History of the IWGS

When people become serious about a subject, they acquire a never-ending thirst for additional information while looking for others to discuss common interests. Dedicated waterlily folks are no different. Back in 1982 there were few people in the profession and even fewer avenues for sharing mutual concerns.

Something as simple as determining a waterlily’s correct name was extremely difficult since there weren’t standard descriptions or accurate live examples for comparison. News of recent hybrids and introductions was almost non-existent. Even the most basic water gardening information was scarce in print. There were no waterlily or water gardening groups at any level – hobbyist, academic, or professional.

In 1982 Charles Thomas planted a seed among other waterlily enthusiasts for creating a society. He fertilized it relentlessly. Luckily two events heightened interest for forming the organization. In 1983, the first local water gardening group formed in Colorado as the Colorado Water Garden Society. The following year, one of the few water gardening writers, Gordon Ledbetter, visited the US from Ireland. Thomas capitalized upon the occasion, inviting him to visit and help launch the new Water Lily Society. Hundreds from the US and many from Europe attended a well-planned affair (was there an official name for the event?) where the organization was officially announced on September 22, 1984.

With officers and an editor to guide them, the talented group of enthusiasts proceeded to grow the Society at a very rapid rate. The activities of 1985 included incorporation as a non-profit organization, the first journal issues, expansion of membership to several hundred, and the first annual Symposium.

From its inception, the Society was envisioned as an international group and within a year had members from 40 states and 10 countries. It was decided to change the name to International Water

Lily Society (IWLS) so potential members would understand its scope. While water lilies were the association’s primary focus, interest in allied topics was strong. Therefore, the journal was titled Water Garden Journal and also included articles on related subjects. The organization’s last change acknowledged the importance of these associated areas and in 1998 became the International Waterlily & Water Gardening Society (IWGS).

The mission of the International Waterlily & Water Gardening Society has remained constant. However, services now include education, research, and conservation. The tools used to disseminate the latest and best information have also grown over the years. The nucleus is still the Journal, annual Symposia, and a strong network of knowledgeable people. However, there are now ongoing research grants, an extensive reference library, international registries of Nymphaea and Nelumbo, and certified collections of Nymphaea.

Many of the original volunteers continue to help plan the Society’s future. They share their passion along with others from around the world. In spite of (or because of) their diverse backgrounds and knowledge, they strive to grow a Society committed to enhancing and expanding the information available about waterlilies and water gardening. Members now have a place to turn, no matter what their situation may be, whether they’re retailers looking for suppliers, growers improving their techniques, hybridizers testing new lilies, or hobbyists hoping to learn. The original seed has blossomed and the Society continues to educate thousands of water gardeners around the world.