Nan Bailey, Waterlily Lady
Kuranda, Queensland, Australia

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I began my love affair with waterlilies when I was a little child growing up in Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia. My parents used to take us swimming at various waterholes south of Darwin, and some of them had waterlilies. I still can remember the delight I felt when I picked them and smelt their perfume. These were wild species of Anecphya, probably N. violacea.

When I married, I moved away from Darwin, settling in various places for a few years, until we moved to Gladstone, Queensland. There I discovered the wonderful lotus in the pond at Boyne Island. These were wild Nelumbo nucifera, but at the time I didn't think to try and grow some of my own, though I used to love to look for them when we went to the area swimming.

My husband, being an adventurer, then decided we were going to sell up everything and go sailing. So, after moving from Gladstone, Australia, to the UK, he went looking for the right yacht. Seven months later, we ended up back in Maryborough, Queensland, Australia, where he built a 46 foot ferro-cement ketch called Redmoon. This took him two and a half years. My two sons were 10 and 5 when we launched her and started our 5 years of full time cruising.

This was a special time for us all where we learned so much that couldn't be found in a "normal " life. My garden then was the Great Barrier Reef and the Queensland coast, but there were no waterlilies there. I discovered flowers and treasures at all the places we anchored. When we did our 13 month trip from Cairns to Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, New Caledonia and back to Australia, I was in seventh heaven. We snorkeled daily collecting shells, catching our meals and discovering the delights of these interesting places we traveled through and the people we met there. I photographed and painted many of the plants I found and have a wonderful memory book of that time.

When we finished that trip, our eldest son was almost ready for high school, so we sailed back to Cairns and settled down there. The next venture was to run an old tourist ferry called Jungle Queen, on the Mulgrave River and Russell River, to Russell Heads, showing the visitors the wildlife of the two rivers. We resurrected her from the river, brought her back into survey, both sat our Skippers tickets and started running the river tours. It was there at Russell Heads that I rediscovered waterlilies. There was a large lagoon, surrounded by majestic Melaleucas, 500 meters in from the beach, with lots of N. violacea. The trouble was, there was also a large saltwater crocodile living in the area. No swimming for lilies there!

I didn't get the chance to grow my own waterlilies until I moved to Kuranda 5 years later. We then bought 2 school buses and bus runs and settled down, while our youngest finished school. Down the road from where we lived was a dam full of waterlilies. I would go and photograph them each season when they were in full bloom. When we finally bought our own property, I demanded a pond so I could grow my own. I had already been growing and selling plants in between doing my bus runs, and when I found how hard it was to find any water plants for sale here in North Queensland, I decided that I would specialise in waterlilies and pond plants. Mail order from the southern states was the only way to get a good selection when I wanted them. So, we sold one bus and I only drive the morning run, leaving me more time for my lilies.

My husband was quite happy to build me ponds and potting shed, but was not interested in growing plants. I had no one to teach me about water gardening and growing lilies, but books were a start and I collected everything I could find on them. So, I photographed and catalogued, collected, bought and swapped. All I could find about waterlilies was for temperate climates and hardy lilies. Little information was given for the tropicals and their growing, but I learned by accident and experiment. I am fortunate that our climate is suitable for growing both hardies and tropicals and our winter is cool enough to make them have their rest period. I get tropicals blooming from August and September right through till June. Then in 2000, I got my first computer and I discovered the IWGS web site. After joining the discussion group there, then the Victoria-Adventure discussion group, I learned so much more and I am still learning. I feel I have made lots of special friends even though I have only met a few members in person, as everyone else feels as passionate for these beautiful plants as I do.

So, here I am, Platypus Creek Nursery, a one woman show, totally obsessed with waterliles and willing to teach anybody and everybody about the joys of water gardening and the delights of waterlilies -- and, in the interim, make some money to cover the costs. I have 24 large ponds of various forms plus lots of pots full of water plants, and never enough time to do all I want to do in a day. I like the ponds made from old railway sleepers the best. They look good, are high enough to keep the toads and neighbours' dogs out, and are so easy to build.

Growing-on ponds

Long ponds

Sleeper ponds

People ring me up and ask, "Are you the waterlily lady? I want to put in a pond and have some waterlilies." I welcome them to the world of ponding, warn them it is highly addictive, and hopefully give them all the information they need, so they are happy and not disappointed with their choices. I am often asked which is my favourite lily and I always say,

N. 'Director Moore'
 " It depends on what is open today. It could be dear 'Albert Greenberg', or maybe dainty 'June Alison', or striking 'Director George T. Moore', but 'Mrs. George Pring' is such a proud and stately lady."

N. 'June Alison'

Every day, when I look at my ponds, I get such joy from just the simple things, like the colour of a bloom just opened, a dragonfly settled on a lotus leaf, a froglet sunning himself in a flower. My plants are like personal friends, whom I must call in and see each day. When one of natures' miracles, the waterlily, opens her petals to greet the morning, I forget about the frustration of the myriads of grasshoppers devouring the buds, and the china mark moths doing the same to the leaves.

How can anyone NOT enjoy ponding? My newest problem is .... where am I going to fit a pond (just a tiny one maybe) on the trailerable, 30 foot trimaran being built in the shed? Maybe I can go studying waterlilies by boat instead.

Nan has contributed many images and articles to this web site including --

Flecker Botanic Gardens, Cairns, Queensland, Australia
Some Australian Native Aquatic Plants
N. immutabilis subsp. immutabilis, Gallery and Description
See Nan's Cover Story on Australian Natives in
WGI ONLINE Journal Volume 2, Number 1

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