Mike Kintgen is a rock star, of sorts. Or more precisely a rock garden star.
And Denver Botanic Gardens’ (DBG) reputation for rock gardens recently grew even more solid when the North American Rock Garden Society awarded Kintgen, a DBG horticulturist, with the Dr. T. Paul Maslin Award. The award bears the name of the society’s founder and first president, a University of Colorado biologist and professor.
“I was honored and surprised to receive the award,” Kintgen said. “I truly hope more people continue to enjoy and practice the art of rock gardening. So few forms of horticulture truly strive to recreate the beauty and inspiration found in nature, as rock gardening does.”
Inspired by the local landscape of Colorado, and alpine plants he saw in the wild, Kintgen also was cultivated as a young gardener by his grandfather, Garfield Kintgen, who still gardens a bit at age 94. Kintgen also noted the influences of his parents, and he cited his childhood mentor Alice McBee, who lived down the street from his parents and volunteered at DBG with Panayoti Kelaidis.
Kintgen said, “I have been very lucky to find such a wonderful bunch of mentors as the Rock Garden Society has provided over the years and continues to provide.”
One of Kintgen’s main mentors is DBG Senior Curator and Director of Outreach Panayoti Kelaidis, co-founder of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of rock gardeners in 1976.
” . . . the greatest horticulturist I know.”
Kelaidis said, “Mike began volunteering for me at Denver Botanic Gardens when he was 11, and 22 years later we’re still working together. He’s been on our staff nine years, and I believe he is the greatest horticulturist I know: his knowledge of plants is truly stupendous.”
Kintgen graduated from Colorado State University Magna cum laude. He has explored for plants on four continents.
“He has traveled more than anyone I know of his age,” Kelaidis said. “This award will never be given to anyone so youthful ever again.”
Kintgen helped promote rock gardening through Plant Select’s palette of Petites. He writes and lectures about rock gardening, maintains his extensive personal rock garden, and shares his plants far and wide. To see Kingtgen’s photos, visit his blog at this link.
Award features botanical art
The North American Rock Garden Society award traditionally features a work of botanical art with some significance to the recipient. Kintgen’s award was a Carolyn Crawford painting of a flower of Linaria maroccana—the Moroccan toadflax.
“It’s symbolic of his conducting an expedition to Morocco with partial funding from the Rocky Mountain Rock Garden chapter about eight years ago,” Kelaidis said. “The butterfly is the Colorado angelwing—the state butterfly of Colorado—symbolizing Mike’s Colorado roots.”
The painting was used for a seed packet launched this year by Botanical Interests—a major seed company based in Broomfield.
Kintgen cultivates horticultural contributions
“Mike has accomplished an extraordinary amount in his tenure here at Denver Botanic Gardens,” Kelaidis said. “He has raised the Rock Alpine Garden — one of the signature gardens here — to new heights. He installed three large crevice gardens that are exquisite, as well as two in the Children’s Garden.”
Kintgen supervises several staff members at Denver Botanic Gardens, as well as seven gardens including the South African Plaza, Plantasia and the Green Roof Garden.
“He is the go-to guy on many vexing plant questions—and he is unfailingly helpful and positive,” Kelaidis said.
What is a rock garden?
Kintgen’s passion for rock gardening connects him to the beauty of the natural world, and his Colorado roots run deep. He’s a young horticulturist digging into an ancient garden form.
Kelaidis noted that the artistic use of rock goes back to at least the 3rd century A.D. in China. However, the style of rock gardens typical in Europe or North America developed in the 19th century.
“Rocks and plants are combined to re-create an alpine vista in a home garden setting. A pool and waterfall are sometimes included to enhance the illusion: for most people, a rock garden is a way of bringing nature very papably into the home garden setting, but for some — those who join rock garden societies for instance — it becomes a passionate hobby,” said Kelaidis.
“Our local Rock Garden club has steadily grown over the years—it’s one of the strongest groups of nearly 50 chapters of the North American Rock Garden Society with several hundred members.”
••• “Cultivate your corner of the world.
You grow your garden; your garden grows you.” •••
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