Tom Naylor
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 still teenagers.

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…and 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 … although 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 it…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 long passion.

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



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