Monet Pool, our largest display pond situated just north of The Hive and stretching west to the border of the Japanese Garden. This water garden features the always popular Victoria ‘Longwood Hybrid’ water platters as well as hundreds of hardy and tropical waterlilies, water-loving Canna hybrids, aquatic Iris and other marginal plants including pickerel plant (Pontederia cordata), lizard’s tail (Saururus cernuus), powdery thalia (Thalia dealbata) and common rush (Juncus effusus). Be sure to find the display of miniature hardy waterlilies and star waterlilies in the area near Le Potager at the southwest end of the Monet Pool to end your tour.


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