Joe Tomocik
Denver Botanic Gardens
Colorado, USA

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 in 1997.

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 plants.

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 Turfgrass Association.

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".

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 to burn.

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. 

Read Joe's Diary of a Professional Water Gardener in
WGI ONLINE Journal Volume 2, Number 2

Denver Botanic Gardens Web Site

Waterlilies | Lotus | Aquatic Plants | Victoria | Our Adventure With Victoria
Water Gardening | Water Gardening Friends | New This Month
Kit & Ben Knotts | Our Garden | Search The Site | Home 
Email Discussion List | Site Map
Water Gardeners International