The Rock That Made The Ripples
Charles B. Thomas
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Charles B. Thomas
A Society for Water Gardeners
On a Wednesday in the summer of 1982 I returned from the weekly
Rotary Club of Frederick (28 years of perfect attendance, including
make-ups across the country and abroad) luncheon to find a surprise
visitor from England. I was delighted to met Norman Bennett,
HF, who became an instant friend.
Among other things, I spoke to him about the idea of an association
of people interested in water gardening. Norman liked the idea,
but questioned if it could be accomplished. Later, he and Gordon
Ledbetter, HF, were largely responsible for the initial European
memberships in IWGS.
Another unannounced visitor to Lilypons appeared the following
year in the person of Walter. I also discussed with him my thoughts
about a water lily society. He replied that he had experience
in founding a koi club in San Diego some years earlier. Moreover,
Walter said that he would like to organize such a club when he
retired. Both gentlemen warned of significant difficulties trying
to establish a national or international organization.
The following spring a customer told me that he planned to visit
Ireland. He asked if I knew anything about water gardening there.
I told him that Gordon Ledbetter, a favorite water gardening
author of mine, lived in Ireland. In June the customer excitedly
called me with a report. Gordon not only received him, but also
very graciously discussed water gardening with him. Furthermore,
he planned a visit to Washington later that summer!
I realized that Gordon's presence, as an internationally recognized
water garden authority, would offer a newsworthy event for announcing
the birth of the The Water Lily Society. (There would soon be
much debate concerning water lily, water-lily,
and waterlily.) We quickly agreed upon a date in September
and promptly began publicizing that Gordon would be present at
Lilypons, Maryland, for the formal announcement of the birth
of the society honoring water lilies. Everyone who joined by
the end of 1985 would become a Founding Member.
Hundreds of water garden enthusiasts attended the public announcement
including John and Mary from Colorado. Steven Davis, Director
of Horticulture of the American Horticultural Society, attended
and agreed to be the founding editor of The Water Garden Journal.
Rolf and Anita flew to Maryland for the occasion. That evening
Sally and I hosted a private reception honoring Gordon and WLS.
At last the vision of an association of experts began to become
reality. At last the desire for internationally recognized waterlily
identification was becoming a reality. IWGS has made great strides
promoting proper waterlily identification. Authorities from around
the world would see the same plant during the annual symposia
to agree on the proper names.
On-going, accurate identification activities stem from the original
IWGS by-laws calling for a Registration Committee that operates
"in accordance with the rules specified in the International
Code of Botanical Nomenclature." We still consult Henry
S. Conard's, HF, The Waterlilies: A Monograph of the Genus
Nymphaea and Charles O. Masters', HF, Encyclopedia of
the Water-Lily. Ever since 1985 IWGS continues to spearhead
identification and registration protocol through the dedicated
work of its Registration Committee and all who cooperate with
IWGS published its very helpful, authoritative monograph under
the direction and patronage of Ray Davies, HF, of Stapeley Water
Gardens in England. Member Perry Slocum and Peter Robinson published
Water Gardening Water Lilies and Lotuses that identifies
species as well as both long-established cultivars and many of
the newer introductions with detailed descriptions and photographs.
Both Gordon and Norman advised me that if we wanted Europeans
to attend our proposed symposium in 1985, we had to have a program
listing dates, times, speakers, subjects, sites, accommodations,
meal arrangements, transportation details, etc. Over there, people
determine their summer holiday plans before year-end.
Waiting until the New Year arrived would mean few, if any, Europeans
would attend our first international water lily symposium. Despite
the shortage of time, we lined up an attractive, compelling program
quickly enough to have it distributed in the U. S. and abroad
in December. Still, big questions cast their shadows-how many
people would attend? What would it take to attract people who
had never attended such a meeting? Could this idea be marketed
successfully? Was there enough time?
Pat Nutt was extremely helpful making arrangements with Longwood
Gardens, Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. Daughter Virginia made
countless inquiries and contacts as well as preparing graphics
and information for our publicity. Perry Slocum and wife Maggie
and Dr. Kirk Strawn, HF, and wife Charlene among others promptly
mailed in registration fees and life membership dues to demonstrate
financial and emotional support for the infant society.
Over one hundred attendees paid registration for our initial
symposium, and it was a resounding success for all. Moreover,
it set the pattern as the major source of funding for society
activities for years into the future. Ray Davies, HF, managing
director of Stapeley Water Gardens, Nantwich, Cheshire, UK, was
doubly impressed. It was here where he met Barbara Dobbins, his
future bride. ( The Frederick-News
Post reports Society formation )
I asked well-traveled Walter Pagels
to run for president. He was nominated and elected by
a unanimous vote at our first annual meeting. Not only was he
very knowledgeable about water gardening and well known to many
industry leaders at home and abroad, but also he was not associated
with any of the competing aquatic businesses.
Charles Thomas and Irene Heritage
Susan Hesselgesser agreed to chair the 1986 St. Louis, Missouri,
symposium. I worked very closely with her to plan and execute
all aspects of it. I was particularly excited when Bill Heritage,
HF, agreed to deliver the keynote address. I rank his Ponds
and Water Gardens as one of the best books written for water
gardeners. He and his lovely wife, Irene (in whose honor Perry
named a striking hardy red waterlily), nearly melted in the very
humid, above 100 F. degree air.
With pleasure, I continued being active in organizing symposia
in the U. S., UK, and Germany for years. The largest-attended
(over 300 paid registrations) was in Houston, Texas, with a post
symposium tour to College Station, San Marcos, Banderra, and
The American Horticultural Society took note of what was happening
at Lilypons, its water garden displays at flower shows, and with
IWGS. AHS recognized that water gardening was advancing into
the mainstream of the American landscape. They granted their
Commercial Individual Citation for Outstanding Work in the Field
of Horticulture to me at their annual symposium in San Francisco,
California in 1986.
The following year I worked with the Denver Botanic Gardens,
members of the Colorado Water Garden Society and IWGS members
to produce our third Symposium. Despite her desire to attend
it and earlier meetings, health considerations again prevented
Frances Perry, HR, from being with us. Nevertheless, we declared
her a Hall of Fame member during our Denver convention.
The following month I flew to London with her framed award certificate
and an oil painting of a waterlily. Gordon and Norman joined
with me to visit Frances at her charming home. There we gave
her a personal presentation of her award in the name of IWGS.
Ever since childhood, I had heard my parents and paternal grandparents
speak of her. The four of them visited Frances several times
after World War II.
Later Norman drove me to meet his family and visit his waterlily
nursery in Weymouth. Following that I traveled to Harrogate to
meet with Philip Swindells about planning the upcoming IWGS symposium
in the UK.
When Dr. Ed Schneider, HF, agreed to take over the IWGS secretary's
job, I stepped down from most of the day-to-day society operations.
However, I did agree to be nominated and elected vice president,
and then president. While president, I was inducted into the
IWGS Hall of Fame during our meeting in Munich, Germany in 1991.
Eight years later in Kassel, Germany, Gesellschaft de Wassergarden-Freunde
presented Die Seerose in Silber Award to Jim Lawrie and me in
recognition of fostering interaction across the Atlantic.
France claims two water garden "Meccas," Claude Monet's
Giverney and Latour-Marliac's Establishment at Temple sur Lot.
In 1996, over a hundred IWGS members met in that country, giving
us the incredible opportunity to jointly visit these compelling
sites. While we enjoy seeing Monet's masterpieces at museums,
and duplicates almost everywhere, nothing matches the experience
of strolling around his famous gardens and home. Likewise, a
water gardener's time at Temple sur Lot makes a delightful, indelible
Charles Thomas at
During a visit to the Orient I spent a week touring Thailand.
I was thrilled that Dr. Sam Wasuwat agreed to guide my travels.
Thanks to Betsy Sakata, HF, I had the necessary information to
contact him. After seeing the water garden points of interest
in Bangkok, Dr. Sam showed me his extensive collection of waterlilies
and other aquatic plants at his home. While there, he presented
me with a copy of his water garden book.
Dr. Sam inscribed it thusly, "Dear Dr. Charles B. Thomas,
I am indebted to the lineage of Dr. George L. Thomas, Jr., for
his teaching and extensive knowledge of the wonderful world of
the waterlily. This book, even though it is in Thai, it is the
result of those things I learned from Dr. Thomas. May God bless
all of the Thomases. Yours sincerely, Slearmlarp Wasuwat. October
16, 1994." And he attached a photocopy of the inscription
that Dad had written in his book for Dr. Sam back in 1971 at
California hybridizer Jack Wood telephoned me one day asking
if I would lend my name to a new viviparous blue tropical waterlily
beautifully mottled with chestnut on green pads. N. 'Charles
Thomas.' Similarly, Perry called to ask if he could use my name
for an about-to-be patented lotus. Nelumbo 'Charles Thomas'.
And then Kirk advised me one day that he was naming a cultivar
that I had admired a few years earlier. The name -- Charles'
Choice. I was delighted, as I had been when the others called.
However, being the marketing major, I suggested that Charlie's
Choice would be easier to roll off the tongue. He agreed. Nymphaea
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During most of my life, catalog nurseries provided the main source
for water gardeners. The slim market for waterlilies did not
justify retail nurseries stocking them. Moreover, few garden
retailers knew much about waterlilies. Even if they knew, they
realized that it would take lots of time explaining the details.
However, duplicating the experience of many other catalog products,
once the demand for waterlilies grew past a critical quantity,
retailers and landscapers found that gardeners expected them
to offer these products.
The ornamental aquatic plant business eventually matched the
pattern of the nursery industry. Large producers specialize in
growing plants, distributors deliver plants to retailers, and
retail outlets sell them to the public. Meanwhile, the percentage
of plants sold by catalogs more closely matches the percentage
of land plants sold by mail order. Big box stores soon recognized
a fast-growing market, and they joined the expanding movement.
More recently, Internet sites offer water garden shopping. Despite
bumps and setbacks along the way to making water gardens popular,
many more people than ever now enjoy water gardening.
Copyright 2004 Charles B. Thomas
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