Denver Botanic Gardens
by Charles B. Thomas with Joe Tomocik
Click images to enlarge
Cindy Tejral Photo
Joe Tomocik assumed responsibility for the water gardens at
Denver Botanic Gardens upon his arrival there in 1982. Ever since,
he has spearheaded their aquatic development earning recognition
as a water gardening Mecca of planet Earth.
The following year he sparked the founding of the world's
first water gardening society, the Colorado Water Gardening Society.
During a Gardens water garden class, Joe advised his enthused
students to form a group to meet regularly. John and Mary Mirgon,
along with others, promptly followed through with Joe's idea.
The society has served as an invaluable arm in the Gardens'
rise to prominence. Each year CWGS members provide skilled labor
and expertise for creating and dismantling their elaborate storied
displays. CWGS also hosts the water gardens section of the Gardens'
annual plant sale. Gardens and CWGS co-hosted successful water
gardening symposia for the International Waterlily and Water
Gardening Society (IWGS, a WGI Member) in 1987 and 1997.
Water Towers and Conservatory at
Denver Botanic Gardens
Joe Mascarenas Photo
Joe regularly teaches classes at the Gardens and elsewhere.
Moreover, Joe is on the lecture circuit giving riveting presentations
across the US and abroad, including three Hall of Fame banquet
presentations for IWGS. He received the IWGS Hall of Fame Award
A person who does things properly, Joe vigilantly monitors
the identity of each of his aquatic plants, making certain that
they are properly labeled. For this reason, many serious water
gardeners travel to the Gardens to confirm the identity of their
Joe is the featured photographer and author of Water Gardening
(Pantheon Books, 1996). His highly respected and expanding out-reach
program has helped to establish many outstanding water gardens
including the stunning one at the University of Denver. Not limited
to aquatics, Joe is past President of the Rocky Mountain Regional
N. 'Joey Tomocik'
Kit Knotts Photo
Joe cooperates with leading hybridizers and nurseries to name
and to introduce outstanding award-winning waterlilies. Examples
include Nymphaea 'Denver's Delight' (Tomocik), N.
'Colorado' (Strawn) and N. 'Joey Tomocik' (Strawn). His
authoritative articles steadily appear in prestigious magazines
including Horticulture and Fine Gardening.
Kirk Strawn named the yellow hardy waterlily N. 'Joey
Tomocik' in honor of Joe's lovely daughter. Water gardeners worldwide
love it for its brilliance and excellence. Denver Botanic Gardens
features it each summer in their pools. Joey lives in New York
where she pursues a dual career in dancing and filmmaking.
While growing up in his native Ohio, Joe enjoyed activities
like playing a lot of wiffle ball . Nevertheless, water has always
been a special calling for Joe. Even as a child, he especially
loved streams, lakes and fishing. He also loved the woods. Friends
called him "hermit".
Read Joe's Diary of a Professional
Water Gardener in
Joe graduated from Youngstown State University with a Bachelor
of Science in Education degree and then taught in Thorn Hill
School, Youngstown, Ohio. "I taught grade six in an inner
city school. Memorable . . . special . . . I remember the kids
even now, forty years later." At the Gardens, Joe finds
this background helpful while coaching interns to find joy in
life working with waterlilies.
"Now I have these 72 packs of Venus flytraps at the Gardens'
information desk. Hundreds of traps for kids to activate. I go
up there, find a group of kids and we have some fun!" His
education degree prepared him well for a fruitful lifetime of
teaching others how to water garden successfully.
Recently he has developed a special interest in wood. Joe
finds various woods intriguing, beautiful, and fragrant. Trouble
is, his fireplace wood keeps piling up because "I just can't
burn it." He has eight kinds of firewood he simply refuses
Joe says, "Life is doing something and nothing. I do quite
a bit of that. I am not talking about meditation, that is work
. . . takes effort. Every day is a treasure, a blessing . . .
let's not take life for granted. Part of life is discovering
who we are. The most exciting thing is what we can be . . . as
individuals, families, organizations, etc. I get into something
and get real excited . . . reading, etc."
Joe also confides, "I danced on stage with the Cleo Parker
Robinson Dance Ensemble, Denver's most revered dance group. And
at a staff talent show during the last holiday season, I did
a routine with my brother Ron. I told a story and Ron played
the accordion. We were great!"
He continues, "Being a father, that's a privilege! Joey
is in New York looking to make it as a dancer and filmmaker.
She fell into a great thing with that 'Joey Tomocik' waterlily.
Kirk Strawn, what a gem, and the other aquatic nurserymen, too.
I have a good feeling about them.
Joe beside a giant dragonfly in the Monet
Pool at Denver Botanic Gardens
Joe Mascarenas Photo
"Trout, native cutthroats, I love them and the streams
they thrive in. Beautiful colors . . . like the waterlilies.
"None of us should be jumping with joy all day long, while
others suffer around the world . . . as in Rwanda. I follow the
genocide there and help to support a Rwandan orphanage. What
did those kids do to deserve their plight?
"There is value to everyone . . . everyone! Water gardening
is a connection!
"I truly work at a good place, the horticulture staff is
special . . . the whole staff is excellent. I enjoy everyone.
"To inspire, that's a good thing. Everyone wants to be a
part of something magnificent.
People are so anxious to get somewhere, running over each other.
It's ok to enjoy where you are . . . the present moment.
"Mom and Dad (Margaret and Michael), they were very good,
decent people who loved and sacrificed for their kids. I am lucky."
A perfectionist, Joe's achievements give convincing testimony
to his natural talent for teaching and inspiring others.
2, Number 2
Denver Botanic Gardens Web Site