2017 International Waterlily & Water Gardening Society | A Youth’s Perspective

water garden fountains

The Fountains at Longwood come alive at night.

Publisher’s Note: We were excited to see Marc Marrero and Matt Billing, two young pond enthusiasts, at this year’s International Waterlily and Water Gardening Society symposium. In the spirit of supporting the next generation of our industry, we asked them to put together a review of the event. We appreciate their enthusiasm, and we hope you enjoy their perspective! ~ Lora Lee Gelles

by Marc Marrero, 
photos by Matt Billing

The 2017 International Waterlily and Water Gardening Society (IWGS)’s Annual Symposium started off with a warm welcoming reception held by Danner Manufacturing. It was my first-ever symposium, and I was not too sure what to expect. However, being treated to delicious food in a room full of friendly faces was a wonderful first impression.

Day One Excursions

The next morning, we started off our day with a visit to Terrain. I’ve been to many gardening centers before, but none quite like Terrain. Once you enter their compound, it’s almost as if you enter an entirely different world. Their gardening displays ranged from cute and simple to intricate and beautiful. Walking through and seeing all their displays inspired so many creative ideas and gave me a new perspective on how gardens can completely transform a space and make it something truly magical.

 Following our visit to Terrain, we were treated to a mini pond tour hosted by Turpin Landscaping, which included some of their most impressive water features. One of my favorite characteristics that Turpin incorporated in all their water features was the use of many unique and vibrant plants. One example of this is their use of banana trees as a water filtration system. These trees immediately caught my eye when we first arrived, and I was in complete awe when I learned that they could not only grow inside water, but also filter the water itself. Turpin Landscaping demonstrated that water features can be completely functional and unique, all with the creative use of plants.

Later that evening, we were treated to a delightful dinner generously provided by Chanticleer. Chanticleer is one of the great gardens of this region. Once the Rosengarten estate, Chanticleer today is an eclectic, conversational and overall enthralling contemporary garden within a historic setting. No matter where you are in the garden, there’s always something to gaze your eyes upon that strikes conversation and wonder.

Lily pads

Tim Jennings gave us a fantastic tour on-site at Longwood Gardens, providing us with fascinating facts throughout the day.

One of my favorite moments of the entire symposium was visiting the ruin garden. Being in that area of Chanticleer made me feel like I was a part in an Indiana Jones movie. The overall experience that Chanticleer provided was one that was unique and unforgettable. Their garden displays were some of the most beautiful I have ever seen, and it was truly a pleasure to experience such a wonderful place.

Day Two Excursions

The next morning was undoubtedly something special. We began our day at Longwood Gardens, one of the greatest gardens in the world, where we were given special access to witness their aquatic plants display at an hour few ever get to witness. As dawn broke the morning sky, the tropical night bloomers were in full bloom, emitting their beauty for all of us to see. It was an incredible sight. Admittedly, I am no morning person by default (especially at 6 a.m.), but seeing those waterlilies bloom was well worth it.

Soon after visiting the aquatic pools, we were escorted to the New Waterlily Competition, which was temporarily being held in a behind-the-scenes area below the conservatory. The competition lilies were captivating. Many had unique flower and foliage colors uncommon to the industry. It was exciting to get a sneak peek and an opportunity to cast votes and comment in advance of the formal judging. The amount of science and intricacy that goes into creating a plant is mind-boggling to me.

To have the vision to integrate the character traits of two individual species in a calculated process to create a new hybrid is fascinating. I have more respect for the hybridizers than the outcome. The amount of patience, diligence and anticipation of the creation involved is admirable. Tim Jennings was clearly proud of hosting the competition.

The Lectures Begin

The morning lectures included speakers from all around the world who shared their knowledge with us. Yu Cuiwei came all the way from China to discuss cold-stress gene tolerance among waterlilies. Kathy Jentz spoke on how horticulturists can use social media to not only promote themselves and their products, but to also engage and attract a more youthful clientele. Laura Bancroft, a nine-year experienced lotus grower with more than 200 different varieties, shared what she has learned through her experiences.

Ruin Garden aquatic plants

Chanticleer’s Ruin Garden was dark, exquisite and unlike any other garden I’ve ever seen.

Next up was Stanton Gil, who works for the University of Maryland’s Cooperative Extension as an entomologist. He reviewed aquatic-plant pest research and explained how to identify the signs of different aquatic pests and how to get rid of them. After Stanton, Zijun Li gave a presentation on his work hybridizing waterlilies on his small rooftop garden in China. It was very inspiring for me to see someone my own age who has accomplished so much. He has already created numerous hybrids and won the Best New Waterlily Competition last year. He is setting a precedent for many young people behind him. His drive was unmistakable, but he was also humble in his limitations. Without fancy facilities on the top of his home, he has followed his passion and succeeded.

Then, Anthony Archer-Wills gave his presentation, and it was truly remarkable. Anthony’s water features are world-renowned and legitimately astonishing to look at. He credits Patrick Nutt and Longwood Gardens for “moving his love for waterlilies forward in a quantum leap!” His work is above and beyond anything I have ever seen. His passion and creativity make him a leader and inspiration, raising the industry standard. He made possible what once had been deemed impossible.

The expert panel and question-and-answer session was next, which included Tim Jennings, John Sou, Tamara Kilbane and Danny Cox. Each member in the panel was extremely knowledgeable and very kind. They answered any questions the group had very eloquently. We were also given a tour of Longwood Gardens’ main fountain pool, which has recently undergone a $90 million renovation! The largest project Longwood has ever done in the gardens, it contains more than 1,700 fountains and jet streams that some can reach up to 90 feet in the air!

Later in the evening, we went back to the lily pools to enjoy the night-bloomers and hear Tim Jennings give a presentation on Victoria. To close out the day, we saw Longwood Gardens’ evening fountain show, and it was breathtaking. Watching the fountains colorfully shoot high in the night sky in perfect sync with some of our favorite songs from classic movies was truly something special.

Day Three

The last day of the symposium started off with a visit to Mount Cuba Center. Mount Cuba Center inspires an appreciation for the beauty and value of native plants and a commitment to protect the habitats that sustain them. Following Mount Cuba was a trip to Winterthur. Like its name probably suggests, Winterthur was a majestic place. The estate is set amid a 1,000-acre preserve of rolling meadows and woodlands. Designed by du Pont, its 60-acre naturalistic garden is among America’s best, with magnificent specimen plantings and massed displays of color. He selected the choicest plants from around the world to enhance the natural setting, arranging them in lyrical color combinations and carefully orchestrating a succession of blooms from late-January to November. Du Pont translated his love of the land into a unified work of art that embodies a romantic vision of nature’s beauty.

fountain at IWGS 2017

The entrance fountain at Chanticleer was one of many gardens within a garden, with soft hues and a distinctive plant selection.

North Creek Nurseries then welcomed us to happy hour and a tour of their growing operation. They had some of the most advanced technology I had ever seen in a nursery — and some of the nicest workers as well. I felt like I was a part of their family. Their mission is to be a leader in the development and practice of sustainable horticultural systems and to produce world-class plant material. Some of the flowers of their new hybrids they were growing were bigger than my head. It was incredible!

Sadly, all good things have to come to an end. It was soon time for the closing banquet dinner and auction. Paula Biles spoke about the profound impact Patrick Nutt had on the industry and how his passion embraced many in the room the same way it had inspired Anthony. His memory will be celebrated eternally with the Patrick Nutt Scholarship fund for the future students of Longwood. Dinner was in line with all the delicious meals we had throughout the symposium and was followed by both a live and silent auction to raise funds for the IWGS. Gary Jones was the auction master of ceremonies. He was animated, loud (in a good way) and knew how to get a room full of smiles. He radiated energy-making jokes and raised bids with a warm and genuine personality. It seemed a fitting note to end on — a happy one.

Final Thoughts

aquatic plants

A tropical night bloomer, Nymphaea ‘James Gurney’ was striking at dawn in the pools.

t was amazing to watch the interaction among the attendees. I felt as though everyone speaks daily, even though through conversation I learned that many had not spoken for years. There was a collective passion, love of the industry and willingness to share that clearly brought everyone together for a common goal. Each day I engaged in conversations that were focused on learning. People openly shared their knowledge. It was less about competition and more about collective information directed toward building industry growth.

I was also impressed by the diversity of countries in attendance — France, China, Australia, England and Mexico, just to name a few. In this sometimes divided world, there was unity driven by a shared passion. It was unlike anything I’ve been to in the past. I look forward to going again, renewing and building on these relationships.

As a newbie entering this industry, it can be quite overwhelming with so many questions. It is almost impossible to answer them all on my own without some sort of guidance. For that and so much more, I owe Kelly Billing. Because of Kelly, I was introduced to this wonderful industry and have learned an immeasurable amount about the natural world around me. One conversation with Kelly had me convinced that this industry and everything it represents is something that I must learn more about. She has the ability to captivate anyone who encounters her through her passion and kindness. I’ve been fortunate enough to have been taken under her wing, and she has shared much of her knowledge with me. For that, my gratitude cannot be expressed in words alone. Because of Kelly, I have caught the water-gardening fever. I can write books about how much Kelly has influenced my life and what she means to me. Because of her, I look forward to the future and what it has to offer me and everyone I care about.

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