Mike Thomas

Aurora, Colorado



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At first glance, I probably don’t appear to be a person who would be interested in water gardening, or any type of gardening for that matter. Over the years, I have cut my share of grass, trimmed trees and bushes, raked leaves, pulled weeds, and planted more flowers than I can remember, but I still can’t classify gardening and “yard work” as a passion.

Why do I do it, then, you ask? Because my wife, Cyndie, enjoys it, and I know I can oftentimes be a help to her, and make things just a little bit easier for her. We have been married 33+ years, and have often worked side-by-side in our endeavors. Together we have raised two fine daughters, shared positions of leadership in community organizations, and published a community newspaper for 17 years. We continue to work together, with me supporting her efforts as President of the Colorado Water Gardening Society whenever possible.

There ARE some things I like about the outdoors. I like planning and building things, the feel of a tool in my hands, the problem-solving and creative thinking skills required by unique projects, the feeling of accomplishment many people never feel because they simply hire someone to take care of things for them. I was raised by a strong father who taught me the value of hard work, the importance of completing tasks I started, doing the best job I could regardless of the outcomes, and so on. A very traditional German attitude toward life, compounded by the fact he was a mechanical engineer, with all the anal compulsiveness required by that profession. Perhaps that’s why I sought a slightly different route than engineering as a career – I became a Technology teacher, instead!

I was born in El Paso, Texas, as my father and mother moved toward Mexico in his capacity as a Plant Engineer for the American Smelting and Refining Company (ASARCO). After leaving El Paso, we spent a few years in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, before my father, a Denver native, managed to return to the Denver ASARCO plant, where he worked until he retired. I grew up in the eastern suburbs of Denver, a city called Aurora.

After graduating from high school, I attended the University of Colorado for a year, flunked out (Boulder, Colorado in the late 1960’s was a hotbed of anti-war protests and a host of other exciting activities for a young man, NOT a place to go to school!). Avoiding Uncle Sam’s Draft for a few years, I managed to transfer to a smaller college in Greeley, Colorado, and graduated three years later from the University of Northern Colorado. I now had a teaching certificate under my belt, but Uncle Sam drafted me and I quickly found a small, elite Army Reserve communications unit, where I spent one weekend a month and two weeks every summer for the next six years.

I began teaching in Aurora, hired by my old high school principal, who was then Assistant Superintendent for Personnel. He was surprised to find out I had amounted to something, and started me out teaching in a junior high school. A few years later, I transferred to a new high school that was opening, where I taught all phases of woodworking, metalworking, drafting, and power mechanics for the next nine years. I then transferred to yet another new high school, and have been there nearly 20 years as I write this. I went from teaching wood, metals, drafting, auto mechanics, arts and crafts, and applied technology after 27 years to my current position as Technology Manager the past seven years. I am now responsible for three network servers, six computer labs, over 400 computers, 65 printers, 200 telephones, 130 staff members, and 2,100 students and their ongoing technology needs. The stress is exhilarating, but the frustration is overwhelming at times.

As my education career progressed, Cyndie and I became involved in the communities we lived in. At the same time, we were maintaining and improving our homes and gardens. We remodeled family rooms and living rooms, a few bathrooms, created basement offices, covered decks and patios, built a sunroom around a hot tub, installed a couple roofs, all the while planting and tending to large yards and gardens.

Starting with a traditional lawn with trees, shrubs and perimeter flower beds around our current two-story home,we have since transformed it into the most-planted yard for several blocks around. It was at this latest house that we became interested in water gardening. Beginning with an old waterbed mattress in a hole we quickly found too small,

we built a larger pond with a simple plastic liner. As we entered our second year with water gardening,we quickly separated our koi from the goldfish so we could enjoy the water lilies we tried to grow.

A ceramic tile and rubber-lined pond under lights in our living room allowed us to over-winter several plants and bring the soothing sound of water into the house, but the following season we put a small pond in the front yard near the entryway. It began to collect the overflow of plants from the back yard ponds and soon became three small holes in the ground. Still being relatively new to water gardening, we decided to join the Colorado Water Garden Society. We later found out it was the first such society in the world, and began to learn about water gardening from people like John and Mary Mirgon and tasks like producing the Society’s newsletter and working at the annual plant sale.

Over the past 10 years, Cyndie has taken over the plant sale, provided training at meetings, gotten involved in committee work, joined the Board of Directors as Vice-President, and is now President of the Society. Along the way, I helped with some of the organization, labor and other chores as they arose. As 2003 approaches, I am again looking at the task of publishing the newsletter. As an outgrowth of her work gathering plants for the Society’s sale, Cyndie decided we had to try many of the several varieties sold to see how they grew in Colorado, so we began to learn new plant terminology – bog plants, marginal plants, tropical plants, hardy plants, container plants, and more.

Several years ago, Cyndie thought we might like to grow lotus, but none of our ponds was suitable, so we dug another hole. We have grown some tremendous aerial leaves, but I’ve about burned out on ever getting a lotus blossom. She tried all sorts of soil, various fertilization schedules, different periods of sunlight and shade, and more, but we never got a bloom. That pond is now being recycled for other uses, and we are growing lotus in large pots, but still no blooms. At Kit Knotts' urging, we have also tried to grow a Victoria lily, twice, in a small pond but, again, the growing season is just too short to do well in a such a small area.

Our newest project has been to learn more about growing tropical lilies. Due to the relatively-short growing season in Colorado, tropicals aren’t as common as hardy varieties of all plants.Water has to be heated to overcome the drop in nighttime temperatures, and locating pools for maximum sunlight exposure extend the season a bit, but it’s still far shorter than most areas where tropical liliesare grown in

abundance.To grow our lilies, we again had to build a pond, since our others were already filled to capacity. What I have decided, after digging several holes and moving a lot of dirt over the years, is that I can easily build a pond of any size or shape, as long as it’s above ground!



In addition to our many water gardens, fountains, spitters, and other water features in the yard and in the house, Cyndie is still a traditional gardener in that we have a large selection of native plants, perennial plants, several varieties of trees and shrubs, a range of annual flowers for color, and lots of garden art. An interest lately we’ve been having fun with is garden sculpture fashioned from non-traditional and/or waste materials, such as common hardware items, odd pieces of metal, old hand tools, and worn-out garden implements.

One of our most recent projects was a 5-foot-high concrete pillar fountain we built from scratch using hand-poured concrete cylinders and an old bonsai bowl and fountain assembly. It was the centerpiece in a display at the Colorado Water Garden Society's first annual Water Gardening and Pond Expo in September, 2002. Some of the larger pieces we've made (see pictures below) show where our interests lie. We display some of these pieces in our gardens, and give others to friends.






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