The Early Years
My personal memento of this event is a picture of Lily Pons holding nine-month-old Charles Thomas in her arms. Other photographs include Miss Lily Pons in a canoe on a lily pond at Lilypons, and her standing in the Lilypons post office doorway with an uncle. The New York Times and other major newspapers covered the event with photos and long articles. Goings-on were broadcast live on the radio.
In 1942 we moved from our mountaintop home in Braddock Heights, Maryland, to Clifton on the Monocacy (native American for River of Many Bends), our family farm on Buckeystown Pike. Daughter Virginia Crum and her family have been residing there since 2002. I began taking piano lessons when in the second grade, and tap and ballroom lessons while in the sixth grade. It was at the Evelyn R. White Studio of the Dance that I noticed a very special ballet student, Sally Smith. She later became the mother of our four daughters. Charlie Winch named a waterlily after her following his stay at our home in the mid-1980s.
At Elm Street Junior High School and Frederick High School I was a member of the school newspaper staff. As a cub reporter I promptly learned that accuracy in news reporting is paramount. In high school I switched to the business side and became advertising and business manager for three years. This position gave me valuable experience selling advertising space to diverse businesses, billing clients, collecting payments for invoices, and satisfying advertisers.
I also learned about running campaigns for student council, class officer, and executive council. I won elections of each type, and lost some, too. But I did gain a lot of knowledge about peer relationships, committees, and parliamentary rules. As so often happens, early-life experiences help in navigating the waters of life. Youthful experiences can greatly influence future accomplishments. I definitely found this to be true for me.
Following World War II, Americans could indulge in construction not hampered by wartime restrictions. A dream came true when our family built a concrete lily pond at home. At that site Charles Tricker pointed out the effects of cold well water upon a tropical, N. 'Missouri' in this case. Its blooming diminished as it produced lots of arrowhead shaped leaves. It produced a beautiful tuber.
Although earlier I had created and enjoyed a tub garden featuring N. 'Chrometella', submerged and shallow water plants, two small goldfish and two black Japanese snails, it was a traditional pond that I so desired. As a youngster, I always enjoyed seeing and smelling both hardy and tropical lilies, and lotuses, too. I was very excited that I could enjoy these aquatic beauties in our new pond at home.
With gasoline and other rationing a thing of the past, our family could travel-to Binghamton, New York, to see Perry Slocum, HF (HF indicates an IWGS Hall of Fame member), and Slocum Water Gardens; to Saddle River, New Jersey, to see Charles Tricker and Tricker's; to Martinsville, Indiana, to see Stanley Byram and Grassyfork Fisheries (which, like Three Springs, mailed an annual water gardening catalog nationally) to Stoutland, Missouri, to see Lawrence Balliaire and Ozark Fisheries, and many other places. Grassyfork, Ozark, and Three Springs each claimed to be the largest of its kind in the world, but I never heard the principals argue the matter when they were face to face.
It was at such meetings that I realized how wonderful it would be if others could meet with professional aquatic nurserymen to exchange ideas. I learned that visits to various places with knowledgeable people are very exciting and rewarding. These meetings planted a seed that would emerge as The Water Lily Society in 1984.
An especially memorable trip occurred in 1950 when I visited Miami, Florida, Mexico City, Acapulco, Merida (Yucatan), Mexico, and Havana, Cuba. Later, while attending the University of Maryland, brother George, III, and I represented our college fraternity (where as treasurer I kept the books, paid the bills and insisted on dues payments from sometimes cash-short brothers) at its annual convention held in Houston. While there, we visited Houston's water garden guru, Carl E (Charlie) Fischer. He grew a beautiful hybrid of his own, N. 'Pride of Houston', that he sold to admirers.
Also while in college I rode the California Zephyr to California, and continued by rail to Seattle, Buchard Gardens in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, and by train back to Chicago from where we drove home. Everywhere I was looking for waterlilies and other ornamental aquatics.
In another exciting trip in the early 50s, I flew with Baltimore Sun award-winning photographer/author A. Audrey Bodine to meet George H. Pring, HF, for a personally conducted Missouri Botanical Garden tour with liberty to photograph as we pleased. This significantly helped to fulfill my father's desire to ensure accuracy in aquatic plant identification and in aquatic plant photography for Three Springs Fisheries literature and for the water garden book he was writing.
Importing waterlilies from the late Joseph Bory Latour-Marliac's, HF, nursery establishment in Temple sur Lot, France, provided both suspenseful delight and unexpected disappointment. Dad wanted to introduce cultivars he couldn't find in North America. To our disappointment we slowly discovered that not all of the plants were properly labeled. This demonstrated to me as a beginner the serious need for internationally recognized identification and attention to proper labeling.
At the University of Maryland in College Park, I decided to major in marketing. I figured on working at Lilypons Water Gardens following graduation. So it seemed that by knowing as much as possible about marketing, I could sell more people on the idea of enjoying a water garden.
I started working there at age 15. It seemed to me that if people only knew water lilies as I knew them, they would sell themselves. In addition, the idea of earning money by selling things fascinated me.
When I became old enough, perhaps 10 years old, to ride a two-wheel bicycle alone on the road, and to carry on it crab apples or honey produced on the farm, I sold them door-to-door in Buckeystown. Many of the residents retired there from a life of working on nearby farms. Both as a teen and later as a marketing major, I learned what it takes to have people purchase what you produce.
My favorite work at Lilypons, however, was working with the
waterlilies and other water garden plants. This included propagation,
growing, harvesting, packing, shipping, and selling. I sold to
walk-in customers, phone customers, and corresponding customers.
I quickly realized that I could learn from customer experiences
in addition to what I learned professionally.
Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3 | Page 4 | Page 5
"Visit to Lilypons" by Dr. G. L. Thomas, Jr.