The History of Lilies Water Gardens

The History of Lilies Water Gardens

All journeys have a beginning and an end. However, I can only write up to this present day, as the future of Lilies Water Gardens has yet to be told.  I take a lot of pride in owning my own retail aquatic nursery. I therefore 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 with digging a natural, clay-based large pond/lake at the bottom of my mum and dad’s garden.  My mum planted up this large pond with around 30 different aquatic pond plants. One day, after allowing the plants to colonise for several years, she came up with the great idea of supplying these plants to a local small wholesale nursery.  The deal was almost done when it transpired that they wanted all of them supplied in Aquatic Baskets. This we accordingly did.  Before long, we developec a small section of my parents’ land to house man-made shallow planting tanks, and some deeper ones for Water Lilies. There were also 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 Centre Years

This is when I got involved at the age of 22.  Until then, I had been running my own small business of supplying pet shops with small furry animals… But allergies were kicking in! I needed to find a different path of employment so decided to join my mum in growing pond plants.  One day I was thinking about the nursery and how we could expand our productivity. I came up with the idea of supplying straight to the Garden Centres.  Mum liked the idea, so we began with many phone calls and visits to garden centres. We soon built up a customer base that grew steadily year after year. 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. We had a great 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! 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. I therefore also started doing a fair number of other, 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 centres. I wanted to share the knowledge I had acquired over the years and to give others the chance to buy plants with which to make their own garden havens. Thus I opened the nursery to the public.  I still managed to do plant shows too, including Hampton Court Flower Show, but it was a very busy time for everyone involved.   

It was then I decided that it was time for my nursery to have a fresh name. So at the age of 32, ‘Lilies Water Gardens’ came into existence. 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. 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. In other words, the website era was taking off, so I realised 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 needed to concentrate and put all my efforts into Lilies Water Gardens.  So, I made a promise to myself. 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. I was overjoyed when it won everything!  Six weeks later, I then did my very last ever one-day garden show at Chenies Manor. 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. I have a small team alongside me that include a couple of friends, my wife, sister-in-law and a lovely lady called Elaine. Amazingly, Elaine 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. 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 . 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 (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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