Rich Sacher
American Aquatic Gardens
New Orleans, LA

Text by Kit & Ben Knotts and Rich Sacher
Most photos by Rich Sacher
Click images to enlarge

Our friendship with Rich Sacher is largely to blame for our passion for Victoria (see 1998 The Adventure Begins) and he is a continual source of inspiration, stimulation and enthusiasm in all things water gardening. He is a multi-talented, multi-faceted fascinating person and the following just scratches the surface of who he is.
 American Aquatic Gardens

 The oldest of five children, Rich was born in the Bronx, NYC, where at five years of age his grandmother introduced him to the plant world by helping him plant some sprouting seeds from an orange they had cut open. After that, it was plants, plants, plants! Rich built his first concrete pond when he was a teenager, ordering tropical water lilies from Scherer and Sons in Long Island, NY. The rock garden surrounding the pond boasted over 100 different perennials, as well as a collection of dwarf conifers.

After leaving high school, he spent four years in a Trappist monastery, where he contemplated becoming a monk-priest. In addition to studying scriptures in their original Latin and Greek, he also designed and planted the fruit tree orchard for the monks, and tended their vegetable garden. He left the monastery to begin college at Rutgers University, where he majored in Horticulture, working part time for a landscape nursery in New Jersey, and doing freelance landscaping as well.

Rich was selected for the summer intern program at Longwood Gardens, and lived and worked at the gardens during the summer of '67, where he spent all his money on slides and plants! He also wrangled special permission to work an extra week with Pat Nutt, their celebrated curator of aquatic plants. He did some postgraduate work at Penn State, where he taught horticulture as a teaching assistant.


After Rich moved to New Orleans, he worked for Tulane Medical School in their mycology department, where he made a personal collection of variously colored fungi and yeasts, keeping them in petrie dishes at home. After all, fungi are plants, too! A later job at Gulf South Research Center made him knowledgeable about Dengue Fever, and other viruses which can be spread by mosquitoes. He killed thousands of mice, and made lots of vaccines!

A third job with a pharmaceutical company's research department yielded a new method for extracting life saving clot thinning enzymes from human urine, for medical use in heart attack and stroke patients. (He got permission to tap into the urinals at Tulane Stadium during football games…one of the oddest jobs in his resume.) Finally, Rich got back to his first love, plants.

The move to New Orleans necessitated learning about a whole new area of tropical and semi-tropical plants. Rich began an interior plant maintenance business, which he still operates today along with his business partner, Bill Dailey. Rich's father had been an architect, and Rich's interest in the unique architecture of the French Quarter led him and Bill to establish St. Philip Street Properties, a partnership to purchase and restore eight homes in their neighborhood, several of which received awards from the city of New Orleans. Of course, each restored house was furnished with a pond or some other water feature as part of its landscape!

Rich was by then an avid water lily hobbyist, propagating hundreds of water lilies which were being grown on several properties. The proceeds from these sales went to a non-profit agency called Community Relief, which gave financial aid to people with AIDS. More and more people began buying lilies, and it became clear that there was need for a full time water gardening business. The interior plant business had also grown and it really needed to be moved to a commercial location. This led to the founding of American Aquatic Gardens in 1990, which grew so quickly that, within three years, the nursery had to be expanded into an adjacent property.

 New Orleans Botanic Garden




 Ponds at St. Philip Street


American Aquatic Gardens is located just outside the French Quarter and has become something of an attraction for tourists and should be! Though battered and bruised by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, it is again absolutely a work of art. Everywhere you look there is something beautiful, displayed just as beautifully. The nursery specializes in bringing water, sculpture and color to the garden, but it is particularly well known for the wide variety of water lilies which are offered for sale. With Betsy Sakata, Rich has been instrumental in introducing several fabulous new cultivars from Thailand to the US. These include 'Star of Siam', 'Queen of Siam' and 'King of Siam'.




 'Star of Siam'

'Queen of Siam'

'King of Siam'

For some years, Rich has been hybridizing his own new forms of water lilies. In 2000 his 'Star of Zanzibar' won Best in Show at the annual Banksian Trials of the International Waterlily and Water Gardening Society at the Chicago Botanic Gardens. In 2001 his 'Mahogany Rose' received the highest number of votes in the Trials but was ineligible for the top award since he won it last year. His goals in hybridizing have been flowers with many more petals than usual and unusually marked foliage, feautured in his Hybrid Gallery. He is succeeding admirably! He has developed new techniques for enhancing seed set in tropical lilies. See his article "Hybridizing Tropical Water Lilies".




 'Star of Zanzibar'

 'Mahogany Rose'

'My Big Blue'

For the last 20 years, Rich has been donating and maintaining the water lilies at the New Orleans Botanic Garden; he has served locally on the boards of the ACLU, several historic neighborhood organizations, and the IWGS, of which he is a founding member. He was a founding member of the New Orleans Gay Community Center, and the New Orleans Pond Society, and has written for several water gardening magazines, as well as for the Journal of the International Waterlily and Water Gardening Society. He is the author of "Hybridizing Waterlilies: State of the Art", published by IWGS. In 2006, he was inducted into the IWGS Hall of Fame.

Rich shares his love of plants with his life partner, Kevin Joyce, and the backyard of their Victorian home overflows with aquatic plants. The courtyard gardens have been featured in "The Hidden Gardens of New Orleans" on the Home & Garden Channel.

Articles & Image Galleries by Rich Sacher

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