American Aquatic Gardens
New Orleans, LA
Text by Kit & Ben Knotts and Rich
Most photos by Rich Sacher
Click images to enlarge
Our friendship with Rich Sacher is largely to blame for our passion
for Victoria (see 1998 The Adventure Begins) and he is a continual
source of inspiration, stimulation and enthusiasm in all things
water gardening. He is a multi-talented, multi-faceted fascinating
person and the following just scratches the surface of who he
American Aquatic Gardens
The oldest of five children, Rich was born in the Bronx,
NYC, where at five years of age his grandmother introduced him
to the plant world by helping him plant some sprouting seeds
from an orange they had cut open. After that, it was plants,
plants, plants! Rich built his first concrete pond when he was
a teenager, ordering tropical water lilies from Scherer and Sons
in Long Island, NY. The rock garden surrounding the pond boasted
over 100 different perennials, as well as a collection of dwarf
After leaving high school, he spent four years in a Trappist
monastery, where he contemplated becoming a monk-priest. In addition
to studying scriptures in their original Latin and Greek, he
also designed and planted the fruit tree orchard for the monks,
and tended their vegetable garden. He left the monastery to begin
college at Rutgers University, where he majored in Horticulture,
working part time for a landscape nursery in New Jersey, and
doing freelance landscaping as well.
Rich was selected for the summer intern program at Longwood
Gardens, and lived and worked at the gardens during the summer
of '67, where he spent all his money on slides and plants! He
also wrangled special permission to work an extra week with Pat
Nutt, their celebrated curator of aquatic plants. He did some
postgraduate work at Penn State, where he taught horticulture
as a teaching assistant.
After Rich moved to New Orleans, he worked for Tulane Medical
School in their mycology department, where he made a personal
collection of variously colored fungi and yeasts, keeping them
in petrie dishes at home. After all, fungi are plants, too! A
later job at Gulf South Research Center made him knowledgeable
about Dengue Fever, and other viruses which can be spread by
mosquitoes. He killed thousands of mice, and made lots of vaccines!
A third job with a pharmaceutical company's research department
yielded a new method for extracting life saving clot thinning
enzymes from human urine, for medical use in heart attack and
stroke patients. (He got permission to tap into the urinals at
Tulane Stadium during football games
one of the oddest jobs
in his resume.) Finally, Rich got back to his first love, plants.
The move to New Orleans necessitated learning about a whole new
area of tropical and semi-tropical plants. Rich began an interior
plant maintenance business, which he still operates today along
with his business partner, Bill Dailey. Rich's father had been
an architect, and Rich's interest in the unique architecture
of the French Quarter led him and Bill to establish St. Philip
Street Properties, a partnership to purchase and restore eight
homes in their neighborhood, several of which received awards
from the city of New Orleans. Of course, each restored house
was furnished with a pond or some other water feature as part
of its landscape!
Rich was by then an avid water lily hobbyist, propagating
hundreds of water lilies which were being grown on several properties.
The proceeds from these sales went to a non-profit agency called
Community Relief, which gave financial aid to people with AIDS.
More and more people began buying lilies, and it became clear
that there was need for a full time water gardening business.
The interior plant business had also grown and it really needed
to be moved to a commercial location. This led to the founding
of American Aquatic Gardens in 1990, which grew so quickly that,
within three years, the nursery had to be expanded into an adjacent
New Orleans Botanic Garden
Ponds at St. Philip Street
Aquatic Gardens is located just outside the French Quarter
and has become something of an attraction for tourists and should
be! Though battered and bruised by Hurricane Katrina in 2005,
it is again absolutely a work of art. Everywhere you look there
is something beautiful, displayed just as beautifully. The nursery
specializes in bringing water, sculpture and color to the garden,
but it is particularly well known for the wide variety of water
lilies which are offered for sale. With Betsy Sakata, Rich has
been instrumental in introducing several fabulous new cultivars
from Thailand to the US. These include 'Star of Siam', 'Queen
of Siam' and 'King of Siam'.
'Star of Siam'
'Queen of Siam'
'King of Siam'
For some years, Rich has been hybridizing his own new forms
of water lilies. In 2000 his 'Star of Zanzibar' won Best in Show
at the annual Banksian Trials of the International Waterlily
and Water Gardening Society at the Chicago Botanic Gardens. In
2001 his 'Mahogany Rose' received the highest number of votes
in the Trials but was ineligible for the top award since he won
it last year. His goals in hybridizing have been flowers with
many more petals than usual and unusually marked foliage, feautured
in his Hybrid Gallery.
He is succeeding admirably! He has developed new techniques for
enhancing seed set in tropical lilies. See his article "Hybridizing
Tropical Water Lilies".
'Star of Zanzibar'
'My Big Blue'
For the last 20 years, Rich has been donating and maintaining
the water lilies at the New Orleans Botanic Garden; he has served
locally on the boards of the ACLU, several historic neighborhood
organizations, and the IWGS, of which he is a founding member.
He was a founding member of the New Orleans Gay Community Center,
and the New Orleans Pond Society, and has written for several
water gardening magazines, as well as for the Journal of the
International Waterlily and Water Gardening Society. He is the
author of "Hybridizing Waterlilies: State of the Art",
published by IWGS. In 2006, he was inducted into
the IWGS Hall of Fame.
Rich shares his love of plants with his life partner, Kevin Joyce,
and the backyard of their Victorian home overflows with aquatic
plants. The courtyard gardens have been featured in "The
Hidden Gardens of New Orleans" on the Home & Garden
& Image Galleries by Rich Sacher