International Waterlily Collection in San Angelo, TX

By Leanne Libby on April 29, 2011 at 3:34 am EST

PHOTO CREDIT: Antony Boshier

From its humble beginnings in the 1980s‚ the San Angelo International Waterlily Collection has blossomed into an attraction deserving of the national attention it receives. 

“It is the only premier waterlily display in North America‚” says Kenneth Landon‚ who created the garden. “We show plants that have never been seen by mankind and bring the world to our city.”

Landon, an engineer‚ built jet engines during the Vietnam War era‚ then turned to a quieter life. He ran a waterlily business in Fort Worth‚ served as curator of the University of Texas’ waterlily collection and then answered the call to overhaul and revamp San Angelo’s then-dilapidated Civic League Park.

The beauty of the display‚ he says‚ is its ability to attract garden-variety tourists who want to see pretty flowers as well as horticulture intellectuals who want to study the plants.

All this took root when the city council‚ with support from then-park superintendent James Rogers and the San Angelo Council of Garden Clubs‚ gave the go-ahead for Landon to create a waterlily display at the park.

“They handed me a shovel and told me to get after it‚” Landon recalls. “It took me three or four years.” The renovation began by overhauling a 125- by 25-foot reflection pool Landon describes as “an eyesore of the worst order.”

He and three part-time employees have gone on to build seven more pools‚ all paid for with grant money.

The collection now includes a wide variety of rare waterlilies‚ flowers Landon has created from hybrids and even night-blooming varieties‚ which are showcased with lights.

Though it’s been in existence many years, Landon says‚ the collection is just getting started. Internet exposure brought increased interest‚ Landon says.

He estimates he gives a tour of the collection nearly every other day. He recalled a woman from Bulgaria who made the trip to San Angelo just to see the collection.

“I never knew I would have that kind of influence on society‚” he says. Paula Biles‚ executive director of the International Waterlily & Water Gardening Society in Bradenton‚ Fla.‚ says Landon’s impact is immeasurable.

“People who know something of the history of waterlilies or are interested in new varieties know of him‚” Biles says. “His reputation and impact go far beyond San Angelo.” Landon’s hybrids‚ Biles says‚ are considered some of the most desirable in the world. In 2001‚ he was inducted into the society’s hall of fame.

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