Happy Birthday To Bill!

By Kit Knotts - Click images to enlarge

The eve of Independence Day 2002 marks famed waterlily hybridizer Bill Frase's 90th birthday. Rather than present a straight biography to mark this milestone, I would rather write about friendships and how Bill's have influenced the waterlily world.

In my case, my very first pot of waterlilies came from Bill though we didn't meet for many years. I had built the original small group of ponds and my mother thought they just had to have waterlilies in them. Both my mother and the Frases are long time Orlando Floridians and she tracked Bill down through a local Bromeliad nursery. Those first waterlilies (capensis and a form of pubescens) led to an addiction that has changed my life.

As I wanted to learn more about and have more waterlilies, I tried to find Bill myself. I found their lovely tranquil home and garden in the Conway area of south Orlando but no one was around. I somehow felt I would be intruding in this obvious quiet life so I didn't pursue finding Bill himself.

Bill and his wife Laura have two children, Chappy, himself the subject of an upcoming profile, and Enid. In her late teens, Enid had an illness with complications that left her completely dependent on her parents for her care. For all these years Bill and Laura have dedicated themselves to providing this, often setting their own interests aside.

Bill, Enid, Chappy & Laura

The Frase's Formal Pool

The Frase's Informal Pool

Through much of this period the world was not as small as interstate highways, jet travel and the internet have now made it. Bill pursued his passion for waterlilies and their hybridization much on his own and through correspondence with colleagues around the world. Over the years many letters were exchanged by Bill and Betsy Sakata, and a warm friendship developed.

From her Hawaii home Betsy too felt isolated from the water gardening mainstream and reached out to all of the waterlily legends to gain more knowledge. She created a network of friends who became friends of other of Betsy's friends in an ever-widening circle. Many of those visited the Frases over the years, learning and sharing ideas, but Betsy and the Frases never met in person.

In 1998, following an expedition to the Amazon, Betsy, Stan Skinger and Jack Honeycutt were our houseguests for a few days. We had not met Betsy, Stan or Jack before except by email, had not met the Frases and the almost immediate visit to the Frases in Orlando was a day none of us will ever forget. It was like instant family. Betsy encouraged me to nurture that since I was close by, though I didn't need urging.

Over that summer and since, I drove to Orlando as often as I could, "trading" labor in Bill's ponds for instruction from the master. I learned a tremendous amount of history, cultivation and hybridization techniques. This continues in reciprocal visits to "Paradise", now mainly accomplished when Chappy is available to drive the family over to see us. We always take pictures to send to Bill's expanded family.

These wonderful friendships enhance Bill's contribution to the waterlily world. This kind, generous and self-effacing man was elected to the IWGS Hall of Fame in 1999 and was surprised with the honor at the Washington Symposium. No one could deserve it more. Bill not only has created beautiful lilies but fostered the interest of many growers, collectors and future hybridizers.

Bill grew up in Chatham, New Jersey, and his love of waterlilies began there. His career as an entomologist brought him to Central Florida in 1943, working on a malaria control project for the Air Force. Bill acquired their one acre property that year, built the charming house himself and the formal pond a year later.

'Laura Frase'
'Blue Beauty' x
'Panama Pacific'
 Because Bill has never promoted himself, not all of his hybrids are readily available in the trade. Some are preserved in collections and a few have been lost. His 'Laura Frase'* is, in my opinion, the single best waterlily ever. With a beautiful somewhat cup-shaped Delphinium blue flower, the large unusually marked pads remain close to the plant, making it a big waterlily with a very compact habit. It will bloom year round in mild climates.

Bill's three huge ampla hybrids, 'Bill Yohn', 'Floyd Wolfarth'* and 'Lou Pignolet' are absolute show stoppers, often with multiple blooms 12-14" across. Others of his lovely hybrids are 'Delftwerke' ('Pink Pearl x 'Orchid Star'), 'Dark Eyes', 'Enid Frase', 'Electra'*, 'Gemstone' ('Albert Greenberg' x 'Purple Zanzibar'), 'Loveliness', 'Pink Porcelain' and 'Terri Dunn'*. He selected and named several forms of capensis including 'Crimson Zanzibar' and 'Purple Zanzibar'* and found the large flowered mexicana 'Cape Canaveral'*. Those marked with * can be found in the trade.

'Bill Yohn'
ampla x 'Director George T. Moore'

'Lou Pignolet'
ampla x 'Yellow Dazzler'

'Floyd Wolfarth'
ampla x caerulea

'Teri Dunn'
micrantha x unknown

Some of
Bill Frase's

caerulea x capensis
Craig Presnell Photo

mexicana 'Cape Canaveral'

'Enid Frase'
'Castali Flora' x 'Orchid Star'

'Purple Zanzibar'
John Baron Photo

No visit to Central Florida is complete for a waterlily enthusiast without a day spent with the Frases. Though Bill is still quite active in the garden, Florida water gardeners have gotten together for a spring cleanup day at the Frases, organized in 2000 by Paula Biles and in 2001 and 2002 by Troy Valentine. The "Circle of Friends" is still widening.

The Crew of 2000

The Class of 2001

Joining in Birthday Greetings to Bill -
Charles Thomas - Sally Thomas - Nedra Crow - Guillermo Angulo - Duane Eaton
Dorothy Edwards - John & Mary Mirgon - Donna Fish - Larry & Sherry Nau
Susan Seigler - Pat & Flora Kinghorn - Cyndie & Mike Thomas
Andre & Julia Leu - Troy Valentine - Roland Lyman - Sharyn Munn
Babs Ellinwood - William Phillips - Jean Hammond - Charlie Northcroft
Sheila Tierney - Al Sibley - Sean Stevens - Craig & Darcy Presnell
Nannette Bailey - Paula Biles - Kathy Pendleton - Billy Bates - Steve Kennon
Walt, Susan & Kyle Whybrew - George McKay - Doug Kevis - Bud Gregory

Our beloved friend Bill Frase died in May of 2003.

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