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An Irish story of success in water gardens

TEN miles south of Portland in the town of Wilsonville you will find many pointers to Hughes Water Gardens, where the proprietor Eamonn Hughes runs one of the largest water garden nurseries and landscape companies for the construction of naturalistic water gardens.

In 1987 I was asked by the ALCI (the professional association of landscape contractors in Ireland) to judge their annual awards. I had, at the time, looked at some of the excellent water features constructed by Eamonn Hughes. He subsequently disappeared from the landscape business in Ireland. Fourteen years later he re-emerged when I met a most affable and relaxed Eamonn at his base in Wilsonville, Oregon.

Eamonn's horticultural career is unique in many ways. He was a science student in UCD, qualifying in 1977 with a degree in chemistry. He reminisced about his student days and, like most students, travelled to America on a J1 visa during the summer holidays to work mainly in restaurants.

He always disliked working with catering or building companies during the summer months. After applying to landscape companies in the New York area, he was eventually taken on for three months by a large landscape business, after convincing the company of his expertise in many horticultural areas. He told me his only knowledge of landscaping at the time was planting four plants in his home garden that he had purchased in Woolworth's of Henry Street.

After graduating from UCD, Eamonn did not pursue his academic training. Instead, he worked with a north Co Dublin nurseryman for a number of years before eventually setting up his own landscape business, specialising in water features.

Eamonn believes his success is due in no small way to the artistic traits he inherited from his dress-designer mother and his business acumen from his father who was an electrical engineer.

There are many landscape and water features, particularly in the Dublin area, that were designed and constructed by Eamonn, notably the water features in Jury's Hotel in Ballsbridge.

During his college years, a romance blossomed with Kathleen O'Sullivan, an American student from Long Island. They married soon after both had graduated from college and subsequently lived in the Dublin suburbs.

During the early to mid-eighties we had the major oil crisis resulting in many homes installing solid fuel burners. Kathleen, being an asthmatic, found it difficult to cope with the city smog at the time. They decided after some consultation to move to the west coast of America to see what the climate was like.

After staying in the Holiday Inn Hotel outside Portland for a month, Eamonn and Kathleen liked the climate and the people and decided that Oregon was where they would like to settle. They rented a site for some time before purchasing the present location.

To operate a landscape business in Oregon, Eamonn, like all landscapers entering the profession, had to take a written and practical exam, which he passed with distinction. This was in 1987 when Hughes' Water Gardens and Landscape Company was established.

In the 14 years since, Eamonn and Kathleen have no regrets. Both have established very successful businesses with Kathleen's equestrian business taking her all over the country.

At the Farwest show in Portland, where Eamonn is an annual exhibitor, many people in the industry spoke about his involvement in the nursery stock industry in Oregon. As well as running his own business with a staff of over 60, he is involved in promoting and developing the industry.

His water garden construction at the New Oregon Garden is a monument to his amazing talent. Thousands of visitors attend the annual landscape displays in spring, organised by the Oregon Association of Nurserymen. Eamonn's presentations at those displays are always packed to capacity.

He is a frequent presenter of TV and radio water gardening programmes and, more recently, has published, with Helen Nash, a book titled Waterfalls, Fountains, Pools and Streams. This is an excellent publication on designing and building water features.

Eamonn Hughes is a successful transplanted Irishman happily settled with his wife Kathleen on the Pacific Coast of America. He has what William Butler Yeats recalled in spirit, far from home, developed the soul-satisfying peace of the waters in his new home, Wilsonville, Oregon.

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