Snails vs. Waterlilies... a Titanic Backyard Adventure

By Susan Ford Collins

Here’s a tale about something every grandmother dreams of… a late-summer call from my teenage grandson saying, “Mama, I don’t have much to do this week so I’d like to come over and help you in the yard! And, as if this were not enough, Ben’s younger brother, Michael, wanted to come too! Albert and I were excited, “By all means we’d love that!”

Ben loves exertion! Yes, hot, sweaty, hard work and we have the perfect jungle for that! Tall palm trees with dried fronds hanging down like spent umbrellas. Ferns so full and luxuriant that they’re masking the edge of the Koi pond making it look far smaller than it is. Heliconias once standing straight and tall, now have torn leaves and bent stems dangling in the water. This summer was unusually wet so, try as I might, I couldn’t keep up… despite exciting early plans.

This spring I purchased water lilies online to give them a head start for abundant summer blooming. I followed the planting instructions exactly. And then the battle began. The few leaves, growing from the bulbs when they arrived, soon disappeared. Gone, just gone! Weeks later, despite careful watching, no new leaves were emerging. Finally determined to get answers, I waded to the middle of the pond and wrestled the heavy, slippery, soil-filled pots to the edge and hoisted them up and out so I could get a closer look at those non-producing bulbs.

That’s when I discovered the cause. SNAILS! Snails had not only eaten the stems and leaves but they’d eaten the bulbs as well, filling the empty spaces left inside with tiny reproductions of themselves. The invaders’ progeny were still living in those pots, providing incontrovertible evidence of their silent pernicious underwater attack!

Fortunately my online water lily supplier (who assured me in advance that snails don’t eat water lilies) stood by me and replaced my bulbs without charge. So I started over with a new batch, filling pots with fresh soil, planting them as directed again, floating them over to the deepest areas and slowly submerging them. Now that I knew the reason for their disappearance, I inspected each leaf and stem, not just for snails of all sizes and shapes, but also for small masses of tiny gelatinous eggs. Several times a day for several months, I patrolled the pond and reached out to net snails. Finally the infestation calmed down and new leaves were growing profusely, but there were no flowers. Why?

As Ben and I pondered this question, the answer quickly became obvious. And solvable today! This year everything in our yard had grown taller, wider and thicker than usual… taller hedges and heliconias, palm trees with philodendron vines wrapping them in huge dinosaur-movie, shade-producing leaves. As Ben and I stared at the pond, we realized there was simply not enough sunlight for the water lilies to bloom! So we formulated our plan for the day… a major cutback, heliconias, ferns, palms, vines and shrubs. And we gathered clippers and snippers and shovels.

As I watched Ben carefully snip away dried heliconias leaves, I could clearly see we were not codreaming… we didn’t have the same details in mind. Ben had to read five books over the summer and one of them was my book The Joy of Success. Ben told me he found the codreaming skill particularly interesting so this gave us a shared vocabulary to understand what happened not just at his summer job where he had been given lots of new and unclear instructions, but here and now with us.

In my mind, I thought that I had explained what I wanted clearly, but based on Ben’s actions, it was obvious that I hadn’t. So, as the instruction giver, it was up to me to provide more detail so with a chuckle I said, “Ben, you’re doing a great job of trimming the heliconias, but I want them gone… roots, stems and leaves. Gone! So instead of snippers, I handed him a pick axe! He beamed with delight and set about making them disappear not just in our shared imagination but in reality too.

Then Michael, who had been watching golf on TV, came outside to help me drag the cut 10 foot plants to the street, making sure the root ends were aligned so carrying and stacking them would be easier. Next, using a long-handled tree saw, Ben started hacking through the fibrous stems of the dried palm fronds hanging high overhead, sending old birds’ nests and palm dust flying down into our faces and eyes, and sending Michael back inside to find bandanas and hats. Sawing 10 feet overhead was tough going. Ben heaved audible grunts and moans as he hauled the saw back and forth harder and harder and yelled, “Look out below!” before they came crashing on the ground, and not us.

The pond-side trash pile shrank, and the street-side heap grew wider and taller, leaving me concerned that my community would charge me a hefty fee because we were exceeding our weekly pickup limit. But I decided to go for it! It was a miraculous day… one that might not repeat itself soon, or even ever. Two grandsons helping me in the yard!

And then there was light… lots of light! The water lilies seemed to breathe a grateful sigh as we gathered our tools and moved on to the waterfall area.

A Virginia Creeper vine had woven its way through the bamboo stand growing just outside the wall. It was covered with hanging clusters of ripe red and purple seeds ready to drop to the ground to multiply their pervasive hold on that side of my property again next year. Ben had to climb to the top of the wall and cut back 30 foot green bamboo shoots just to reach the wandering Creeper’s main stems. Once, found, he followed them to the ground and sawed through the woody trunks that were the source of all these seeds.

Meanwhile on the ground, Michael and I managed the clean up, dragging those long stalks of bamboo to the street despite side branches poking and scratching our legs and arms. Then we clipped off the shoots to reduce the size of the pile that was supposed to be no more than two cubic yards already far exceeded!

By mid afternoon I was exhausted, but Ben was still raring to go. So we moved on to the path in the woods project we had talked about this morning. The concrete stepping stones had been too heavy for me to carry, but Ben easily hefted them from the garage, across the bamboo bridge, around my brilliant-colored bromeliad garden. Following my detailed input, he laid them in a wandering walkway into the woods. We giggled about codreaming again, making sure we both had the same dream in mind, stone by stone, angle by angle! We were both delighted with our result!

At 5 pm, I had to head in to start dinner so Albert, who had been doing projects in the house, replaced me outside with the boys as they finished and cleaned up, further cutting the bamboo canes to shrink it to a more manageable size. Hurrying, dragging, stacking, exhausted as an oncoming thunder storm headed our way, flashing and booming its warning.

At 6 pm, my promised Feast was ready…a huge mound of grilled lamb chops and drippings, julienned sweet potatoes, green beans sautéed with walnuts and shitake mushrooms, all mounded on a large wooden cutting board that had raised edges to keep the juices inside so they mixed to a rich, delicious mélange. Munching chops, licking fingers, seconds and even thirds, but of course saving room for our family’s favorite desert… almond flour blueberry pie with fresh sliced strawberries on top!

Over empty plates and well-used napkins, we reviewed our day and reinforced the memories that will be repeated over and over in the years to come. Adventures at Mama’s house: We battled snails and shade to save Mama’s water lilies! As we talked and giggled, we each contributed our unique perspective, adding angles and tidbits others hadn’t noticed.

This year Ben wielded the long-handled tree saw needed to cut through last year’s dried palm fronds. Of course Michael, three years younger, wanted his turn using that saw too. But he was in my care and I knew it wasn’t safe for him yet. So I set up a future memory for us to hold together: “When Ben is away at college, it’ll be your turn to use that long-handled saw and cut down those hanging fronds. I can’t wait to see you do it!”

P.S. Weeks later, pink and blue golden-centered water lilies were rising above the surface to bloom each morning! Excited, Ben and Michael drove over to show their mom the results of their hard work and to anticipate another “exertion and cutting-board feast” at Mama’s house next year.

(c) Susan Ford Collins. For permission to use this article, email


* For more on Dreaming and Codreaming, read Skills 3 and 4 in the The Joy of Success or Our Children Are Watching.

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