In Memoriam: Joan Franson

October 26, 2014 Panayoti Kelaidis , Senior Curator & Director of Outreach

Joan Franson Joan Franson and Cistus laurifolius

Joan Franson, long time volunteer and champion of Denver Botanic Gardens, passed away on Thursday, October 17. Her obituary in the Denver Post provides more information on Joan. There will be a Memorial Service for Joan at Denver Botanic Gardens this Tuesday morning in John Mitchell Hall at 10 a.m., October 28.

Those of us privileged to work at the Gardens tell ourselves it's all about the plants. And of course, plants are infinitely variable and beguiling. But every few days someone strolls by and you find yourself intrigued, or in the case of Joan, you are simply bowled over by their energy and charisma.

I actually first met her forty years ago before I even worked here, when she gave a talk to the Rock Garden club on wildflowers. I was dazzled by her wonderful photography, but it was her crisp, Midwestern voice, with lilting cadences and rhetorical flourishes, that mesmerized me! She ended her slides by billowing out fresh bedsheets from J.C. Penney with gorgeous painted images of wildflowers--yellow ladyslippers, blanket daisies--and she urged us to hustle down and buy some. The Federated Garden clubs (another of her passions) had arranged to have a portion of sales from each set of sheets sold go to a special fund for wildflower preservation. Who could resist? I scuttled down there the very next day and still have these sheets tucked deep in my linen closet--a tad threadbare since they were my favorites for a few too many years. But I can't bring myself to get rid of them!

The plant in front of Joan above is a hardy rock rose, or Cistus--usually quite tender Mediterrean shrubs--thriving in Joan's garden. She'd purchased this at our plant sale decades ago, and for many years hers had to be the champion specimen. She had many suchlike gems--especially hardy shrub roses, which she preferred and ultimately she was instrumental in having these become the dominant roses sold in our region today.

Rosa William BaffinRosa 'William Baffin'

The enormous mounds of 'William Baffin' in the Schlessman Plaza portion of our Romantic Gardens are excellent examples that Joan adored. I can never walk by these without hearing her crisp, Indiana accent that carried across the garden, "This rose is magnificent, but I warn you it gets very big. In fact, it requires its very own Zip Code." Joan was a hoot!

When she marched into your life (yes, Joan marched! she did not shuffle nor tread quietly), you could be sure you'd be entertained and soon you'd be chuckling. And there was usually a purpose for the visit. She dedicated untold hours in many capacities on behalf of Denver Botanic Gardens--perhaps her very favorite cause of all. I remember overhearing her once with friends of hers saying, "There are other bigger gardens, but our garden here is a jewel with many facets, and it positively gleams."

Joan had a special place in my affection (likely reciprocated). She was President of the Associates of DBG at the time I was hired. (The Associates managed volunteer affairs and the gift shop back then). The group also provided the funds that paid my salary, and she loved to boast that she was my first "boss": and a darn good one she was too!..

I must end my tribute to Joan with another rose, Rosa 'Golden Wings', one that was one of her favorites. This may explain why it seems to be growing all over Denver Botanic Gardens. The picture doesn't show how big the flowers really are, nor how profusely they bloom for months and months on end. The refulgent color, its fragrance and the colorful hips make this a wonderful presence in the garden. I have one in my own garden, and I know whenever I shall see it, I will gratefully recall Joan's compelling presence, her words that flew on golden wings, and envision her wandering through bowers of roses and rare flowers for all eternity.

Rosa Golden Wings


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