Hughes Water Gardens
Click images to enlarge
In 1962, when I was just four years old, my folks moved from
the Boston area on the east coast of the USA out to a sunny southern
California town named Claremont. My family consisted of me, my
sister Beth and my Mom and Dad, Mary Ellen and Tom respectively.
We made Claremont our hometown for virtually all of my childhood.
As this is primarily about my history in the world as it pertains
to plants, I would have to say that a teacher that I had for
horticulture by the name of John Lily (believe it or not) had
an early impact on my life in that regard. He helped me to learn
the basics of propagation when I wasn't spending time on my other
real passion at the time, playing basketball. When my high
school years ended I decided to try to be a walk-on athlete for
the basketball team of the City College in Santa Barbara. That
was my main focus until I finished my two year stint there. Then
I began to transition back into my other passion, working with
Dave and Davia revisit California
I took a job at Takaya Nursery. What a setting! The small five
to seven acre nursery was surrounded by orange and avocado groves
nestled into the foothills of the coastal mountain range that
overlooks the Santa Barbara region. Why I left I'll never know.
The nursery sold the common ornamental stock for landscaping
in the local area. After being there for three years or so I
moved up to Oregon to live just outside of Portland. As I recall
the greenery of the state pulled me to the north.
Once I was all settled in, I got a job working for a very
large landscaping company -- hard work and low pay for being
a marathon mower. I soon moved out of the city to a more rural
area in Yamhill County, later to become known as Oregon's wine
country. I began to work for the very well established Carlton
Plants Nursery. They had a field-grow operation growing trees
and shrubs, plus a container yard called Specialty Trees. That
was where I ended up. It was, I believe thirty acres or so, high
quality plants but not quite the plant material I was used to
having come up from Santa Barbara.
< Dave, Davia and Olive
After a roughly a year of being there the huge nursery conglomerate
Monrovia purchased the Specialty Tree division of Carlton Plants
and lots of the surrounding available land as well. In the ensuing
three years the nursery grew to five hundred acres and had three
hundred employees. I enjoyed the plant education but it was a
little beyond the scope of what I was looking for in a nursery.
I decided to leave to take a shot at getting a Landscape Technology
degree through the community college system in the Portland area.
It was back to the big city.
Once I attained my degree I spent a couple of seasons working
for a higher-end landscape construction company called Vandehey
Landscape. I learned a lot about specialty pruning and installing
landscape construction projects. Great experience. It led me
into my next endeavor, helping to start up a new landscaping
company, Dinsdale Landscape. The owner and I had worked together
at my previous outfit so it was fairly easy to transition into
getting the new business going.
Along the way our landscape installations began to frequently
cross paths with a unique gentleman pond builder from Ireland
by the name of Eamonn Hughes. As Eamonn was building his masterpieces
into the landscapes that we were simultaneously installing, we
developed a pretty good working relationship. I began to do plant
purchasing for both companies and it eventually evolved into
In getting to know Eamonn more it became evident that he was
having some real difficulties in finding suitable aquatic plants
for his ponds He ran the idea by me of helping him to start a
nursery, Hughes Water Gardens, and the rest is history. Since
I did really enjoy my years working in the nursery industry it
was easy for me to consider going back into it. The challenge
involved with growing aquatics was very new to me so it did seem
intriguing. This all came about in late 1993 and early 1994.
The Brigante's house and greenhouse
The process of actually growing aquatics proved to be more difficult
than I thought it would be. One of the first things I learned
was that not all aquatics can be grown in water as juveniles,
but would prefer to have more of a root mass before being introduced
into a standing water situation. Hard lesson to learn. The "growing
pains" were kind of a rite of passage into the aquatic plant
industry. Now I have some testing rituals that I go through with
unfamiliar plants to lessen the potential for losses.
Presently, after nearly fifteen years it is generally easier,
but there is always room for improvement. For me the journey
through the world of aquatic plants has been highlighted by the
growing of the giant Victoria. This is something that
the nursery has become known for and it is always a time of year
that I look forward to. In recent years I have been writing articles
for the Water Gardeners International website quarterly journal.
This compilation of work is as much a reflection of what I do
and who I am as anything else. Even more recently I have also
been working as a member on the advisory committee for Ponds
Dave with his beloved Victorias
and Images by Dave Brigante
I live on the outskirts of the Portland metro area on twenty
acres with my wife Davia, our dog Olive and our cat, Chasey.
We love living in Yamhill County and growing olives for the making
of olive oil may be in the future for us. Our son Dana lives
in the big city and his son Alex is the Victoria
poster boy at the nursery, for five years running. Water
Dave and Alex >