The History of Lilies Water Gardens

The History of Lilies Water Gardens

All journeys have a beginning and an end but, I can only write up to this present day as the future of Lilies Water Gardens is yet to be told.  I take a lot of pride in owning my own retail aquatic nursery and thought it would be fun to take a look back at the different transformations over the years.


The Beginning

It all started about 37 years ago when a natural clay based large pond/lake was dug at the bottom of my mum and dad’s garden.  My mum planted up this large pond with around 30 different aquatic pond plants, and one day, after several years of the plants, colonizing she came up with the great idea of supplying these plants to a local small wholesale nursery.  The deal was almost done, however  it transpired that they wanted all of them supplied in Aquatic Baskets which we did.  Before long, a small section of my parents land was then developed to house man-made shallow planting tanks with some deeper ones for Water Lilies, and a few poly-tunnels and a greenhouse which still stands today.  The small aquatic nursery then known as ‘Dorking Aquatic Wholesale,’ had been born


The Garden Center Years

This is when I got involved at the age of 22.  Up until this point, I had been running my own small business of supplying pet shops with small furry animals, but allergies were kicking in so I needed to find a different path of employment so, I decided to join my mum in growing pond plants.  One day I was thinking about the nursery and how we could expand our productivity and came up with an idea which I put to my mum.  The idea was to supply straight to the Garden Centers.  Mum liked the idea so after many phone calls and visits to garden centers, we soon built up a customer base that proved popular and grew steadily year after year, and in turn at the same rate, our customer popularity grew and with it, the development of the nursery.   I must admit they were fun but busy years but we had a great a team which consisted of good friends and locals.   it’s around this time that we built our first show garden at the prestigious Hampton Court Flower Show.  As we enjoyed it so much it then became an annual event and over 16 years, we created 15 show gardens, many of which, won us Gold Medals and the highly prized best in show ‘Tudor Rose Awards’.  My love of garden construction grew and so did my competitiveness so I also started doing a fair number of other but smaller garden shows and fairs by myself at weekends.  This all proved to be fun and productive and this eventually swung me in a different direction.


The Garden Show Years

For me, this was definitely the place to be at the time.  Garden shows were really taking off and not long after sadly, my mum decided that she would semi-retire though she still keeps her hand in now and again today.  After a while, I decided to discontinue supplying the garden centers as I wanted to share the knowledge I have acquired of the years and to give the chance for others buy plants in which to make their own garden havens, so I opened the nursery to the public.  I still managed also to do plant shows including Hampton Court Flower Show but it was a very busy time for everyone involved.   It was then that I decided that it was time for my nursery to have a fresh name and so at the age of 32, ‘Lilies Water Gardens’ came into existence and I gave the nursery a massive  redevelopment to get ready for retail sales.   I always remember getting very excited when my first customer came down to buy some plants and with help from the flyers that we handed out at garden shows, the momentum soon picked up.  By the time I had reached 40, the garden show era was beginning to slow down mainly due to the website era taking off, so I realized it was time for me to build a small online website.  I remember the excitement I felt when I got my first online order and I haven’t looked back since.


The Online Years To Present Day

As the online orders and retail sales gathered speed, I soon realised it was time to stop doing the garden shows as I needed to concentrate and put all my efforts into Lilies Water Gardens.  So, I made a promise to myself that if I won a Tudor Rose Award and Gold Medal award just one last time, I would retire from doing garden shows altogether.  My mum and I gathered every inch of effort and went to town with planting up my last designed water garden and I was overjoyed when it won everything!  Six weeks later, I then did my very last ever one day garden show at Chenies Manor, and I remember feeling very sad on the way home knowing the years of garden designing  and the fun of planting them up, were over!

Over the last 13 years, I have built up an online customer fan-base and send out regular monthly newsletters to over 3000 subscribers.  I also have a lot of regular and new customers that visit my nursery throughout the spring and summer months and I consider many of my regular customers as friends.  I’m never alone in the spring-summer months as I have a small team alongside me that include a couple of friends, my wife, sister-in-law and a lovely lady called Elaine who has been with us from the beginning.!  Oh, and I must mention my mum who still comes to help us occasionally.






I hope this article is of some interest to you all and I am dedicating this article to my mum who paved this way of life for me and also to my father Ron Harman, who sadly passed away a few years back.  My father Ron supported me and put a lot of time, effort and money into Lilies Water Gardens and for that, I will always be eternally grateful.  He is much loved and I miss him terribly.  I will never forget him shouting for sales during sell-off every year which is the last hour of the Hampton Court Flower Show.  I’m sure his shouting might jog some memories of some of our customers who were there and are reading this article.

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