This charming description of the history of Lilypons is an excerpt from Garden Pools, Waterlilies, and Goldfish by Dr. G.L. Thomas, Jr., D. Van Nostrand Company, Inc., 1958. Dr. Thomas' son, Charles Thomas, founded the International Waterlily and Water Gardening Society in 1984 and is Honorary Life Member of the IWGS Board of Directors.
Here at Lilypons, ten miles south of Frederick in Maryland, we look out upon a vast area spotted with shallow ponds, most of them staggered at hillside levels like Chinese rice paddies. Crews of men with steam shovels and bulldozers are forever pushing earth around among the ponds and every man works with a loaded shotgun close at hand. Now and then, throughout the day, the sound of gunfire rolls in to us from across the water.
Sometimes visitors just follow their noses, for many water-lilies have far-reaching scents, varying from the delicate fragrance of lily-of-the-valley to the rich, ripe smell of newly picked apples. The mingled scents of a galaxy of water-lilies, particularly after an early shower, offer a never-to-be-forgotten experience.
We enjoy explaining the place to visitors. The men with the earthmoving machinery are shaping dikes to form ponds. We fill the ponds with water, and in them we grow our "crops," the some 70,000,000 ornamental and bait fish, and the hundreds of thousands of water-lilies and other aquatics which we ship out to a multitude of markets every year. Everyone is impressed by our freedom from mosquitoes. With 400 of our 1,800 acres under water, the place would seem a veritable paradise for water-bred insects. The answer is: the fish eat them.
Kingfishers, sea gulls, blue cranes, white cranes, and fish ducks also take their toll of fish, and would soon deplete our ponds if not driven away by gunfire. Muskrats and crawfish present problems too. They burrow into the dikes and so drain the ponds. A bounty program, which we inaugurated years ago, keeps these pests pretty well in check.
The Hobby That Grew and Grew
The present expanse of pools, ponds, and canals which is now Lilypons is a development begun as a hobby in 1917 by my father. Father undoubtedly came by his love of water gardening from his mother, who always had a water garden of some sort. First it was a sunken tub, then some half-barrels, and then a whole series of sunken tubs, and finally a pool. I remember two water-lilies which always did especially well for her. One was white, one yellow, and both were delightfully fragrant. She never had visitors who didn't admire them. Years later, when we produced a new hardy variety, a most fragrant and beautiful pink, we named it for her -- the Mrs. C. W. Thomas water-lily -- and her pleasure was unbounded.
Father bought the Three Springs Farm, then a 360-acre spread, at the turn of the century, when he was just out of Franklin and Marshall College and teaching school. To beautify the place, he converted fifteen acres of lower ground into ponds and stocked them with brood goldfish and water-lilies. He gave away a lot of fish in the early days and then, rather reluctantly, began to sell them as the demand grew. Almost without realizing it, he became a fisheries operator on a full-time basis.
Lily Ponds, Lily Pons, and Lilypons
The business grew, particularly after the dime stores began stocking goldfish. Soon father had to look around for more convenient shipping arrangements-more convenient for him and for the U. S. Post Office Department. Postal authorities agreed to establish a branch at the Fisheries and advised him to choose a single, descriptive, easy-to-remember name. It was a postal official who suggested the name Lily Pons -- well known, and certainly descriptive. So Lilypons it was. It became official in 1932.
Results of Research
Today my sons and I operate the business along lines similar to those organized by my father. To be sure, we have installed systems of tile and piping so that we can now drain, refill, and otherwise control our vastly grown expanses under cultivation, which now number some 800 ponds. We have worked out systems, and trained employees to follow them, for keeping exact genealogical records of all our family strains of fish and plants. We experiment with new types of pools, new pool equipment, and new pool supplies. Recommendations to our customers are therefore based on practical experience.
We have a research program which has produced some interesting information. For instance, we know that eighty-five out of every hundred goldfish we breed will color up properly. Once we sold the drab, uncolored fifteen per cent for bait, and considered ourselves lucky to find such a market. Then the demand for the bait fish increased to such an extent that, through research, we developed a noncoloring strain of fish to satisfy the special market.
As we have worked out our own problems with plants and fish, we have passed on our findings to amateur fanciers. It seems that almost everyone who has ever ordered plants or fish from the 50,000 catalogs we mail out every year has written in at one time or another with some sort of problem: a woman in California wants to illuminate her pool from beneath the water; a man in Alabama needs a prolific water-lily to cover a farm pond in one season; another man wants us to recommend a substitute for cinders in this diesel age, and I expect a hundred customers have written to ask where in the world a city dweller can go to get cow manure.
This book, to a large extent, is a product of all those questions. I shall try to offer at least one good, practical solution -- and an alternative wherever possible -- for all the questions a water gardener might encounter.
I'll try to do the job impartially, free of my personal enthusiasms. I'll try. Water gardening, you see, isn't only my business. It's my hobby, too.
Three Springs Fisheries