Billy Bates & Steve Kennon
New Albany, Mississippi
Editor's note: Billy and Steve are quite remarkably in their first year of water gardening as we put this page up early in 2003. Talk about passion!
We live in a small town in North Mississippi, by the name of New Albany. The population is close to 10,000 with most of the residents either working on farms or in the furniture industry. New Albany reminds many people of the small town by the name of "Mayberry" on the hit TV show "Andy Griffith".
Our quest to learn the art of water gardening has been really difficult due to the lack of nurseries and people familiar with water gardens in our area. But, with the help of our new-found friends, we are daily learning new and exciting things. Our goal is to introduce this art to the others in our area.
Both our gardening experiences began at an early age from mostly our grandmothers showing us the joy of growing plants. Our grandmothers had gardens more out of necessity to feed their families than as a hobby. But in later years they just enjoyed watching the flowers grow and to share them with family and friends. We both remember dreary winter days and the excitement of dreaming while looking at the seed catalogs that would fill our mailbox during that time. It really didn't matter what was planted as long as there was enough to share with others.
We both had enjoyed and admired small water gardens over the years. But, in the spring of 2002, after buying homes across the street from each other, we decided to do some landscaping. We met a wonderful lady in Memphis, TN, by the name of Marie Fisher. She would fill our truck up with land plants to beautify our homes. She had numerous water gardens and we would sit and admire each of them over and over. We would seem to find a reason to visit her to just look and dream. She told us one day to go buy a pond and come back in a few weeks. We did that and to our amazement, she loaded us down with many varieties of water plants. It seemed the more we went to visit her, the more ponds we had to have. She knew what she was doing; she was introducing us to the most enjoyable thing that we could ever imagine.
Marie Fisher called us one day and told us she wanted to introduce us to a childhood friend of hers. She introduced us to a guy by the name of Dr. William Phillips. He took us and showed us his collection of everything from water lilies, lotus, and the most exotic land plants that a person could ever imagine seeing. While we were admiring his ponds, he asked us, "What color water lily did we want?" When we told him, he grabbed up an eyedropper and headed to his ponds. We followed him with amazement as he showed us the art of hybridizing. He carefully took pollen from one of his prize lilies and pollinated a different lily with it. He then handed us the lily and said, "Take it home and wait. You would soon have the water lily you dreamed of." That experience will stick in our minds for a long, long time. Not only did we learn something new, but also we made a wonderful friend.
Later in the season we went to visit a nursery just south of our town. A man came up to us and told us to come and look at this strange water lily he had. We had never seen anything like it in our life. Of course, we had to buy one. What he gave us was a pitiful looking little seeding and told us to just stick it in some dirt. When we got home, we emailed a lady by the name of Kit Knotts and told her what we had acquired. We couldn't believe when she responded back ASAP and told us that we had a cousin of Victoria, the queen of water lilies. What we had received was a seedling of Euryale ferox. Kit, without hesitation, told us the correct way to plant it and how to care for it. She gave us wonderful links and explained the history of the plant. As the little Euryale ferox grew, we would send Kit photos of its growth and silly stories to go with them. She always seemed to be as excited about the progress as we were. Over the next few months, we corresponded back and forth and became friends. We then received an email from Kit asking us if we minded her putting our Euryale photos on her website, Victoria-Adventure. She really made us feel as if we had accomplished something special.
One of our hobbies is amateur photography. We would, every day, take photos of the lilies we had accumulated, in order to have something to look back on during the cold winter months and dream of that first breath of spring. We sent many photos to Kit and she graciously added them to her website to help with identification of the different species and cultivars. Hopefully as the years go by, we will have more and more photos and stories to contribute.
As of now, we have five ponds and a large lake that we seem to fill to the brim with all types of water lilies and other aquatic plants. We have numerous varieties of both tropical and hardy water lilies, lotus, and many other varieties of marginal and land plants. Another passion of ours is collecting different varieties of banana plants.
In our small country town, most people here probably think that we are crazy for wasting good water space with lilies. Seems like all they want to do with ponds is some good ole catfish fishing. Hopefully with the knowledge we have gained from others and the photos and stories we have to share, we will one day convince them that ponds have many other purposes. One of the benefits of water gardening is the variety of friends one can make with the hobby. We have already introduced several people to the hobby and will continue our mission of promoting the best cure for all ailments -- the art of water gardens.
Billy Bates' Gallery of Waterlily Images
Gallery - 2003 Victorias