by Hope Holland
Sometimes it takes a certain set of circumstances to put a man on course to do what he really wanted to do. This is the story of the beginnings of Lilypons Water Gardens which was founded in 1917 as Three Springs Fisheries and owned by the great-grandfather of current owner, Margaret Koogle. Ms. Koogle’s grandfather, C. Leicester Thomas, ran the fisheries until one of Maryland’s regular weather debacles — others call them hurricanes — came along and flooded his fisheries so severely all of his stock went south down the nearby Monocacy River.
It was then Mr. Thomas decided he liked water lilies better because their beauty delighted him and their rooting made them less likely to leave during the regular flooding his acres were prone to. By 1935 there was such a demand for his product the U.S. Postal Service determined his business needed its own post office. Mr. Thomas suggested naming the post office Lilypons in honor of his favorite opera singer, Lily Pons. The following year Lilypons, MD post office was officially opening with no less a celebrity than Miss Pons herself in attendance at the dedication ceremony.
It was a propitious decision because his new business blossomed into a thing of rare beauty in the face of numerous storms and flooding occasioned by its nearness to the river and the fact it is bounded by Bennett Creek. The acreage in fact depends on both of those entities for the supply of the water it needs to grow an amazing number of not only water lilies, but also native pond grasses and some rather exotic lotus plants.
In this day of constant worry about the impact of businesses on the dwindling lands left open and the waters which supply them, Margaret Koogle is proud to be able to say the water which enters her land from Bennett Creek leaves in a better condition on its inevitable course to the Monocacy River.
In February, Lilypons Water Gardens rests in the same dull dun colors most of the open fields of Maryland are. Her crew of workers, all of whom are much appreciated long-time employees, are on a well-earned rest right now. In early March they will don waders and start gathering the plants for orders which will be coming in from gardens in the south — places where people and businesses are gearing up for the southern early spring expected. By May Lilypons will be in the full blush of its own beauty and its busiest season.
Lilypons Water Gardens supplies private estates as well as businesses and public gardens across the continental United States with not only the water lilies they are most known for, but also with the native grasses which help to delay erosion from storms and several types of fish. There are five western states, Washington, Oregon, California, Wyoming and Montana, that require all plants to be inspected before they ship as well as upon arrival, so Lilypons has a twice-yearly shipment process with the buyers in those states.
Lilypons also stocks and ships Koi and Butterfly Koi as well as different types of goldfish: Shubunkins, Comets and Japanese Fantails. All of these fish help to keep the ponds in healthy condition as do two lesser species, Chinese Species Snails (known as nature’s vacuum cleaners) and tadpoles. All of the things which help to keep the fish healthy can also be ordered from Lilypons up to and including aeration systems for lakes and ponds.
Lilypons Water Gardens is a one-stop shopping experience. In addition to water plants, they sell filters, fountains and lighting systems as well as all of the additives it might take to maintain the health of a pond, its plants and its live inhabitants.
None of this could happen, says Ms. Koogle without the absolute dedication of her employees, most of whom are long time — even lifetime — members of her staff.
“Lilypons is absolutely blessed, truly blessed, with the finest people to work with,” Ms. Koogle says. “We are so lucky to have them!”
But a business also has to offer itself to the public that it services and Lilypons Water Gardens does indeed do this. It has had a long and happy association with the nearby city of Frederick, MD which is also home to a “water feature” of its own. There is a creek which runs through the several parks of this city and it is used as a happy addition to the city’s festivals, not least of which is its yearly Arts Festival. The creek has become home to many of Lilypons waterlilies which adds a Monet-like setting to the Festival.
At Lilypons itself the grounds are open to the public and offer what has to be — in season — one of the most enchanting walking trails in Maryland. It winds its way past the Show Room and the sales tanks to the Koi ‘Retirement’ pond, where you can feed the fish and the turtles, and on to the gazebo ponds, which are ponds stocked with lilies and fish, and are suggested as a great spot for a picnic. The gazebo has also been used as the back drop for several weddings. There is a special formal water garden designed by the late Benedict Wasmuth and just beyond, the Monet Pond which is designed to be the same shape and size as the pond at Giverny where Claude Monet painted his famous Waterlily paintings. There is even a dog jumping dock where dogs are allowed to swim even if they don’t enjoy the more athletic jumping sports.
Even more surprising is the fact that Lilypons is the home to the Original British Car Day — the first Sunday in June that was originally simply done as a favor to the British Car Club and which then turned into a surprisingly wonderful outreach to the British people who love their gardens in a very serious way indeed.
It seems if you do something nice for someone it really does work in your favor. In the case of Lilypons Water Gardens if you cast your bread — or fish food — upon the waters, you might just get a glimpse of a Koi which lives among the lilies.
Lilypons Water Gardens: Walking a delicate balance between land, water and weather
by Hope Holland