Snapshots of Water Garden History - Colorado

Viewing through the window to the past, the beauty of water gardening appeared in Colorado about the turn of the last century. Written history, in word and pictures, tells us that during the first three decades of the 1900’s, three major public water garden displays were created in the Metro area.

Rexleigh Water Gardens, Englewood

Around 1900, the Reverend J.H. Houghton, pastor of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Denver, purchased a country home in Englewood named Rexleigh. For the next 15 years, using “marriage fees,” he improved the home, built ponds and brought waterlilies to Colorado. He answered a primary question of those from the eastern United States - “Could pond lilies be grown in the highest West?” He found the answer to be “yes” and, in 1903, it was reported in society pages that Rexleigh was the garden spot of Denver.

Rexleigh was built on a sloping hillside. At the top was the home, with green lawn down to meet the City Ditch, which formed an “ox bow” on the grounds. The ditch provided water to the multiple pools Houghton built for the lilies. Delightful gardens of cutting flowers were spread throughout Rexleigh.

Part of the delight in visiting Rexleigh was getting there. Visitors would have a unique ride on the Cherrelyn Horsecar. Parishioners, especially the children, were extended an invitation often to visit during the Summer months. Houghton desired to share the educational value of botany and zoology with children. Not only did they see the lilies in labeled pots, but he also had an unusual collection of turtles for the children to enjoy.

Rev. Houghton’s desire to share his lily ponds was like “opening the gold mine of pleasure (from lily ponds) for Coloradoans,” and resulted in the opening of the Rexleigh Water Garden Company in 1916. In a four-page leaflet, his first offerings included a listing of 57 varieties to view and 8 available for purchase. A florist’s market at Rexleigh’s offered cut flowers from the grounds, including water lilies.

In 1917, after 25 years of service, he left his position as rector of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church to head the new Mission Church of St. George in Englewood. Rexleigh Water Garden Company’s offerings grew that year to 49 hardy lily plants, 19 tropical lily plants, and a dozen more available for viewing. A road was placed for “drive-through” learning in the lily pool area. Visitors were invited to view the lilies any time June 1 through August 15. Lilies available for purchase were priced at $.25 to $25. By Houghton’s own admission, “no one would want to invest such sums until they see the flowers.”

Rev. Houghton died in 1918, at the age of 70, at Rexleigh.

These photos were obtained from the various sources available at the Denver Public Library, Western History Collection, Genealogy Department. Researched by John Mirgon, and Cyndie Thomas, Colorado Water Garden Society,

Historical Views - Rexleigh Water Gardens (Photo source: Englewood Public Library)
Rev. Houghton, Rexleigh Water Gardens
Cherrelyn Horsecar, Englewood
Recent View - Rexleigh Water Gardens (Photo source: Cyndie Thomas)

Recent View, Location of Rexleigh Water Gardens


Approximate location of Rexleigh Water Gardens, at the top of the hill directly above the City Ditch. The property was resurrected as a residential housing development in the early 1950's, leaving little trace of Rexleigh. No one in nearby Englewood, Littleton or Arapahoe Country was able to provide additional information.