Dave Brigante
Hughes Water Gardens
Oregon USA

Click images to enlarge

In 1962, when I was just four years old, my folks moved from the Boston area on the east coast of the USA out to a sunny southern California town named Claremont. My family consisted of me, my sister Beth and my Mom and Dad, Mary Ellen and Tom respectively. We made Claremont our hometown for virtually all of my childhood.

As this is primarily about my history in the world as it pertains to plants, I would have to say that a teacher that I had for horticulture by the name of John Lily (believe it or not) had an early impact on my life in that regard. He helped me to learn the basics of propagation when I wasn't spending time on my other real passion at the time, playing basketball. When my high school years ended I decided to try to be a walk-on athlete for the basketball team of the City College in Santa Barbara. That was my main focus until I finished my two year stint there. Then I began to transition back into my other passion, working with plants.


Dave and Davia revisit California
I took a job at Takaya Nursery. What a setting! The small five to seven acre nursery was surrounded by orange and avocado groves nestled into the foothills of the coastal mountain range that overlooks the Santa Barbara region. Why I left I'll never know. The nursery sold the common ornamental stock for landscaping in the local area. After being there for three years or so I moved up to Oregon to live just outside of Portland. As I recall the greenery of the state pulled me to the north. 

Once I was all settled in, I got a job working for a very large landscaping company -- hard work and low pay for being a marathon mower. I soon moved out of the city to a more rural area in Yamhill County, later to become known as Oregon's wine country. I began to work for the very well established Carlton Plants Nursery. They had a field-grow operation growing trees and shrubs, plus a container yard called Specialty Trees. That was where I ended up. It was, I believe thirty acres or so, high quality plants but not quite the plant material I was used to having come up from Santa Barbara.

< Dave, Davia and Olive

After a roughly a year of being there the huge nursery conglomerate Monrovia purchased the Specialty Tree division of Carlton Plants and lots of the surrounding available land as well. In the ensuing three years the nursery grew to five hundred acres and had three hundred employees. I enjoyed the plant education but it was a little beyond the scope of what I was looking for in a nursery. I decided to leave to take a shot at getting a Landscape Technology degree through the community college system in the Portland area. It was back to the big city.

Once I attained my degree I spent a couple of seasons working for a higher-end landscape construction company called Vandehey Landscape. I learned a lot about specialty pruning and installing landscape construction projects. Great experience. It led me into my next endeavor, helping to start up a new landscaping company, Dinsdale Landscape. The owner and I had worked together at my previous outfit so it was fairly easy to transition into getting the new business going.

Along the way our landscape installations began to frequently cross paths with a unique gentleman pond builder from Ireland by the name of Eamonn Hughes. As Eamonn was building his masterpieces into the landscapes that we were simultaneously installing, we developed a pretty good working relationship. I began to do plant purchasing for both companies and it eventually evolved into another opportunity.

In getting to know Eamonn more it became evident that he was having some real difficulties in finding suitable aquatic plants for his ponds He ran the idea by me of helping him to start a nursery, Hughes Water Gardens, and the rest is history. Since I did really enjoy my years working in the nursery industry it was easy for me to consider going back into it. The challenge involved with growing aquatics was very new to me so it did seem intriguing. This all came about in late 1993 and early 1994.

The Brigante's house and greenhouse


The process of actually growing aquatics proved to be more difficult than I thought it would be. One of the first things I learned was that not all aquatics can be grown in water as juveniles, but would prefer to have more of a root mass before being introduced into a standing water situation. Hard lesson to learn. The "growing pains" were kind of a rite of passage into the aquatic plant industry. Now I have some testing rituals that I go through with unfamiliar plants to lessen the potential for losses.

Presently, after nearly fifteen years it is generally easier, but there is always room for improvement. For me the journey through the world of aquatic plants has been highlighted by the growing of the giant Victoria. This is something that the nursery has become known for and it is always a time of year that I look forward to. In recent years I have been writing articles for the Water Gardeners International website quarterly journal. This compilation of work is as much a reflection of what I do and who I am as anything else. Even more recently I have also been working as a member on the advisory committee for Ponds USA magazine.  

Dave with his beloved Victorias


I live on the outskirts of the Portland metro area on twenty acres with my wife Davia, our dog Olive and our cat, Chasey. We love living in Yamhill County and growing olives for the making of olive oil may be in the future for us. Our son Dana lives in the big city and his son Alex is the Victoria poster boy at the nursery, for five years running. Water garden wisely. 

Dave and Alex >

Articles and Images by Dave Brigante

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