August Walking Tour – Water Gardens

August 9, 2023 Tamara Kilbane , Curator of Aquatic Collections

With cooler, rainy weather and a late June hailstorm punctuating the early weeks of our growing season, the water gardens got off to a slow start this year. Fortunately, aquatic plants are resilient and ours have made a triumphant comeback. August is a great month to take a walk around the water gardens to see them in their full glory.  

  • Begin your stroll at the small pool in the Ellipse, home to the glass sculpture Colorado by Dale Chihuly. A unique plant displayed in this pond is mosaic plant (Ludwigia sedioides). This South American native thrives in warm water, making this 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) including ‘Purple Passion’, ‘Paul Hariot’, ‘Black Princess’ and ‘Albert Greenberg’, along with Colocasia esculenta ‘Black Magic’ and Canna ‘Chiquita Punch’, round out the display in this pond.
  • Next, head west to the Romantic Gardens’ pool, where you will find a display of star waterlilies. These waterlilies are named for the shape of their blooms, which are stellate and held high above the water’s surface. One waterlily species, Nymphaea gracilis, has been used by hybridizers to create cultivars of star waterlilies with flowers in a rainbow of colors. N. gracilis is native to Mexico and has solid white blooms and green leaves. Cultivars displayed in this pond include the pink flowered ‘August Siebert’, ‘Rhapsody in White’ (which boasts white blooms and mottled leaves) and ‘Rhonda Kay’ (which rounds out the collection with purple flowers). A pair of Santa Cruz water platters (Victoria cruziana) surround a recirculating pottery fountain in the center of this pond.
  • 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). Included in this pond are 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 ‘Sunrise Trumpeteer’, Canna ‘Ra’, red stemmed thalia (Thalia geniculata f. rheumoides), swamp hibiscus (Hibiscus ‘Berry Awesome’), Mexican petunia (Ruellia simplex), golden Japanese sweetflag (Acorus gramineus ‘Ogon’) and imperial taro (Colocasia esculenta ‘Illustris’). Water platters (Victoria ‘Longwood Hybrid’) grown from seed each spring in our greenhouse complete this display.
  • The next pond 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) cultivars 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 feathery foliage of mare’s tail (Hippuris vulgaris) and the thorn-encrusted leaves of gorgon plant (Euryale ferox). 
  • As you walk through the Annuals Garden, you will come to the next ponds on our tour, situated on either side of the walkway at the north side of this garden. The east pool highlights the Rocky Mountain Legacy Collection—waterlilies that have been tested for performance at the 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 pond on the west side of the walkway includes showy tropical plants to complement the Annuals Garden. Dwarf Egyptian papyrus (Cyperus papyrus ‘King Tut’) along with Canna ‘Lemon Punch’, Colocasia ‘Diamond Head’, Victoria cruziana and an assortment of colorful tropical waterlilies make the perfect aquatic companions for the annuals in the bed bordering this pond.
  • North of Sacred Earth’s pond and our outdoor café, the Hive Garden BistroMonet Pool stretches west to the border of the Japanese Garden and is our largest display pond and the final stop on our tour. This water garden features the always-popular water platters (Victoria ‘Longwood Hybrid’, Victoria amazonica and Victoria cruziana) 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). Stands of lotus (Nelumbo cultivars) can be found throughout the pond as well. These begin blooming in mid-July and continue into August before dropping their petals to reveal showy, decorative seed pods. 
  • Be sure to find the display of Australian waterlilies at the southwest end of Monet Pool near Le Potager garden. These tropical waterlilies need consistently warm water and sunny days to thrive and can be a bit finicky in our unpredictable climate. Their impressive size and beautiful, giant blooms make them worth the effort and worthy of a few final photos.

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