The IWGS wishes to honor individuals who have contributed to the waterlily and water gardening industry over the years. We hope you enjoy their stories and find inspiration from their many noteworthy accomplishments.
CHARLES B. THOMAS
1935 – 2020
CHARLES B. THOMAS
1935 - 2020
Charles graduated from George Washington University in 1971 with a Master of Marketing. Just four years later, Charles and Sally bought Lilypons Water Gardens. In this capacity, Charles not only utterly revolutionized Lilypons, but the industry itself. He instituted these changes as President of the company from September 1, 1975. He retired from this position on December 31, 1998, but not before he’d turned the water-gardening industry on its head, totally revitalizing it not only in the United States, but in Europe as well, and guiding the entire industry with his own unique sense of purpose and vision.
Charles is the driving force behind the formation of the IWLS. In his own words this is the story of how it came about: For some years Charles had been thinking what a great thing it would be to get Water Lily people together. – He polled a number of folks who visited Lilypons throughout the years. From Walter Pagels he heard that it was a great idea, something that Walter would like to do in his retirement. Norman Bennett also loved the idea but questioned if it could be done!
Things came to a head when Charles learned that Gordon Ledbetter would be in the States. Seizing the opportunity of having this noted Irish author to give the formation of the IWLS an international flair, Charles with his characteristic enthusiasm got the ball rolling. Gordon was delighted to be asked. A Reception was held on September 24,1984, a public reception was held at Lilypons followed by a private one at Charles’s residence. It was a memorable evening, among those attending were John and Mary Mirgon and Steven Davis, the first editor of The water Garden Journal.
Besides driving the IWLS into existence, Charles is a tireless speaker traveling all over the United States promoting water gardening in genera1 and never his own business in particular. For this he has received the American Horticultural Society’s Commercial Individual Citation for outstanding work in the field of Horticulture and the Mail-order Association of Nurseries Nurseryman of the year award.
Charles Thomas was our first secretary until Ed Schnieder took over the job. Without Charles Thomas, and his support team of wife Sally and daughter Virginia Crum none of us would be here tonight.
Charles was inducted to The IWGS Hall of Fame in 1991.
1946 – 2021
1946 - 2021
Ken, of San Angelo, Texas, has had a long interest in waterlilies including a particular interest in species varieties. He assisted Dr. Bill Turner at the university of Texas in obtaining some rare Nymphaea no longer found in their native habitat. He also located, retrieved and researched Nymphaea ampla var. polysepala and N. flavovirens [N. gracilis] in Mexico, and has written papers on the genus Nymphaea which have been published in Phytologia.
Ken grows many of these rare species lilies at his home and displays them in the IWGS Certified Collection which he established at Civic League Park in San Angelo Texas. He maintains this collection and also guides high school students who work on it. Ken has shared this rare genetic material with other hybridizers and members of the IWGS. He has also had success in hybridisation himself with the introduction of Nymphaea ‘Texas Dawn’, ‘Ineta Ruth’, ‘Rhonda Kay’ and ‘Jennifer Rebecca’.
1964 - 2021
1964 - 2021
It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Tim Davis. As many of you may know he publicly shared his journey with illness through years in hopes that some of what he endured may be helpful to others facing similar health issues. He was that kind of person. What you may not know is how much Tim dedicated his time and energy to those in the waterlily world. First and foremost, he had a contagious and genuine smile. You could not be around him without his personality engaging you. Whether in the pond or out, his outspoken nature called to anyone within ear shot to be included in sharing his passion. He was a dedicated hobbyist, gardener and influencer on Facebook and YouTube before they were household names.
Tim was the perpetual volunteer and spent time as the IWGS Journal Editor and webmaster for both the IWGS and International Waterlily Collection. An avid photographer and faithful servant, one might say. He spent well over a decade using his vacations and long holiday weekends to help Ken Landon at the International Waterlily Collection. Dividing, planting, labeling, pruning, storing, photographing and, in general, wholeheartedly loving the display. He was always ready to jump in to help keep things at their finest. His presence will be missed but the significance of his contributions will be lasting and carried by everyone who knew him.
19? - 2022
19? - 2022
Richard Lee, owner and president of William Tricker, Inc. for 36 years, passed away on May 13, 2022. Richard was a naturalist by heart and he was an enthusiastic learner about water gardens, as well as the history of William Tricker. He amassed an impressive library of antique and original rare gardening books and catalogs. With the vast knowledge of the history of the business, he petitioned and was awarded the classification of “William Tricker Inc. Historic District" with the National register of Historic Places within the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service.
Richard graduated from Kent State University with a teaching degree in biology, served during the Viet Nam War as a medical technician, and in 1986, purchased the water garden nursery and business in Independence, Ohio from Wilfred Schmidlin , the husband of William Tricker’s granddaughter, Ruth Tricker.
Richard authored 1101 Water Gardening Questions and Answers and Tricker's Water Gardening Book, an Introduction and Guide. His latest work in progress at the time of his death, The History of Water Gardening, will hopefully one day be published.
He grew and supplied many unusual plants such as the Amazonum night blooming lily, the Victoria Trickeri and the Euryale Ferox. He also hybridized and introduced plants such as Blue Sapphire Tropical water lily, Pink Sapphire Tropical water lily, Purple Starburst Tropical water lily as well as Glowing Garnet hardy water lily and Tricker's Mini red Lotus.
Richard also helped introduce EPDM pond liners to the United States. He did extensive research and experimentation with various rubber companies to find a butyl rubber membrane that was safe for fish and plants. He introduced his own pond liner; “Trickerlite” to the Water Garden industry in the late 1980’s to replace the plastic liner material popular at that time.
He could always be seen in the greenhouses working with the plants. One of his favorite things to do was talk to the customers and share his knowledge with them about water gardening.
1922 – 2013
1922 - 2013
Bill Heritage worked for Highlands Water Gardens near London in the 1960s & 70s when it was part of Lotus Water Gardens, one of the key players in the UK market at the time, just when the industry was starting to flourish. Bill not only had hands-on experience with aquatics but was a skilled writer and photographer. He wrote a book and many catalogue and magazine items for Lotus, and other books including 'Ponds and Water Gardens' after that, and his enthusiasm and careful way with words greatly helped to popularise water gardening and the new pond lining materials. He later worked for Wildwoods Water Gardens in Enfield.
In his retirement he continued to write some articles, and was involved with the IWGS from the start, usually seen with his wife Irene close by. He visited Marliac's nursery in France along with good friend Norman Bennett, reporting back on the state of the nursery and the naming of the lilies at the UK meeting in 1991. This report at the meeting at Sparsholt, and the presence of Martin Sturge who had a house nearby in France, were possibly some of the prompts for the later involvement of Ray Davies in the restoration of those nurseries.
Bill was inducted into the IWGS Hall of Fame in 1988. Over the years he will have inspired countless gardeners into the rewards of owning a pond, and we owe him much gratitude for that.
1913 - 2004
PERRY D. SLOCUM
1913 - 2004
Perry Slocum, award-winning photographer and founder of Slocum Water Gardens in Binghamton, New York, later moved to Winter Haven, Florida, USA, received the first U.S. Plant Patent (No. 666) issued for a hardy waterlily, Nymphaea ‘Pearl of the Pool,’ in 1946. Forty years later he received the first U.S. patent for lotuses, Nelumbo ‘Charles Thomas,’ N. ‘Maggie Belle Slocum’ and N. ‘Angel Wings.’
Perry served on the IWGS Board of Directors for 10 years, and as Vice President (1987-88) and President (1989). He was the first living individual to receive the Hall of Fame award. Perry authored Garden Pools and Fountains and co-authored Water Gardening, Waterlilies, and Lotuses.
1945 - 2007
1945 - 2007
In the UK, Philip was best known as host of BBC gardening programs on radio and TV. His formal gardening training began at the University of Cambridge Botanical Garden, and he later became Curator of the Royal Botanic Garden, Harlow Carr in northern England. Later he established an international horticultural consultation business with special focus on developing royal gardens in the Middle East.
Philip received fellowships such as the prestigious Mary Helliar Scholarship (International Plant Propagators' Society) to study in-vitro aquatic plant reproduction in Czechoslovakia, and others. One of Philip's outstanding accomplishments was to persuade a publisher to make a facsimile printing of the rare 1905 Henry S. Conard monograph The Waterlilies, considered by many to be the foundation reference for the study of the Genus Nymphaea.
DR. ROBERT 'KIRK' STRAWN
1922 – 2008
DR. ROBERT 'KIRK' STRAWN
1922 - 2008
Dr. Robert “Kirk” Strawn of DeLand, Florida, USA, earned B.S. and M.S. degrees from the University of Florida and a Ph.D. in Zoology from the University of Texas. Forty years later, after retiring from his brilliant academic career, he attained prominence in the international waterlily community for his pioneering hybridization work.
As a Founding Member of the International Waterlily and Water Gardening Society, he served on its board and was elected as its second president in 1991. His wholesale nursery, Strawn Water Gardens, shipped tens of thousands of waterlily plants around the world. With an uncanny ability and a fascination for tackling research questions, he took on the task of hybridizing hardy waterlilies. In 1981, he produced his first unique water lily variety, Nymphaea ‘Charlene Strawn,’ named after his wife. Today, over 50 varieties of his breathtakingly vibrant waterlilies grow around the world.
1962 - 2010
1962 - 2010
Greg Speichert, one of Indiana’s best known plantsmen, died Nov. 4, 2010 near Philadelphia.
Known throughout the world as water garden plant specialist, the 48-year-old Speichert was director of Hilltop Gardens and Nature Center on the Indiana University campus in Bloomington.
Speichert, who had a degree in horticulture from Purdue University, introduced more than 400 varieties of hardy and tropical water plants and several variegated plants to the gardening industry. At one time, he maintained the largest collection of hardy water lilies in the United States, with more than 300 cultivars represented.
Speichert died while attending the Independent Plant Breeders Conference at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pa. Saying he did not feel well, he left the conference for his hotel, where he died a short while later.
He and his wife, Sue Speichert, co-authored the Encyclopedia of Water Garden Plants, published by Timber Press in 2004 and recipient of the 2004 American Horticultural Society Book Award. Their Timber Press Pocket Guide to Water Garden Plants was published in 2008.
Until moving to Bloomington three years ago, they owned and operated Crystal Palace Perennials in St. John Ind., which specialized in developing water garden plants for the wholesale trade. A founder of the American Water Garden Society and Water Gardening Magazine, he served as a director of the International Water Lilly and Gardening Society from 1997 to 2001
“Water gardening is for the gardening impaired. You cannot fail,” he used to say. He was a member of Garden Writers Association, Perennial Plant Association and many other professional organizations. He served on GWA’s local organizing committee for the Indianapolis 2011 symposium.
When he and I spoke last summer, Speichert was extremely enthusiastic about his job at Hilltop, a five-acre site known for its horticulture education programs for children and adults. He was passionate about the opportunities provided and had begun to develop plans to expand the center’s reach and reputation.
Known for his terrific smile, his willingness to share his knowledge of plants, and as an all-‘round nice guy, we will miss his spirit and joy.
Survivors include his wife, Susan, his sister Michelle Sanders, his niece Ariel and nephew Aaron Sanders, his father Carl and Carl’s wife Florence, his brother-in-law and sister-in-law, Ray and Denise Morehouse, their children, Cheryl Casselman, Bret Morehouse and Kimberly Morehouse, as well as numerous aunts, uncles and cousins. He is preceded in death by his mother, Dolores Speichert.
Solan Pruzin Funeral Home and Crematory of Schererville, Ind., is handling the arrangements , but no details are available at this time. Donations may be made to the Indiana University Foundation for the benefit of Hilltop Gardens, to either the Hilltop General Operating Fund or the Hilltop 21stCentury Endowment Fund.
Let me tell you a little bit about Greg and his passion for plants:
By Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
In his youth, Greg became interested in daffodils so he joined the daffodil society. Utilizing plant society sales, friends, auctions, trades and mail order catalogs he acquired every species and daffodil cultivar in existence. He grew them, documented them, photographed them, studied them and took notes on them. Once he learned everything possible about daffodils he stopped, quit the daffodil society and then joined the Iris Society and the began again, This is how he lived. He just continued to learn new plant groups until he know it all. Then move on to the next group. For example during his ornamental grass phase – he corresponded with all of the foremost experts and breeders of ornamental grasses in Germany and translated these first hand plant descriptions into English. He was a pioneer in ornamental grasses, water plants and perennials in general.
He is perhaps best known as a water gardening and water plant expert. He and his wife Sue owned and operated a nursery in that specialized water garden plants. Together they wrote the Encyclopedia of Water Garden Plants (Timber Press) and published a water gardening magazine. It is said that he introduced over 300 new hardy and tropical marginals and over 100 new native water plants to the water gardening industry.
I have never met anyone else like Greg and I doubt I ever will.
Beyond his crazy knowledge of plants, Greg was a gentle soul. Genuine, thoughtful, helpful and interested in other people. I remember him telling me about a plant hunting trip he made to China and the plants he had found there. He wanted so badly to share this experience with me that he later planned a trip to take me to China. Unfortunately due to health complications we never made the trip.
When I saw him this week at Longwood, he was the same enthusiastic, happy guy I had known and loved. He told me he was getting into Iris breeding. With a smile he told me all the old iris breeders gone. It was the perfect time pick up where they had left off. Unfortunately for us – he too is gone. So suddenly, so unexpectedly he is gone. While I am very sad to have to write this, I feel so blessed to have seen him again, one last time. To have seen his smile again. He was among friends, he was learning about plants, and he was happy.
1917 - 2007
1917 - 2007
Hildreth Morton of Davidsonville, Maryland, USA personified industry, thrift, intelligence and hard work. While husband Jim was hard at work establishing his legal practice, Hildreth worked their tobacco farm to pay for her first greenhouse. The output of that first greenhouse provided the funds to purchase several more greenhouses. Hildreth initially specialized in herbs, but then fell in love with waterlilies, and added aquatic plants as a specialty to her business.
Most noteworthy, Hildreth was a Founding Member of the IWGS and served the Society in various roles throughout the years. Her annual garden festivals were highly popular and well-attended, and her legacy continues through Bittersweet Hill Nurseries (include link to http://www.bittersweethillnurseries.com/).
JAMES ALAN LAWRIE
1933 - 2010
JAMES ALAN LAWRIE
1933 - 2010
Jim graduated from Newark College of Engineering (now the New Jersey Institute of Technology) with a degree in chemical engineering, and went on to meet noted landscape architect John Meeks during the1986 IWGS Symposium in St Louis, Missouri, USA. John had recently purchased Tricker’s historic Saddle River, New Jersey, USA establishment and needed a capable, knowledgeable general manager to oversee the operation. Jim accepted John’s offer and proved invaluable in assisting gardeners to achieve a truly balanced water feature, especially when it came to the growing interest of having koi in water features.
Jim soon became an active member of the IWGS Board of Directors and served as President. In recognition of his international work furthering the cause of water gardening, Germany’s Gesellschaft der Wassergarten Freunde presented Jim with their Silber Silver Award at its 1991 annual symposium in Kassel. Jim taught water gardening classes at Rutgers and various botanic gardens, and he edited several books on the subject.
1949 - 2010
1949 - 2010
Fred was the IWGS Journal editor, along with various pond club newsletters. Fred also created and edited another publication to support the brand new All Florida Koi & Pond Show (AFKAPS), a cooperative effort hosted by all the pond and koi clubs in the state.
Fred McCorkle passed away at home on January 13, 2010 in North Port, Florida, USA. After brain tumor surgery in January 2009, Fred went through extensive treatment and was cancer-free for most of the year. Then in late fall the tumors returned and grew extremely quickly. Fred, being the master planner and realist, elected to go with hospice and spend his remaining time at home.
DR. SURREY W.L. JACOBS
1946 - 2009
DR. SURREY W.L. JACOBS
1946 - 2009
Dr. Surrey W. L. Jacobs, noted Australian botanist, was employed by the Royal Botanic Gardens of Sydney for 38 years, working extensively on grasses, weeds, and water plants. Surrey published numerous journal articles dealing with Australian grasses and various aquatic plant genera of Australia including, Aponogeton, Vallisneria, and Nymphaea. He co-authored "The Water Plants of New South Wales," "Waterplants in Australia," and the treatment of the Nymphaeaceae in the "Flora of Australia."
Surrey's extensive work on the waterlilies of Australia led to a greater understanding of a taxonomically difficult group. Surrey traveled throughout the tropics conducting field studies and subsequent taxonomic studies of the family Nymphaeaceae. When Surrey started working on the Nymphaea of Australia, five native species in three subgenera were known. Today, as the result of extensive studies over the past 17 years, 7 new species have been described. Shortly before his death, Surrey and Barre Hellquist completed a new manuscript naming five new genera of waterlilies in Australia, bringing the number of native waterlilies in Australia to 17.
JOHN PUNKEY FOARD III
1935 - 2010
JOHN PUNKEY FOARD III
1935 - 2010
John Bevans “Punkey” Foard, III, was co-founder of Valley View Farms in suburban Baltimore, Maryland, USA, and was well-known for his water gardening business and for traveling the world to study water gardening. He served on the IWGS Board of Directors and contributed generously to the organization.
Punkey earned a bachelor’s degree in 1955 from Rutger University’s College of Agriculture. After retiring from Valley View Farms in 2005, Punkey began a newfound love of hot peppers, bringing new varieties to the area from Trinidad, where he enjoyed vacationing.
1936 - 2011
1936 - 2011
IWGS Hall of Fame recipient and Founding Member, Don Bryne founded Suwannee Laboratories in Lake City, Florida, USA, with wife, Shirley. Specializing in aquarium plants, the duo later expanded to aquatic plants for water gardening. For many years Don was President of the Florida and American Aquaculture Associations and led the opposition against the State of Florida regulatory agencies that wished to shut down the state’s aquatic plant industry.
In the mid 80s, Don and Shirley explored the Amazon and Rio Negro areas of Brazil for the Giant Victoria waterlily, Victoria amazonica. He enjoyed searching for new and unusual plant specimens, introducing several to the trade industry, including Luwigia sedioides, Phyllanthus fluitans, Nymphaea ‘Shirley Bryne,’ N. ‘Suwannee Mist,’ and others.
1912 - 2003
1912 - 2003
William (Bill) C. Frase died on the 9 th May in Orlando, Florida at the age of 90. An accomplished botanist, entomologist and hybridiser, he was inducted into the Society’s Hall of Fame in 1998. Bill had an incredible expanse of knowledge on water gardening and was always ready to help others by sharing his knowledge and his plants. He was also a contributor to the society’s web list, and helped a number of members in their research and hybridising efforts. His introductions include the tropical
Nymphaea ‘Teri Dunn’, N. ‘Floyd Wolfarth’ and N. ‘Laura Frase’. Bill’s interests also extended to bromeliads, and a number of his hybrids are highly regarded. Bill built up many warm friendships with fellow water gardeners over the years and he will be greatly missed. Our sympathy extends to Laura his wife, and children Chappy and Enid.
Tribute for Bill Frase from Paula Biles
Many individuals stop learning and cease to find wonder and awe in the world around them. (Often it happens right around puberty or shortly thereafter.) But then there are those remarkable people who continue to delight in the world, how it works, and how everything is interconnected to everything else. Bill Frase was one of those unusual and remarkable people. He once told me, with one of his distinctive laughs and HUGE grins, that he was a perpetual student, that he was like a sponge that soaked everything up.
That was most definitely true. Bill found interest in EVERYTHING. His steel trap of a brain remembered unimaginable details … and an infinite number of them … “Hmm, what’s your maiden name? Oh … did you know that name comes from the French word ‘pamplemousse,’ which means ‘grapefruit’.” Of course that’s not a real example, but it could have been. On the BFFM -- “Bill Frase Fascination Meter” -- nature and aquatic plants were his second love (Laura was his first – he always said that the best thing he ever did was to marry her). Everything else in the universe came in a close third and he was constantly striving to learn more about all of them.
Related to his lifelong fascination with the world (and it was truly “life long”), was another amazing personality trait. To Bill everything that happened was positive and had a reason. And as a result, he was an incredibly optimistic person, even when his health began to rapidly decline. Although his loss of vision upset him greatly, he could still shrug and joke that his original operating equipment was wearing out. Bill never took anything for granted. He appreciated people, places, things, events, and most of all, water lilies. He could see both the big picture and the small details – both the forest AND the trees … AND the bark on those trees. For me there are two wonderful examples of his lasting appreciation for both the large and the small. The first example stands strong -- the truly unique house that he built with his own hands more than 50 years ago. It was built from cast off road
rubble and culls from citrus packing crates. Only Bill could see the value in the piles of materials and could turn them into a house. He saw the small stuff while envisioning something MUCH bigger … and he made it happen.
The second example is so characteristic of Bill that it makes me smile just to think about it. Growing in the backyard at Geigel Street is the great-great-great-great grandchild of the first hybrid water lily Bill ever owned -- Nymphaea ‘Masienello’. … He remembered things forever and appreciated them just as long. Bill’s outlook, and interest in life & lilies was infectious … I know, because it infected me … along with countless other individuals he came in contact with. He helped re-focus people and get them to see things that were really important … and to appreciate them. Bill inspired people to ask questions, to learn more, and to think. That was a remarkable gift and one I was very blessed to have received … and one I will never part with. Thank you, Bill.
FROM TERI DUNN [CHASE]
Bill became my friend the day I met him. I came to the wondrous house and garden tucked away on Geigel Avenue “on assignment” back in 1993. I was a young editor and writer for a Boston- based gardening magazine called orticulture, and my boss had gotten a tip that there might be a water garden worth writing up. I was in town anyway for a fairly dull mail-order nursery convention and so I slipped away for a few hours. I arrived on Bill and Laura’s doorstep with a hostess gift of a bouquet of cheery alstroemeria flowers, and was soon ushered into a new and enchanting world. The garden was far bigger than one might have guessed from the street, lush and gorgeous and – as I learned as Bill toured me around – impeccably and thoughtfully maintained. I admired stupendous tropical waterlilies and numerous interesting aquatic plants, each one with a fascinating background story – in the two big pools, and in the greenhouses. Bill showed me his hybridizing projects and explained the process, and I marveled at the effort, care, and precision he put into his work. I was captivated by everything I saw and by his forthright yet gentle manner. And I wondered how he had the time to do all this! Over a snack indoors, tea and those fabulous oranges from the rogue tree in the yard, I witnessed Laura’s abiding support for Bill’s work. I also met Enid and deduced that one reason the garden was so elaborate and splendidly maintained was because Bill needed to stay home with Enid and watch over her; her disability, while a tragedy, had also given him the “gift” of being housebound and having time to work in the yard. That was the story behind the story. My article on Bill and his garden appeared later that year in Horticulture Magazine. I labored to make it an accurate description and tribute to this admirable man who had gardened so magnificently and creatively in relative obscurity for so many years. What I didn’t expect, and neither did Bill and Laura, was how the article would be received. Bill’s hybridizing work and gardening prowess was shown to the water-gardening world and to his delight, numerous new friendships, collaborations and visits followed. Bill was “discovered”! I know he was satisfied with his own work without accolades, but Bill had – as many of you know – boundless intellectual curiosity. All these new friends and colleagues expanded his contacts and his knowledge. It was so great! And then, in August 1998, when the members met for their annual meeting in Washington, D.C., the International Water Lily Society bestowed upon Bill Frase their very highest honor: at a fancy banquet, they inducted him into their Hall of Fame. Laura and Chappy did a clever job of conspiring behind his back to get Bill to that event without giving away the secret. Chappy took his father there and witnessed the award. It must’ve been such a thrilling moment, to see Bill so honored by his peers – an elite group of the best and most knowledgeable water gardeners in the world. Laura missed it because she was looking after Enid in Orlando, and I missed it because I was living in Oregon at the time and had a baby son. But the excitement and the honor were like a stone dropped in a pool … the ripples spread outward. Bill was a great water gardener and now, so many people knew and admired that.
Bill was also a great teacher. He willingly, generously, and humbly shared his knowledge and ideas with me and many others. When I wrote my book Water Gardens, occasionally I would send him questions and he would faithfully send back detailed, helpful responses, complete with diagrams or drawings. He even read over a proof of the book for me. I truly considered him my mentor, and the book reflected so much of what he had imparted to me that I felt compelled to dedicate it to him. The dedication to that book reads: “with love and admiration to my friend and water-gardening mentor, W.C. (Bill) Frase. I’ve used his good advice to be “thorough, constant, neat, and patient,”
not just when gardening but when writing this book – and in my life in general.” Which brings me back to my friendship with this great man. Plants and life intertwine for me, as they intertwined for him. Our correspondence was a mixture of horticulture and family news and personal musings. Our visits – I came there many times over the years, every time I came to Florida to visit my in-laws – always involved a tour of the garden and greenhouses. Laura always served us a bountiful and delicious lunch. Then followed desultory chats on a bench in the yard, a few group snapshots to commemorate the day, and fond parting embraces. My two sons became “honorary grandchildren.” They sent school drawings that Laura exhibited with refrigerator magnets like proud grandparents do. Each year, they were a little bigger, but they never tired of spending most of our visit catching guppies in “helpful nets” that Bill provided. He once made the amusing observation that the worst garden pest was not, say, Japanese beetles or crown rot, but “a small boy with a stick!” But he was very indulgent of my children and they grew to love him.
My last visit was this past February. I knew my friend’s health was deteriorating, and I was grieved at the neglected state of the once-glorious garden (though Laura had tried to warn me in advance, describing the condition of the yard and greenhouses as “Mayan ruins.”). We sat on chairs in the laundry room (shed), while my boys roamed and caught fish, and we didn’t say a lot this time. We sat as two old friends, thoroughly confident in our bond, outwardly at ease. But a little pensive. Bill must’ve sensed my mood. He addressed the decline then, in his garden as well as in himself. Yet he was not sad, like me. He said, “Well, that’s the way things are meant to be.” I took his remark not as a sad platitude but as an ecological statement, really.
Bill, I know you had to leave someday. And I know it’s natural that old people die while little boys grow up – that even so, life goes on. But I want you – and Laura and Chappy and Enid and Paula and everyone else – to know this: you still live. You live on in me. You gave me knowledge and wisdom, about plants and nature and life. I carry some Bill inside me now, as I make my way in the world without you. I will never forget you and I promise to carry on the many legacies you gave to Most of all, I want to always strive to be “thorough, constant, neat and patient.” You showed me that it is a good way to live.