Van Ness Water Gardens It's Been a Family Affair For Three Generations
Back in the early thirties, Robert and Edith Van Ness read an article in the Saturday Evening Post titled “Gold in Goldfish”. It told of the riches to be made raising goldfish. Robert was a plasterer by trade and had been advised for health reasons to find another line of work. Goldfish seemed to be the answer. The Van Ness' purchased some property in San Antonio Heights - the foothills area north of Upland at the base of Mount Baldy. Using native granite boulders to build waterfalls, a grotto and stonewalls, Robert Van Ness soon had a number of ponds for Goldfish breeding.
Edith Van Ness was an avid gardener and planted water lilies to adorn the ponds. The lilies made a spectacular sight and travelers were soon stopping to admire and purchase the lilies and fish. The first Van Ness Water Gardens catalog was published in 1932. It contained eight pages of plants and tips and a reminder to Californians that the sales tax was 2-1/2%! A catalog has been published every year except 1944 when war conditions prevented printing more than a price list. One of the depression-era catalogs advised, a water garden will be “not only a thing of beauty, but a great source of comfort during these days of stress”.
By the fifties, the Van Ness' were thinking of retirement. Edith's cousin, Ted Uber, and family were frequent visitors to the Gardens. The Ubers offered to buy the Gardens, and in 1952 Ted and Louella found themselves living in a small cottage on the grounds with three lively youngsters (Ed 14, JoAnn 13, Billy 5) and a business to run. The entire family pitched in and quickly learned the ins and outs of water gardening. Ted, in his efforts to learn more, met hybridizer Martin Randig of San Bernardino. Martin was extremely distrustful of people and had kept the dozens of water lilies he'd hybridized to himself. Much to the Ubers' surprise, he asked them to introduce thirteen of his tropical lilies to the public in 1958. Most, such as Leopardess (1931) and Red Flare (1938) had been developed over twenty years earlier and had never left his own garden. These new varieties caused quite a stir in horticulture circles, propelling Van Ness Water Gardens into worldwide trade. Orders were soon coming from such faraway places as the Emperor's Palace in Japan and the Presidential Palace in Zaire.
By the early seventies, it was Ted and Louella who were thinking of retiring. Their youngest son, Bill, and his wife Carolyn, had been helping out at the Gardens since Bill's discharge from the Air Force. In 1974 Bill and Carolyn took over management of the company and purchased it in 1976. Providing information has been a particular concern of theirs and is evidenced by the expanded and colorful catalog now christened Water Visions, which follows a magazine format.
Charts, diagrams, photos, illustrations and articles insure the novice water gardener is provided with complete information. Tours of the Gardens are given to school children, scout troops, garden and senior citizen clubs. Quality is also a priority, and control systems have been implemented. The Gardens has entered the age of computers for fast and efficient order processing. Bill and Carolyn are both active in the nursery industry and each have served a term as president of the local chapter of the California Association of Nurserymen.