Water gardeners around the globe mourn the passing of Perry Dean Slocum on November 29, 2004. At the same time, they are celebrating Perry's life and his outstanding legacy of achievement.
Perry was born during waterlily-blooming season on July 2, 1913, to the dairy-farming family of Floyd and Alberta Perry Slocum near Cortland in upstate New York's rural Cortland County. After graduating from high school, he entered Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, with the idea of becoming a medical doctor.
However, well before he graduated in 1935, waterlilies had captured his imagination, and soon became his life-long passion. He began growing them along with other ornamental aquatics as a teen. He gave up becoming a doctor so that he could grow and share his beloved aquatics. Perry began business at Marathon, NY. After a few years, he moved the fledging business to Front Street on the northern outskirts of Binghamton, NY.
With my parents and brother, I met Perry and Trudy Slocum there in the summer of 1946. It was less than an hour's drive from my grandparents' summer home at Heart Lake, near Montrose, PA. Every summer while visiting at Heart Lake, we would call on the Slocums.
Waterlilies, lotuses, and other ornamental aquatic plants thrived throughout their manicured, park-like premises. Willow trees lined the "show ponds." A miniature lighthouse stood on an island in the middle of the largest pond.
The Slocums lived in a modest upstairs apartment in the small building that housed their growing aquatic business focusing on mail-order catalog sales. I remember Perry telling us that his Christmas tree sales made the difference for them to have a profitable year.
Perry's keen eye for photography added dramatic life to his catalogs. His instinctive ability to grow ornamental aquatics meant that Slocum customers would receive robust plants. It became obvious that although he didn't become a doctor to the body, he became a doctor for the human spirit through his beloved Nymphaeas, Nelumbos, and other aquatics.
The children Perry and Trudy yearned for were not forthcoming, so they applied to adopt a child. Years passed, and it looked as if their name would never reach the top of the list. Then, one happy day in 1954, they learned that three elementary-school siblings, whom the placement agency would not separate, could be theirs. But first they must provide a suitably large home to accommodate a son and two daughters.
They promptly built a lovely brick rancher on their premises overlooking the scenic Susquehanna River. Peter, Sharon, and Suzanne made Perry and Trudy instant parents. In the bargain, Trudy (Her brother was a Marine Corps general.), who had been a piano teacher, finally found space for her piano.
Following years of struggle through the Great Depression, World War II, and getting their business off the ground, the newly enlarged Slocum family was sitting on top of the world. As part of their good life, the family vacationed every winter in Florida's warm sunshine while snow covered cold upstate New York. Forever thinking about waterlilies, Perry figured that Florida would be his dream place to operate an aquatic nursery.
As too often happens when everything is going right, a terrible threat surfaced. An interstate highway was going to go through their home and nursery, ruining years of devoted work. What could they do?
by Peter D. Slocum, edited by Charles B. Thomas
Perry's dream to locate in Florida began during a 1949 vacation
trip. In Winter Haven near Cypress Gardens he spotted a swamp
bordering a gracefully curved road. But instead of seeing a wild
swamp, he envisioned the beauty of a water garden display and
production site. This would be where someday he might retire
and still continue in the water garden business.
During 1963 Perry sold his New York interests, including houses, gardens, and tree plantation. Except for the tree portion, he very successfully continued his other expanding interests-pool plants, aquarium plants, nature photography, and travel.
The Slocum family continued to regularly visit members of the Tricker family (Tricker's) in New Jersey, Thomas family (Lilypons Water Gardens, then called Three Springs Fisheries) in Maryland, the Stetson family (Paradise Water Gardens) in Massachusetts, and the Schierer family (Schierer's Water Gardens) in New York. Benefiting from increased prosperity, the Slocum's visited the Ted Uber (Van Ness Water Gardens) and Martin Randig families in California. Travel expanded to England with a visit to Frances Perry and others. Other travel included Southeast Asia, Australia, and New Zealand. Perry always sought pool and aquarium plants new to the American market.
Adversity came when Alzheimers struck Trudy. Following her death in February 1979, Perry sold Slocum Water Gardens to son Peter. He purchased a secluded mountain retreat near Franklin, North Carolina. There he continued crossing waterlilies, went to church, and met Maggie Belle Gibson. They married, Perry moved to her farm, and with new stepson Ben, began Perrys Water Gardens. Again, Perrys world was bright. Here, Perry produced most of his hundreds of impressive hybridswaterlilies (84), lotuses (30), and two water irises. Click here for the Complete List.
While spending summers in North Carolina and winters in Florida, he worked on his two epic books. Perry and Peter Robinson with Frances Perry wrote the 322-page highly respected Water Gardening Water Lilies and Lotuses, 1996, Timber Press, Portland, Oregon, USA. Perry also authored the authoritative 260-page Waterlilies and Lotuses--Species, Cultivars, and New Hybrids, 2005, Timber Press, Portland, Oregon, USA. All the while, Perry snapped thousands of award-winning wildlife and water garden photographs. Click here for Galleries.
Copyright 2005 Peter D. Slocum and Charles B. Thomas
Perry D. Slocum - An American Legacy
Perry's Galleries | In Memory 1913-2004