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"It's a joy to work and live with beauty and to share it with others!" Perry D. Slocum's philosophy characterizes not only his life, but also his life's work. Known throughout the world for his hybridizing of water lilies and lotuses, Perry is truly an American legacy.
Born near Cortland, New York, in 1913, Perry was raised on the family dairy cattle farm that also grew certified seed potatoes. Living amidst woodlands, streams and meadows, Perry developed an early interest in wildlife, including both plants and animals. His present photography expertise began in those early days with efforts to photograph butterflies and wildflowers with a Brownie box camera. Perry especially recalls a fascination with the widened bays and coves of local streams, commonly known as "cricks".
Perry's love of the lilies was interrupted when he went on to Cornell University to earn his Bachelor's degree and then on to 2 years at Syracuse Medical School. But the lilies beckoned.
In 1938 his lifelong path was forged with a small water lily display at the Cortland County Fair. The first price list for "Slocum Water Gardens" accompanied the exhibit. A cousin's photograph of a young girl standing in the pond with a water lily cupped in her hands was published in the Binghamton and Syracuse newspapers. Hundreds of visitors trekked along the country dirt roads to see the lilies bloom.
Buying and developing 10 acres just north of Binghamton brought
Perry's unique nursery closer to the mainstream. Imagine the
shock and surprise when the Sunday newspaper bore tidings of
the new Pennsylvania-Canada highway to pass through Slocum Water
Gardens. The forced move of Perry's nursery created the institution
we know today.
In 1946 Perry received the first U.S. Plant Patent (No. 666)
ever issued for a hardy water lily, Nymphaea 'Pearl of
the Pool', a very vibrant, glowing pink with many petals. Forty
years later, in 1986, he received the first U.S. patents for
lotuses -- Nelumbo 'Charles Thomas,' N. 'Maggie
Belle Slocum,' and N. 'Angel Wings.' Today, he has patents
pending on hardy water lilies N. 'Peaches and Cream' and
N. 'Black Princess.'
Perry's hybridizing efforts have been primarily focused on two goals: developing free-flowering hardy water lilies that are resistant to crown rot and striving for the elusive blue hardy water lily. Water lily crown rot is a highly contagious fungal-type infection that can destroy an entire collection of lilies. It is characterized by the leaf and flower stems becoming soft and blackened near the crown, and then progressively so upwards. Frequently, a flower bud will rot from its stem before it has reached the water's surface. As the disease progresses, fewer leaves are produced and those that are turn yellow shortly after unfolding at the surface. The tuber itself will feel mushy and smell quite rank.
Perry has noted many of the old standard hardy lilies being susceptible to crown rot. The red lilies 'Gloriosa,' 'Charles de Meurville,' and 'Attraction' may die down with the disease. Pinks 'Masaniello' and 'Maurice Laydeker' can also be susceptible. Although 'Sioux' and 'Chrysantha' seem resistant, other orange varieties such as 'Comanche' are not. Likewise, the yellow 'Sunrise,' 'Chromatella', and 'Moorei' may succumb to the malaise. Even the white 'Hal Miller' and 'Virginia,' which Perry feels are white forms of 'Sunrise', are likely to be affected.
In listing his favorite hybrids, Perry qualifies his selections by their beauty, freedom of bloom, and immunity to crown rot.
The other of Perry's hybridizing goals, the blue hardy lily, is an exciting quest. At this time blue water lilies occur only among the tropical water lilies. The special challenge of trying to hybridize a hardy blue lily is overcoming the difference in chromosome count between the hardy and tropical species. Perry is experimenting with a secret chemical to surmount this problem. Both 'Black Princess' and 'Almost Black' are results of these efforts. Using a hardy seed parent, 'Perry's Fire Opal,' which forms a scrambling odorata-type rhizome, Perry crossed with two different blue tropical lilies. The resulting rhizomes are hardy, thick, horizonatal Marliac types.
Perry's excursions into the world of the water lily extend beyond his own hybridizing efforts. Back in 1966, Perry noticed a gorgeous double pink lily in a commercial water garden near Gatwich airport outside of London. Ordering 50 plants to be sent to Slocum Water Gardens in Winter Haven, Florida, Perry introduced the cultivar 'Hollandia.' Now one of the most common and reliable pink hardies in North America, 'Hollandia' is a delightful pink with a special inner glow even on the most overcast days. (Ray Davies of Stapeley Water Gardens in England has since determined 'Hollandia' is probably the once-thought-lost 'Darwin.' The lily is now sold under both names.)
On another trip in 1973, Perry visited Gedye's Water Gardens in southern Australia. There he found two magnificent pink lilies, unflecked as were many of the pinks then available. Laurence Geyde told Perry that he was calling one of them N. 'Fabiola.' A floriferous dwarf plant, Perry imported it to North America. (This lily is now being called 'Pink Beauty.') The other lily at Geyde's was unnamed. Laurence allowed Perry to name it, Perry choosing the name N. 'Norma Geyde' after Laurence's wife. This lily, too, Perry imported to the U.S., it now being commonly available throughout North America.
In spite of the time demands of continued hybridizing efforts and his involvements with the IWLS and friends, Perry still finds time to write as well. In 1988 Perry wrote the text for the Ortho water garden book, GARDEN POOLS AND FOUNTAINS. This venture into publishing prompted Perry to begin writing a book on water lilies and lotuses as an effort to straighten out the misidentifications of many of these plants. Perry shared his plans with the board of directors for the IWLS. Shortly thereafter, he received a telephone call from Richard Abel, then publisher of The Timber Press. Not only did Timber Press want to publish Perry's book, but they wanted him to expand it to be the most complete book on water gardening ever written.
After two years of researching and writing, Perry was delighted with the news that Peter Robinson, a noted British writer and water garden authority, would be brought on board to expand the universality of the book. A significant achievement, boasting nearly 450 color photos, Perry's and Peter's book, WATER GARDENING, WATER LILIES AND LOTUSES will be available in May, 1996. (This excellent book can be found at many book vendors and libraries.)
Until the publishing of Perry's new book, information on the care and growing of lotus has been sparse. Perry suggests using a strong hosing to knock away black aphids and, in some instances, to remove the European cornborer before it enters the plant's stem. Perry says this pest, which usually hides within a rolled edge of the lotus leaf, is best controlled by monitoring the plants and hand-picking the secretive larva.
Perry Slocum Leaves Outstanding Legacy
by Charles B. Thomas and Peter D. Slocum
Complete List of Perry D. Slocum's Waterlily, Lotus & Iris Cultivars
Compiled by Charles B. Thomas