Tending the Garden

“There is rhythm in Nature before poetry, painting, architecture, and music exist.”
  – John Dewey,
The Art of Experience

Tryba Architects’ Denver studio is organized around a network of outdoor spaces at multiple levels, providing a serene oasis and vital connection to nature in the heart of the city. David Tryba designed the garden to complement the contemporary expression of the studio, bridging the historic 1896 Fisher Mansion and the 1999 addition. Throughout the seasons, the garden provides an outdoor extension of the workplace, a lunchtime retreat, a unique venue for civic hospitality. The organic fluidity of the garden offers a striking counterbalance to the durability of the building – yet both are equally architectural, carefully composed to engage in a harmonized rhythm of geometry, structure and proportion.

Maintaining the composition and elegance of the design is no small effort, and for more than a decade the firm has been incredibly fortunate to have two extraordinary individuals, Larry Jackel and Martha Slinkard, lovingly tending the garden and grounds.

Martha Slinkard

When she joined Tryba sixteen years ago, Martha Slinkard had never expected to find herself in this role. Recently widowed, she started looking around for a way to support herself and her children. Tryba Architects had recently completed renovating the church Martha attended, Our Lady of Loreto, and through this connection she discovered the opportunity for a facilities manager at Tryba’s studio.

When she started at Tryba, Martha knew almost nothing about gardening, but she was enthusiastic to learn and evolve her role. Now, she is responsible for every inch of the property–and her dedication is evident throughout.

What was it like when you started working here?
“When I first started the firm had a lawn service, a snow removal service, two housekeepers, a maintenance person and a lady gardener. I took over seven people’s jobs.”

Tell us about your role.
“I know every corner of the property. I take care of everything, even laundry. My kids and I put in all of the LED lights in the studio. We try to do a lot in-house to maximize efficiency; I oversaw the renovation that created space for the model shop in the basement. I love being outside, love doing snow removal, taking care of the lawn…it doesn’t seem like work to me. I’ve never called in sick. This has been my vocation. I love this place.”

What motivates you?
“I have seen the hard work that others have put in, and I take care of these things in order to respect other people’s work. When I started, David told me that buildings are like living beings. They breathe. You just have to love it. This building has been so blessed.”

How do you carry out David’s vision for the garden?
“David taught me everything. One of the reasons I like working for him is because he is always looking for a way to make the garden better. He designs, and I interpret. He handpicked the trees, staged everything before putting it in, and would provide the direction. He has high standards and expectations. When we put in the chanticleer pears, David measured everything. Everything had to be just right. He even had to move the hedge to add more trees, one at a time taking out a section of hedge and adding a tree. We didn’t lose one plant!”

Words of wisdom or advice you’d like to share?
“Anything you do, whether it’s cleaning or being an architect, you need to do it with passion and love.”

We hope you stay at Tryba for a very long time, but inevitably someday there will be a transition. What values do you wish to see in the next generation of caretakers?
“My goal is to find people I can teach to take over, but also teach them to LOVE this place, not just care for it. The littlest detail matters–how we take care of it, how we value it. The building and garden demonstrate our values. We are stewards of the landscape, we are continuous caretakers, we are here to take care of the earth, and inspire others to do the same.”

Larry Jackel

Since 2007, Larry Jackel has assisted Martha in caring for the garden, providing specialized services relating to pruning, trimming and shaping. It’s a job that Larry is remarkably qualified for–after all, he manages the Bonsai collection at Denver Botanic Gardens’ and authored a book on Japanese Bonsai.

Originally from Illinois, Larry moved to Colorado in the 1970s and spent 30 years as a biology teacher and coach at Smoky Hill High School. Upon his retirement, he began volunteering in the Bonsai Pavilion at the Denver Botanic Gardens. Like Martha, Larry also met David through one of the firm’s projects. While undertaking master planning for the DBG,  Tryba Architects was searching for new staff to help manage the studio’s gardens. Larry shared David’s vision for the garden and has since worked tirelessly, splitting his days between Tryba and the DBG, until finally announcing his retirement from Tryba in late 2022. His talent, sunny demeanor, and characteristic feather hat will be greatly missed. We were able to sit down with Larry for a few reflections before his departure.

Tell us about your process.
“I would start every day with an inspection tour of the garden, cleaning out debris, raking. Then I would do all of the aesthetic shaping and pruning of the maples and hedges, maintaining David’s design. At the end of the day, I would finish up with another inspection tour, walking the garden and looking everything over and planning what needs to be done next.”

What did you enjoy about working here?
“I really appreciated the feeling of inclusion from the very first day. The staff always made me feel a part of them, even inviting me to annual holiday parties. Sometimes staff would ask me for advice about their own gardens at home. It’s always been a nice group of people to work with.”

What’s it like working with Martha?
“Martha is smart, organized, one of the hardest-working people I know. She’s easy to work with, tells you what she wants. She’s the boss, but is pleasant and a joy to work with. One of the saddest parts about leaving is that I won’t get to work with her anymore.”

How is the Tryba garden different from others you’ve worked with?
“Before Tryba, I had never worked with roses before. So I checked the research, read about growing roses in Colorado. I’m used to working with Japanese gardens, which are all about curves, noticing new perspectives, revealing/concealing, looking like untouched nature. They’re about the short view, while David’s garden merges the short view with the long view – hedges, straight lines, extremely precise.”

Tell us about your own garden at home.
“At my house we have a dry stream bed, turf, a huge perennial border which my wife loves, and a flagstone patio inspired by a trip to Italy. It became an outdoor room.”

Words of wisdom or advice you’d like to share?
“Stop and enjoy the view, smell the roses. And I used to tell my students that the reason I like plants is because they never talk back!”

What is your advice for the next generation of caretakers?
“David is the head gardener. Listen to what David wants and what Martha knows. Always make sure the site looks better when you leave than when you got there. Continue to grow, and make it the best.”

As Larry moves on to his well-deserved retirement, the garden will be changing again. All of us at Tryba Architects are extremely grateful to Martha and Larry for their countless hours of dedication. Thanks to their efforts, with each passing day and each changing season, the garden remains timeless.