In May, Denver Urban Gardens had the pleasure of coming together as a community to dedicate the new Wonder Garden at Wyatt Academy, located in the Cole neighborhood. The Wonder Garden was funded by Jerry Conover in memorium to his wife, Jaquelyn Wonder.

The dedication party was a wonderful time to celebrate being able to gather again in the garden. Guests (including Wyatt Academy students who stole the show with excitement from the classroom butterfly release!) were treated to mariachi music and delicious local food as the DUG community celebrated the life and impact of Jacquelyn Wonder, as well as witnessed how her legacy will grow with future students experiencing the wonder of gardening.

We caught up with Jerry after the dedication to learn more about his decision to leave a garden legacy in honor of his late wife. Here’s what he had to say:

“The Wonder Garden at Wyatt Academy is such a perfect memorial to my late wife, Jacquelyn Wonder.

Jaquelyn and I met in the late ‘70s. We were both divorced and a mutual friend introduced us. We were married for almost 40 years. She had 3 kids and I have 4, so we have a large combined family with 15 grandkids.

Jacquelyn was a woman who overcame adversity, both in the form of family poverty and illness, and she made it on her own. Education was so important to her. After graduating from Denver’s East High school, she went on to earn her Ph.D. in Educational Psychology and had a successful career in teaching and consulting and as an author.

Since we’ve been together, Jacquelyn always loved gardens. We lived in East Denver and gardening was one of her primary hobbies and loves.

When we moved downtown 12 years ago, a condition of our moving was that she had to have a garden. We were fortunate to find a place in LoDo that happened to have a 2,400 square foot deck, which we then made into a rooftop garden. She was able to downsize from a conventional house to more urban living, and still retain the beauty and enjoyment from having a home garden.

In the middle of the city, I have this little enclave of nature right outside my door that has perennials, annuals, trees, and birdfeeders. I wake up to birds singing; it’s a great way to start my day. It’s been a lovely reminder of how much she loved gardening.

When I knew that I wanted to dedicate a community garden in Jacquelyn’s memory, I asked DUG where the best place for us to support a new garden would be.

DUG gave me a list of half a dozen sites. I looked at all of them, and then we went to talk to Andrew and Kate, the directors of Wyatt Academy. It turned out that the timing and school were just right.

Jacquelyn overcame learning disabilities throughout her life and one of her interests was how people learn and how the brain works. The idea of openness and creativity were always themes in her life.

DUG’s model of partnering with schools is really a win-win deal. The educational partnership made that much more sense. Seeing the success of Wyatt Academy really resonated with me. They had just done their goal-setting for the year, and one of their core values for the school was “wonder”- which was serendipitous.

It was DUG’s introduction to the prospect of a garden there that began the journey. I’ve been familiar with the neighborhood for quite a while because it’s close to Manual High School where my own kids attended. The neighborhood has a wonderful history to it.

It’s been an inspiration to work with the school. Their connection with the community is just wonderful. They have a community-based social services center that provides meals, supplies, and assistance to the families of the kids who attend the school and to the community generally. The school has become part of that community in a most effective way. I know Jacquelyn would have loved the site of the garden just as much as I do.

The building process took less than two years. Through our family’s Donor-Advised Fund at the Denver Foundation, I was able to provide the funding for the garden. DUG and Wyatt Academy took charge right off the bat! The short time it took to complete is a tribute to the rapid and nimble response of DUG, the school, and other small charities. The Community Coordinator at Wyatt, Maria Estrada, is an unbelievably talented woman.

Working with the DUG team and all of the school representatives was just a joy for me. It was a pleasure not to be burdened by bureaucracy during the process. Katherine Smith introduced me to the sculptor Peter Durst, whose birdhouse sculptures are now displayed in the garden. The playful nature of his sculptures fits right in with the garden’s theme of wonder and connection to nature. The bird sculptures were created by Joan Walker.

I would love to see the sculptures at the Wonder garden inspire further installations of public art. Denver’s mandate that 2% of the budget goes to public art show how important the arts are to our community. Bringing in three-dimensional art seemed to be a natural next step in a community garden. Finding a way to display art publicly contributes to the fabric of our community.