Mike Giles

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Mike Giles collecting seedlings

As long as there is a creek in the backyard…the story of Mike Giles

Well, this is the story about a hybridizer who popped out of nowhere and amazed everyone with his hardy-tropical crosses.   He managed to make the so wanted blue hardy and he didn’t just make one, he made dozens of them. Please be my guest, be amazed…

Childhood: As long as there is a creek in the backyard…

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Nymphaea Purple Damselfly by Mike Giles

Mike was born in West-Virginia in 1957.  He has always been into waterlilies.  He always loved ponds, creeks, water of any kind.  His dad was a schoolteacher and whenever he’d got a new job in a different town, he would ask Mike if he was okay with moving again.  Mike used to say: “As long as there is a creek in the backyard and some woods nearby or a pond, that’s fine by me”.  His dad managed every time to find a place with a creek in the backyard and/or woods nearby.  He never knew much about waterlilies, but he knew he loved them, how could you not? 🙂  The only thing that always bothered him about them, was the floating algae and leaves when he wanted to swim in the ponds.  So when he moved to his current place, he didn’t want to put waterlilies in the existing pond immediately, he was to afraid he would put in the wrong variety and that it would take over his pond.

Early 1990’s: I really got to get some waterlilies one of these days…

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ISG @ IWC

He kept saying to his girlfriend, back in the early 1990’s: “I’ve got to get some waterlilies for that pond, I really got to get some waterlilies one of these days… “ And she probably got tired of hearing him talking about it all the time, so she ordered him the Lilypons Water Gardens Catalogue.  When the catalogue showed up, he was blown away!  He never knew that there were hybrid lilies, tropical lilies, coloured lilies other than pink. As he says himself: “I was very lily-ignorent at that time, I just knew I loved them.”  So when he learned there were lilies with controlled growth, that didn’t make seed, he got very motivated and started making  a list.  And of course started saving up money for the waterlilies.

The year 2000: It’s like the sky-gods wanted this pond filled…

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ISG by Mike Giles

One day, in 2000, he heard a bulldozer running, for the nextdoor neighbours were having a pond built.  So he walked up to the guy in the bulldozer and said “hey, when you’re done with this pond, can you come over to my place and built me one?”  So that is what happened, it was a drought year and the ground was really dry, but when the pond was done, it rained about 3,5 inches and that soaked the ground.  Than it rained another 3,5 inches and another 6 and 3/4 inches and the pond was almost completely full.  We are talking about  1 330 000 gallons of water in that pond in a matter of a week after it was build.  Mike says: “I’ve never seen it rain that hard since then but it’s like the sky-gods decided this men needs that pond built now.  And that is exactly what happened.

The years 2001-2003: I’ve made my list with breeding in mind…

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ISG @ IWC

He didn’t order from Lilypons Water Gardens  right away, but bought his first plants from Dreama King who had  a sign on the side of the road that said pond plants for sale.  He went in there with his Lilypons Catalogue and his list and went home with a carload of plants. The last time he saw Dreama King, she said: ” Who knows, you might turn out to be the next great hybridizer ” He just laughed.  The plants he had on his list were well chosen: “I’ve made my list with breeding in mind.  So I chose waterlilies of which I thought I’d like the characteristics of best.”  He didn’t do any breeding at all in the year 2000, but he did get a few plants.  Some seed pods formed naturally but he didn’t do anything with them at the time, he didn’t even planted them.  In 2001 and 2002 he ordered waterlilies from different mail order companies, to expand his collection, also with breeding in mind.  In 2003 he definitely went around and collected some seeds, he collected a bunch of seeds, planted them and grew them successfully, he probably had 10 or 15 or 20 plants the next year that flowered.

The year 2004: Everybody thinks that their own children are the most beautiful…

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Mike Giles collecting seedlings at the International Waterlily Collection

That would be the first year that Mike Giles did labeled, bagged and emasculated crosses where he exactly knew what the pod and pollen parent was.  He ended up with 30-40 seeds, he had lost a lot because he didn’t know what he was doing at the time.  “So I’ve planted those and out of those, some of my early great successes happened.  Sunfire for instance is a 2004 seedling, Fairy Skirt also.”  He still has a lot of really super good plants from 2004 left. But the main point is that Sunfire especially was just so beautiful, better than anything he has seen on the market.  He says about Sunfire: “it’s amazing you know and I’ve been thinking well, everybody thinks that their own lilies are the best there are and everybody thinks their own children are the most beautiful, the smartest and all that kind of stuff so I was kinda trying to keep myself in control, but it definitely inspired me a lot.  Because I really loved Sunfire, I was thinking I’m gonna make me some more lilies next year. Next year, I’m gonna really do this!”

The year 2005:  it was obvious to me that Perry didn’t make hardy-tropical crosses…

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ISG at San Angelo Texas

He  kept records of every cross he did in 2005, so he could see what worked with what and what didn’t work with what. But in 2005 Mike still wasn’t satisfied with his seedlings growing ability.  He just did what most people try to do, put them in a little bit of soil, some water on the top and that was that.  Of course a lot of seedlings didn’t make it, but he did have a few plants from ’05.  They weren’t as good as Sunfire but maybe he was getting a little bit spoiled.

So one day while he was in the pond doing pollination, he started thinking about  crossing hardies with tropicals.  “I had some of Perry Slocum’s plants where he had claimed that they were the result of crossing hardies with tropicals.  I also had some tropicals by then and I looked at Perry’s plants and it was obvious to me that they were not hardies crossed with tropicals.  Some people may disagree with me, but that is just the way it was and it was obvious to me.  So I’m thinking, well he thinks he did it, but he didn’t do it, I wonder if I can…  So I started thinking about it…Thinking about it and thinking about it, after about 2 or 3 hours of thinking about it, I got an idea…”

He quit completely doing hardy to hardy crosses for the rest of that year, it was August ’05 when he did his first hardy to tropical crosses.  He did crosses on several different hardy plants using tropical pollen.  He went on into late September doing different things, trying different methods.  In October he brought the seeds inside, at that point he had never seen a tropical seed before, so he didn’t know what they were supposed to look like.  He ended up with about 12 or 13 seeds that looked dark black and they sunk.  After passing his finger crush test, they seemed to be soft and they didn’t make it, probably because he did the pollination so late in the year.  So, in 2005 he did make his first hxt seeds, but they weren’t viable.

 The year 2006:  I knew what was happening but I didn’t know how to stop it…

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Nymphaea Sunfire by Mike Giles

In 2006, he used mixed pollens from Director G.T.Moore, dauben, Panama Pacific, Mister Martin Randig, Lone Star, blue capensis,… He used pollen from all of those, so that he would have better chances of having at least some seeds of each cross.   He wouldn’t know what the exact male tropical donor was, but he would know for sure what the hardy pod parent was.  “I did over a hundred crosses that year, I tried crossing basically with everything I had and by then I probably had 40 or 50 hardy varieties. I ended up having seeds from 1 variety, that gave me about 32-34 seeds.”  By then he knew what tropical seeds should look like and these seeds looked exactly like they should.  About 10 or 13 of them past the finger crush test, they sprouted and he planted them the best way he knew at that time, under fluorescent lights in the house.  That year he also had 1000 seedling from his hardies.  He always had his seedlings out in the rain so there was constant water change, but growing them in the house, the melt got really bad and started slowly killing of the seedlings.  “I was watching this under my microscope as it was happening. So I knew what was happening but I didn’t know how to stop it at the time.  I didn’t know anything about water quality or anything like that.  So I’ve lost all of my first HxT seedlings from 2006.”  He did manage to keep some good hardy seedlings like Hunnycup, Rosewater,…

The year 2007:  I realized that I was just going to kill them again…

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ISG @ IWC

So in 2007 he realized that he needed circulation, filtration, a greenhouse.  He needed all the infrastructure that he didn’t have before in order to make sure his seeds would survive.  So he started to built his greenhouse and in 2007 Mike didn’t make any HxT seeds, he didn’t make any crosses at all.   Of course 2007 was the year that Pairat Songpanich made his first HxT seeds that led to Siam Blue Hardy and his other HxT’s.   Knowing he had been able to compete with him if he had had the right infrastructure, he was very eager to start in 2008.  Also he realized he could have made crosses in 2007 and put the seeds in the refrigerator, but it was too late now.

The year 2008-2009: I was hot and heavy into it…

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Nymphaea White Hot by Mike Giles

When the year ’08 came along, you can imagine I was hot and heavy into it“.  He had lots of tropicals, a greenhouse, an indoor growing situation with fluorescent lights, he was all ready!  He made approximately 400, almost 500 HxT seeds from  12 different hardy pod parents.  He had changed his methods by then, with obviously huge improvement on seed production.  Out of those seeds he managed to sprout and grow about 70 seedlings.  He still wasn’t very good at growing and it took him until spring 2009 to bring them to surface leave stage. So in 2008 he did  make viable H X T seeds and kept them alive but
they were growing very slowly.  They grew all through the winter of 2008-2009 and through the next winter of 2009-2010

The year 2010: That’s how I had my ’09s catching up with my ’08s

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ISG @ IWC

In spring of 2010 he put his first HxT’s  from 2008 and 2009 in gallon pots in the pond outside. He had 80 seedlings from 2008 and about 10 from 2009 and most of those came to flower this year.  “By then I knew how to grow them much better, I had them make surface leaves much faster and flowering much quicker.  And so, that’s how I had my ’09s catching up with my ’08s.  Most of the flowers were pink, 7 of them were very nice dark purples and there were a few nightbloomers from ’09 also. ”  In 2010 Mike made approximately 4.700 seeds out of 3 hardy pod parents.

The year 2011: I still have 4000 seeds or so in the refrigerator

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Nymphaea Purple Silver by Mike Giles

He had a couple of hundred that sprouted and grew from 2009.  In 2011 he made approximately 10.000 seeds.  He took about a quarter of those and put them through three sprouting cycles and got approximately 2.500 seedlings growing in 2011 in the house.  About 150 to 200 never made it out of the house, they died for wathever reason.  He got about 800 of them planted out in gallon pots, about 250 of them are still in the greenhouse and 550 or so our outside in the ponds.  “So in the refrigerator at home right now, I still have approximately 4000 seeds from 2011 that I’m gonna sprout some of them this winter.  I could probably make 2 or 3000 plants from those.” This year, 2011, he started very late with his crossings.  He spent first half of the breeding season planting and growing the seedlings from 2011, as you can imagine.  “Judging on the swelling of the pods, I’m gonna have quite a few seeds, but probably not as many as I had last year because I didn’t do as much crossings this year.  I did a lot of species crosses, single pollen crosses and I used a lot of new hardy pod parents that may or may not be very tropical fertile.”

The year 2012-2013: 12.700 seeds in less than 6 weeks

In 2012 he made about 12.700 seeds, even though he got a very late start with only 6 weeks left to pollinate.  This year, he is still sprouting seeds from 2011 as well as seeds going back to 2009 that are still viable.  He said he will make an early start this year, so who knows what to expect in the future… Can you imagine, thousands of seeds, just waiting for a new owner…  We should take a shopping basket with us, when we go to visit him 🙂

 From now on

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ISG at San Angelo Texas

Mike Giles is going like a speed-train, he send 3 ISG’s in for the WWALA competition, his Nymphaea Purple Silver, Nymphaea Kiss the Sky and Nymphaea Purple Damselfly . His Nymphaea Purple Damselfly won the 1st place ISG and the 2nd place waterlily overall.  We have met him there in San Angelo Texas in 2012 where a lot of his HxT’s were showed to the public, his collection is outstanding.  We have no idea what the effect of these plants will have on the market in the near future.  Some people think they will overgrow the hardies in Europe, but we don’t think so, they will be a beautiful addition to hardies and tropicals .  They are beautiful, they are amazing and they are hardy, but how well will they grow in our rainy and cold country… we will have to wait and see…and wait…and wait….because at the moment he is not selling them yet.  Mike Giles did start up his own webshop this week (mainly hardies), check it out on Turtle Island Waterlilies and be amazed…

Which lily would I like to add to my collection ? That’s a great question. The waterlilies that I want the most, exist in my imagination and it will take several generations and a lot of work to get them but I’m well on the way to having them. I assume that what you really mean is what would I like to have that others have made. I would say that I would REALLY love to have Manfred’s tropicals to breed with. After that I would love to have Brandon’s tropical breeding stock. After that certain species material.

What is my favorite now ? An even harder question. Wow that’s hard. Amazingly enough, now that I think about it I would have to say that my first H X T ever to bloom, H X T, 1-08 has not been topped yet. It’s one that has to be seen to be believed. Even though it’s just a pink. I don’t have time to go on about this plant. 
It’s like it’s from another world. thank goodness it is reproducing now !

Which place is on my to visit list? There’s no place better than here ! But if I have to say something.  I would like to visit Florida Aquatic Nurseries here in the United States.  Worldwide, I think Thailand is the place to visit.

What would the ideal waterlily look like for me?  The ideal waterlily is compact, has a high flower area to leaf area ratio, a high flower number to leaf number ratio. It should be slow growing and make offshoots very rarely and make almost no dormant rhizomes. It should be disease resistant and hardy. It should start blooming early in the season and bloom late into the fall. the flowers should open early and close late or not close at all. It would be infertile or nearly so. It would be highly adaptable and bloom well in partial shade. It would be mine. Among commercially available varieties that I have, Clyde Ikins most closely matches this ideal.

 

Specials thanks go to Zac Degarmeaux .