Dania Beach Water Gardens
Dania Beach, Florida USA
by Rich Sacher
Click images to enlarge
I met Tom Naylor about 16 years ago, when we were both attending
the annual International Water Lily Society symposium. We quickly
found common ground in our mutual love of waterlilies, and plants
of all kinds. Tom grew up in Ohio, not far from Tricker's Aquatic
Nursery, which he visited often. We shared our experiences of
being smitten with the love of waterlilies when we were both
When Tom graduated from Ohio Northern University, he moved
to Florida, a perfect climate for a plant lover. He worked as
a perfusionist at North Ridge Hospital in Fort Lauderdale for
over 25 years, but our conversations at the annual IWGS conventions
made it clear that he really wanted to open his own aquatic nursery.
In 1994, Tom invited me to stay with him when I visited Ft.
Lauderdale in January, for the Tropical Plant Industry Exposition.
My first visit to Tom's house in Plantation, Florida, was a revelation.
His two acre property was beautifully landscaped with rare palms,
bromeliads, orchids, lots of ponds full of water lilies
a 100 foot greenhouse full of the same! It was clear that Tom
was already a part time nurseryman. That was the first of my
many visits with Tom, first at his house in Plantation, and later
at Dania Beach Water Gardens.
Five years ago, when Tom was ready to purchase a commercial
site for his aquatic nursery, I flew into town to help him with
the selection process. I quickly dismissed the three sites that
he showed me: the gas station was too small, and had underground
tanks to be dealt with; a health club had too much building,
and not enough outdoor space or parking; and a nursery which
was for sale in Wilton Manors was run down and too expensive.
Tom was disappointed in my critiques, but he reluctantly agreed
with the various liabilities these parcels offered. We explored
several other properties, and after what looked like a lost weekend,
it was time for me to return home.
As Tom drove me to the airport, we passed a large white mansion
for sale, right on U.S. 1, Federal Highway. "Stop!"
I said. "Turn around and let's look at that property!"
We walked around the grounds and the house, and in a few minutes
I decided that this was it. It was a big, attractive historic
building, lots of land around it, with living quarters in the
rear building. It was on a very busy commercial highway, which
would be excellent exposure for a new business. I wrote down
the realtor's phone number and gave it to Tom.
As we continued on to the airport, I told Tom that this property
would be perfect for his nursery, and I listed all the positives
involved. "You should buy that property", I said, as
Tom dropped me off at the airport terminal. And so he did! Later
on, Tom and I often chuckled that my five minutes of free advice
cost him over half a million dollars!
It almost seems like a rite of passage for anyone starting
a new business, that roadblocks and obstacles are part of the
process. The city of Dania really wanted the property for itself,
but could not afford it, and that complicated and delayed the
sale. Then they declared the building historic, so no changes
could be made to its appearance; then they insisted on the right
of first refusal if Tom ever sold the property
I doubt they had a legal right to make that demand. Then they
did not want Tom to fence the property, which only had a four
foot concrete wall surrounding it. Anyone could step right over
not very good security for a business!
Tom with Kevin Joyce at DBWG
There were issues with paving, parking, signage, trash, landscaping,
the forklift, and so on. Each roadblock was raised one at a time,
a long series of pinpricks designed to discourage any but the
most resilient soul. Tom just slogged through each one, no matter
how foolish or expensive the city's demands became. I was really
proud of him for his determination, and we shared stories of
how adversarial some cities can be, when they ought to be working
with business people to help them succeed.
It was so gratifying to watch Tom plan the layout of his nursery,
and then execute his plans. He went to markets and shows in Atlanta
and Orlando to purchase for his gift shop. He travelled to California
to handpick the imported ceramic pottery which became one of
the signatures of his nursery.
Tom usually attended the annual International Water Gardening
Society symposia, to network with fellow hobbyists and business
people, and in July of 2006 he was delighted to host a visit
to his nursery from the society when it was meeting in Ft. Lauderdale.
Paula Biles and I helped Tom hand out frozen Klondike bars to
refresh the attendees during that steamy summer morning. What
a memorable day that was! I was so pleased to see that after
dreaming of his own nursery for so many years, Tom had succeeded
in fulfilling his dream, and was now surrounded by his peers,
who were enjoying the results of his vision and dedication.
Tom became ill this year, and was hospitalized for several
weeks. He died on July 15, 2008. I am sad to lose such a good
friend with whom I had shared so much over the years, but gratified
to have seen Tom pursue his dream and bring it into existence.
It is a comfort, too, knowing that his cousin Donna Naylor is
now running Dania Beach Water Gardens, a testament to Tom's life
We miss you Tom
here's wishing you the beauty and fragrance
of all the waterlilies that ever bloomed
now and forever.
Gallery from the 2006 IWGS
Symposium visit to DBWG
images from Dania Beach Water Gardens