Tamara Kilbane
Sarah P. Duke Gardens
Durham, North Carolina USA

Click images to enlarge

Growing up in southern Oregon, most of my summer days were spent exploring the ponds at my grandfather's farm. I became fascinated with the variety of plants, animals, and insects that called the water home.
  Each year, I would set up aquariums on our front porch and fill them with tadpoles, dragonfly larvae, snails, submerged grasses and duckweed. Watching the slow metamorphosis of the tadpoles into frogs and the larvae into winged adults was the beginning of my obsession with water gardening. I studied every book I could find in the school library on topics ranging from frog life cycles to pond ecology, then forced my sister to listen to my lectures on the subject - she was, and still is, very patient with me!    
After earning my bachelor's degree in horticulture from Oregon State University in 2001, I was eager to learn more about the aquatic environments that had captured my interest as a child. I started working at Hughes Water Gardens in Tualatin, where the knowledgeable staff taught me more about water plants, pond fish, and how to create balanced and natural looking water features. It was while working at Hughes that I was first introduced to the amazing Victoria waterlily by grower Dave Brigante.

When I moved to North Carolina in 2005 to work at Sarah P. Duke Gardens in Durham, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to put everything I'd learned into practice in the display ponds. Today, I work alongside volunteers (including John Wyman and Jeff Prather) to plan, plant, and maintain our three large water features.

One of my tasks has been to grow our Victoria plants from seeds generously provided by Kit Knotts and Dave Brigante. After seeing Kit's amazing display in Cocoa Beach, and Dave's greenhouse brimming with Victorias at Hughes, I was thrilled to try my hand at cultivating these special plants. Using Kit's website as a guide, along with advice from Dave as well as Tim Jennings at Longwood Gardens, I was able to successfully grow Victoria 'Longwood Hybrid' and Victoria 'Challenger' for our display ponds using our newly installed heated water tables as a nursery.  

Tamara and Jeff Prather >

Doris Duke Center and
Virtue Peace Pond


Fish Pool

Victoria 'Longwood Hybrid'

Heated water tables

Our Victorias are showcased alongside hardy and tropical waterlily hybrids as well as Euryale ferox, which we have grown from the seeds of a plant donated to us last summer by Perry's Water Gardens. In addition to these plants, we maintain an array of marginal aquatics including hardy thalia, pickerel plant, cattails, Mexican papyrus and lotus. However, our giant Victoria 'Longwood Hybrid' is by far our most popular water plant. This summer its pads reached a diameter of 6.5' (2m) -- most of our visitors don't believe it's real! 

Arc Pool above
Virtue Peace Pond

Left -- Tamara cleans a pad

An exciting addition to our watergardens this season was the IWGS New Waterlily Competition. Duke Gardens was chosen to grow both the hardy and tropical waterlily hybrids entered in this summer's contest. Visitors to the Gardens also had the opportunity to vote for their favorite new hybrids -- a process that we hope will encourage more people to become interested in and knowledgeable of water gardening and the art of waterlily hybridization. 

Another special project this summer was the construction of an exhibit on the front terrace of the United States Botanic Garden Conservatory in Washington, DC. I was asked to co-chair the planning committee for our exhibit, and worked alongside fellow staff members to create a space that gave visitors to the USBG an idea of what they might see when visiting Duke Gardens. As part of this theme, we constructed a small pond to showcase a selection of aquatic plants featured at the Gardens. Joe Tomocik (from Denver Botanic Gardens) and Kelly Billing (from Maryland Aquatics) were kind enough to provide additional plants for the display, which has been receiving rave reviews from the public. 

 USBG Exhibit Pond

N. gigantea 'Albert de Lestang'
When I'm not wading around in the ponds, I also enjoy writing and photography. Last summer at the 2006 IWGS symposium in Florida, I had the good fortune to meet the editor of Ponds Magazine. Since then, I have enjoyed writing several articles for the magazine, as well as providing photos for the publication. I feel lucky to be doing what I enjoy most for a living, and to have the opportunity to share my passion for ponds with others!

N. 'Islamorada'

Gallery of Images from Duke Gardens
by Rich Sacher and Kevin Joyce

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