Healthy City Landscapes through Pioneering Water Management

Interview with Jerry Spawn, Parks Supervisor; Rick Kobs, Right of Way Specialist; Keely Foster, CGG, CCNP, Greenhouse Lead

What is the scope of your work?

Our work is always challenging due to the great variety of environments we work with. We look after 102 parks, 85-plus miles of maintained road right of ways, golf courses, recreation centers, athletic fields, and many other parks-related facilities. From a horticultural standpoint, the bulk of our operations is focused on landscape maintenance that includes mowing, shrub and tree care, irrigation, and weed control.

We also manage a greenhouse that grows all of the annuals for our park beds and golf course planters, along with other seasonal plants like poinsettias and chrysanthemums. Occasionally we do new projects that enhance our streets and parks. One such project is a median renovation effort on Colfax between Kipling and Quail in collaboration with the Denver Botanic Gardens. The project goal is to establish median plants that can eventually survive without supplemental irrigation.

Eli Kobs planting perennials at Kipling and Alameda on Take Your Kids to Work Day.

How do you select the plants you use?

We’re always experimenting to find new plants that work for us. We have some very difficult places, like medians, where we like to try new varieties, knowing that if they can do well in that harsh environment, they might be useful in other applications as well. We accept the fact that some of our plants will die from year to year, but that gives us the opportunity to try different replacement species and enhance our plant diversity. We’ve just entered into another project with Denver Botanic Gardens to test a variety of perennials at The Gardens at Kendrick Lake Park. It comes with the challenge of growing our own perennials from seed, which we’re excited to tackle.

How do you keep your parks looking good?

Water is really the key for us. We have pioneered a water management approach that not only keeps our landscapes healthy but provides us with significant cost savings on water and labor. It’s a central, computerized irrigation system that allows us to control all of our systems from one place. This gives our irrigation managers the ability to control their specific systems without having to be at the site. In fact, they can even run their controllers from their smart phones.

Another valuable management move we’ve made is to install master valves and flow sensors throughout our lines. This gives our system the ability to quickly identify a main line break and then automatically shut off the water flow. Our response time is much faster and we minimize the water loss and damage.

Rick Kobs preparing medians on Colfax between Kipling and Quail.

Are you experiencing labor issues?

Yes, it’s a big challenge and this year seems particularly tough. We always need dependable seasonal help which is increasingly hard to find. But, for anyone who wants to experience what horticulture is all about, I think we offer a great pathway. In fact, Jerry (one of the interviewees) started here as a seasonal worker about 30 years ago. We offer many types of jobs that can help someone gain an incredible amount of horticulture knowledge, all while working in the outdoors. It’s a great place to work and we’re proud to be part of Lakewood’s 50th anniversary year.