GROWING THE WATER-LILY

GROWING THE WATER-LILY

The number of hardy water-lilies, hybrid or otherwise, runs into hundreds rather than thousands, as is the case with Rhododendrons, for example. The reason has less to do with the popularity of ponds than with the notorious difficulty of hybridizing the hardy species. Most of the hardy cultivars are infertile and cross-breeding of the few natural plants has hardly ever produced satisfactory results in any systematic way. The exceptions belong mainly to the work of M. Joseph Bory Latour-Marliac (1830-1911) of Temple-sur-Lot in the south of France. During the 1880’s when pond building had become a high Victorian fashion, Marliac developed some method of crossing water-lilies. Some of his best hybrids bear the Latinized form of his name, Marliacea, or that of his son-in-law, Maurice Laydeker (Laydekeri). And without doubt, Mar-liac’s hybrids are among the finest available. Sadly, his techniques died with him. He once said it would take forty years of hard work to re-discover them. So far no one has. And the temperate regions of the world are still waiting for a hardy blue water-lily.

Conceivably, we may not have to wait for a pure fluke. For there appears to be a revolution round the corner, not only as regards producing hybrids from water-lilies, but from the entire plant kingdom. That revolution would consist of the art or science — really a bit of both — whereby part of the recipe (DNA) for one plant is spliced with part of the recipe of another. To produce a hardy blue water-lily, the object of the exercise would be to obtain the hardiness of, say, Nymphaea alba and combine it with the blue of the tender, tropical Nymphaea caerula. The problem is to identify and, more difficult, to select out the relevant ingredients for such a recipe. We may also look forward to a hardy lily which will remain open until dusk and perhaps on into the hours of darkness. A floodlit pool on a summer’s evening can be a superb sight, but one which has the drawback of water-lily blooms which are invariably closed. Only among tropical lilies are there species which will open and flower at night.

A water-lily of average vigour can be expected to cover a surface area of about 1 square metre. One might nearly double that Figure for the more vigorous varieties and halve it for the smaller and miniature forms. The surface spread will depend not only on the species but also on the depth of water, the richness of the soil and whether or not you are growing your lilies in containers. When given complete freedom as in a natural pond, or in a concrete one with soil spread over the entire base, a water-lily is likely to double its surface spread over about three seasons. The usual practice is to lift and divide the plants about every third year, otherwise the lily pads no longer float serenely over the water but clump up together. When buying your plants calculate to cover no more than a half to two thirds of the whole surface area of your pond. There is no reason why you should not cover a smaller area, except one plant placed in the corner of a large pond will look decidedly lonely. But the most common mistake is to have too many plants. The pond then looks cramped and your view of fish and underwater life becomes restricted. Do not underestimate the importance of large areas of water free of any plant or obstruction. A pond without that lacks one of its greatest attributes.

Laying down a layer of soil over the entire base is only practicable in a concrete pond. When it has to be renewed — a troublesome business at the best of times — it is risky scraping out soil and pebbles from a liner pond. Similarly, permanent brick containers are best used only in connection with concrete. There is much to be said for the now popular practice of using plastic containers. Thinning and dividing the plants is made much easier. You can also re-position plant and basket without having to lift the plant and set back its growth. And it is surprising how often one finds a reason for re-positioning water-lilies. There are lily baskets designed for the purpose: wider at the top than the bottom and with slits cut in the sides to allow the free passage of water. Until the roots have developed there is a tendency for soil to seep out of these slits. A simple remedy lies in lining the basket with hessian or any old rags. Most water-lilies require a basket about 30 x 30 x 20 cm. High, while a miniature plant would be satisfied with a container as small as 20 x 20 x 10 cm. I have seen lilies grown in plastic milk bottle crates which are sturdy but too large for comfort. Not for the comfort of the water-lily, which will happily fill all available space, but for the comfort and convenience of the pond owner. A lily plus soil and water in a container 30 cm. Square is quite heavy enough for anyone of average strength.

Water lilies are rich feeders, and yet I am continually surprised to find how well a plant will do in soil that is no more than 10cm. Deep and which has not been renewed in years. Ideally, however, lilies should be grown in rich, heavy loam such as one can obtain from the top spit of pasture. Cow manure that has been well matured under cover for several months can be added at the rate of about one part to three or four of loam — a spade-full to each basket. To prevent the manure fouling the water, it is a good idea to place a final layer of plain soil over the mixture; and a light sprinkling of gravel over that may reduce the amount of mud fish tend to produce by grubbing around in the baskets. Cow manure is optional; it can be omitted or crushed bone-meal can be used instead, but never add horse or hen manure which will pollute the water.

Hardy water-lilies belong to two genera: Nymphaea and Nuphar. Unless you happen to have a stretch of water 1.8 metres in depth or more, or the water in your pond is very acid, then Nuphars are hardly worth growing. They will succeed under both these conditions whereas Nymphaeas will not. The common hJuphar lutea, known as the ‘Brandy Bottle’ on account of its faintly alcoholic smell, is to be found in many European canals, natural ponds and waterways. It has small and round yellow flowers, insignificant compared with any of the Nymphaeas. The North American Nuphar advena has slightly larger flowers which, like lutea, rise well clear of the surface. But since the leaves are always produced in abundance and measure about 30 cm. Long, the flowers, which are only about 7 cm. Across, are not very conspicuous. If, however, you do want to grow a Nuphar in a small pond, then choose the little Nuphar pumila (minima) which flowers freely, has very small leaves and is nothing like as vigorous as the other two.

The rootstocks or rhizomes of Nymphaeas are of two kinds: those which grow horizontally and those which tend to grow vertically or almost so. From the angle at which the leaves are emerging from the rootstock, it should be possible for you to judge which kind of plant you have. If in doubt, simply make sure that the crown of the plant is above the level of the soil when you plant it. Perhaps more water-lilies fail by being completely buried than for any other reason. The best time for obtaining plants is in late spring after growth is well under way. Water-lilies should not be moved before growth has started nor, for that matter, after growth has ceased in autumn. A young lily plant will be given the best possible chance if it is started in shallow water. Either place your plant and basket on a series of bricks and keep removing gradually increase the depth of water over the plants. Replanting of the tubers into separate baskets can take place as soon as they each have a number of well-developed leaves.

Water-lilies are adaptable plants, but they should be chosen not only for their shape and colour but for the depth of water to which they are best suited. The most vigorous plants will thrive in depths of 0.75 to 1 metre and more. Plants of medium vigour are normally grown in depths ranging from 45 to 60 cm., while the small and miniature plants need no bricks to lower the plant as it gains in vigour, or start with the pond only partially filled and gradually top it up. When you buy a water-lily plant you may get a tuber which has been cut off a parent rootstock. After a few seasons your young tuber will have matured and developed several offspring of its own. It is a simple matter to slice through the tubers, and the divided rootstocks can be replanted. If you want to propagate a large number of plants , lift the tuber and examine it for ‘eyes’. These are small, immature buds, no more than little bulges, not unlike large warts with tiny leaves, growing on the tuber. These can be gouged out with a sharp knife, leaving a little of the main tuber on the ‘eye’. Prepare a shallow tray of equal parts of sharp sand and loam, and a little crushed charcoal can be added to keep the soil sweet. Plant the ‘eyes’ in the tray, making sure that their crowns are exposed, and place the tray in very shallow water — 2-3 cm. Is quite deep enough to start the eyes. Fish and stray bits of oxygenating plants should be kept well away from the tray. And a piece of net wire placed over the tray may discourage birds from rooting around in it and, as sometimes happens, pulling up the baby tubers. As leaves develop, more than 20-30 cm. Of water above their crowns. This, at least, is how commercial growers usually classify their plants. But, with the exception of the miniature water-lilies, one could certainly add at least another 25 cm. To the depth in each case and that would be, in my opinion, an advantage. You may wonder what happens if a lily is placed in a depth of water other than recommended. In water that is too deep, a plant may not have the stamina to send leaves to the surface and so it will eventually die; or it may survive but flower only occasionally or not at all. On the other hand, in water that is too shallow, the flowers will be small and not necessarily more numerous, the leaves will not be able to spread out properly and will quickly heap up on each other. Shallow water does have one advantage, however. It will warm up earlier in the season and the plants will develop and flower earlier. This might be worth bearing in mind if you live in northerly latitudes, Scotland or Norway for instance, which have short growing seasons, or if for some reason your pond is not exposed to direct sunlight throughout the day. Otherwise I recommend growing water-lilies iff water which at least approaches the maximum rather than the minimum depth. The blooms will be larger, and the leaves, well spread out, will give the plant a much finer appearance.

If you have a large, deep pond or a lake and you want a white water-lily, then Nymphaca ‘Gladstoniana’ might well be your first choice. Under ideal conditions this very vigorous plant can produce massive white flowers 20 cm. Across and more. It should be grown only in very deep water — 1.3 metres is not too deep — as it produces a great number of leaves. Slightly smaller and less vigorous, but no less beautiful, is the native European water-lily, Nymphaea alba. Many a wild lake is given a touch of serenity by the lovely white flowers of this plant. It will grow in slow moving rivers and is sometimes to be found in water as much as 3 metres deep. For the more moderate water scheme N. ‘Marliacea Albida’ is an excellent choice as it is a very prolific bloomer. Double flowers are not at all common among water-lilies, but Marliac’s ‘Gloire de Temple-sur-Lot’ produces magnificent flowers, each containing a profusion of petals which makes this plant, unmistakably, a true double. The petals, at first, are tinged with pink and clear to white the day after the flowers open. ‘Temple-sur-Lot’ may take a few seasons before reaching its full blooming capacity. ‘Gonnere’ is another double, without quite the same density of petals, but a good choice, nevertheless, for the medium to deep pond. The North American Nymphaea odorala is a vigorous white water-lily suitable for ponds of medium depth, while the less vigorous ‘Albatross’ is better suited to the smaller pond. And if you have only a tiny tub pond or a sink, then choose the smallest white lily of all, N. pygmaea alba which has flowers 3.5 cm. Across and needs only a few centimetres of water over its crown.

Most pond owners will want to grow more than one lily. To obtain the maximum contrast with a white lily one should choose a red variety. By general consent the most outstanding red available is Nymphaea ‘Escarboucle’. It produces large, deep crimson flowers which are probably the most conspicuous of any water-lily. ‘Escarboucle’, you may find, throws up red flowers blotched with white during its first season. The following year, however, the flowers will be perfectly red. The same sometimes applies to the offshoots. Do not think that your plant has some ailment, it is simply a characteristic of ‘Escar-boucle’. Medium to deep ponds are best suited to this lily. At the other end of the scale, for shallow ponds, N. ‘Froebeli’ surely ranks as one of the best reds. In colour it is not unlike ‘Escarboucle’ since it has deep wine-red flowers. These rise well above the surface of the water and are produced in abundance. ‘Froebeli’ will flower well into the autumn, and I fancy will remain open in colder weather than most. In vigour mid-way between ‘Escarboucle’ and ‘Froebeli’ is N. ‘Laydekeri Pur-purata’, another plant with rich red flowers and very free-blooming. If you are attracted to having both red and white in the same flower, then grow ‘Attraction’ which is of medium vigour and which produces garnet red flowers tipped with white. For deep water, there is ‘Conqueror’ whose flowers become a darker red from the centre outwards and are flecked with white. And for the large pond, one might well choose the magnificent ‘Charles de Meurville’ which sends up massive red flowers, but which needs plenty of space. More adaptable as regards depth is ‘Gloriosa’, whose blooms darken with age from carmine to deep rose. This is a plant which will thrive in water of medium depth but it will also do well in deeper water if necessary.

Sometimes described as a red lily is ‘James Brydon’. Rich pink is, I think, a better description. This American lily is arguably the best choice of all to make if one were limited to a single specimen. In the first place the number of flowers the plant produces in relation to the number of leaves is high. The plant will continue to flower even when cloudy weather or reduction in sunshine prevents most others flowering. And the flowers of ‘James Brydon’ are very beautiful. Cup-shaped, exquisitely formed, with an even distribution of this rich pink hue — unobtainable in any other water-lily — it has vivid golden stamens which are well set off by this pink cup. And finally, ‘James Brydon’ makes a good cut flower. It requires a pool of shallow to medium depth. If this lily has a drawback, it lies, I think, in the very definite-ness of that pink. Something more delicate is obtainable in the muted, blush pink of a ‘Marliacea Carnea’ or the denser pink of ‘Marliacea Rosea’. Both plants have dark green leaves and are of medium vigour. For the larger, deeper pond ‘Colossea’, another blush pink and a prolific plant, would be a good choice. A double pink is to be had in ‘Mme Wilfron Gonnere, not to be confused with the double white, ‘Gonnere’. For star-shaped flowers held high above the surface, choose N. odorata ‘W. B. Shaw’ which is suitable for shallow to medium depths. So also is N. tuberosa rosea, which produces soft pink flowers, and like ‘W. B. Shaw’ is usually described as fragrant. But one normally has to approach a lily bloom closely before the fragrance is apparent; hardy water-lilies will not fill the air with sweet scent in the manner of a honeysuckle. For the smaller pond, ‘Laydekeri lilacea’ is a good choice, requiring only a limited amount of space. It has flowers that vary in colour from soft to deep rose. In the same bracket is ‘Rose Arey’, notable for its incurving petals.

If one is limited to two plants, I am inclined to think that a combination of a yellow with a white lily is preferable to either coupled with red. Red and pink are more dominant colours which demand attention. A soft yellow has a quiet grace which one may feel is more in keeping with the restful, soothing ambiance that one expects of a small garden pond. With this in mind, one could hardly do better than choose the almost impalpable yellow of ‘Mar-liacea Chromatella’. This lovely plant is well suited to medium to deep ponds. The smaller, less vigorous ‘Moorei’ has flowers of a slightly darker yellow. Otherwise the plants are almost identical, their leaves being dark green, heavily blotched or spotted with purple. The large yellow flowers of ‘Sunrise’ make it a popular plant, especially as it is adaptable, vigorous in deep water but not uncontrollable in shallower depths. ‘Colonel A.J. Walsh’ is certainly a vigorous plant producing canary yellow blooms high above the water. It does tend however, to look rather unwieldy. Another plant which holds its blooms high is N. oi/om/n’Sulphurea Grandiflora’. It is nothing like so vigorous as ‘Colonel A.J. Walsh’, so it should be grown in about 50 cm. Of water. And a miniature yellow is available in N. pygmaea ‘Helvola’, a prolific little plant with finely marked leaves. There are also a number of water-lilies whose flowers tend to change in colour as they age. The flowers of ‘Indiana’, for example, open a shade of orange-red and then deepen to a coppery red. ‘Paul Hariot’ has blooms which begin a pale yellow and change to shades of red, while ‘Sioux’ has yellow flowers which darken to peach. All the plants are on the small side and will do best with about 45 cm. Of water over their crowns.

These plants are representative of any selection of water-lilies held by commercial growers. There are many more plants from which to choose and there is no substitute for actually seeing any particular species in bloom. But I would stress the importance of matching your choice of plant with the depth of your pond. This way you will get the best results from your water-lily. Resist the temp-tation to fall in love with a plant whose needs are not met by your particular pond.

In America, cross-breeding of tropical water-lilies has produced many spectacular results. Unlike the hardy varieties, tropical lilies and their hybrids are often extremely fertile and this has given rise to many hundreds of culti-vars. Sadly, their brilliant colours and often superb fragrance are the prerogatives of warm climates. In some Mediterranean areas it is possible to grow tropical water-lilies outdoors in summer and to keep the tubers in damp sand (young tubers or eyes have the best chance of surviving) during the winter. Alternatively, the plant can be treated as an annual, new stock being bought each spring, or you may succeed in raising the plant from seed. Few tropical lilies will grow well in water which is below 21°C. So it is difficult to obtain consistent results in Britian and indeed in much of Europe. A conservatory pool, perhaps with the addition of artificial heat, may be the only answer. But if you live in an area with a consistently high summer temperature, then tender lilies can be started into growth in a glass house in early spring and placed in the outdoor pool later. When the leaves die back towards the end of summer, that is the time to lift the plant and attempt to winter it in damp sand, well away from rodents, incidentally, which are partial to lily tubers. Free circulation of air is important too during storage, so cover whatever container you use with wire mesh but do not seal it. A comparatively cool temperature is best during storage: 10—15°C. Tropical lilies are rich feeders and need plenty of space but little water over the crown. A half-and-half mixture of well rotted cow manure and loam is ideal. Temperature apart, tender water-lilies are no more difficult to grow than hardy ones. Among day-blooming tropical lilies, the light blue Nymphaea stellaia stands a good chance of blooming in less than the best conditions. And Nymphaea caerula, another light blue, may remain open after dark if the temperature remains sufficiently high.

It in fact opens in the early morning and will remain open for fifteen hours or more in a favourable climate.

What goes for the tender water-lilies goes also for the Nelumbo (Nelumbium) or Lotus, except the lotus requires a longer growing season in order to survive and will not set seed easily. Plants will not necessarily succumb to cold. In fact Nelumbo is fairly hardy, although it should be protected from frost. It is because in northerly climates the growing season is short that Nelumbo may fail, the tubers becoming weak through undernourishment. The tubers should be planted horizontally, or the lotus can be propagated from nodes taken from the extensive runners which may reach 7 or 10 metres in length in a single season. This is a good reason for growing Nelumbos in round containers, as there is less chance of the runners bunching up as they always do at the corner of square containers. Nodes taken from runners must be kept moist and warm. In America, a native form thrives particularly in the central states and around the Great Lakes. In Southern Europe the lotus does well, and open-air cultivation is certainly possible within the vine-growing districts — and as far north as Vienna. But so far as Britain is concerned, it is really a conservatory or hot house plant, not one for the outdoor pond. Their broad, stately leaves and height — they can be as tall as a man — means they are superbly ornamental, particularly perhaps when grown in large tubs around a patio. This might be one way of growing them in the open in Britain for a month or two, if you can conceive of a means of transporting a heavy tub from a hot house to the patio and back.

The lotus has a magnificent flower not unlike a paeony. The American lotus, Nelumbo lulea, has pale, sulphur yellow flowers which can be as much as 25 cm. Across. Nelumbo flaves-cens is very similar to lulea; it is a more prolific bloomer but the flowers are not quite so large. Still sometimes called the Egyptian Lotus (which would appear to have been a Nymphaea in fact), the Indian Lotus, Nelumbo nucifera, is a more vigorous plant than lutea and produces even larger flowers of vivid rose which becomes paler with age. The leaves are glabrous, that is, they possess a whitish bloom which gives the green of the leaves a silvery sheen. There are many cultivars including double and dwarf forms: N. alba ‘Plena’ and N. pygmaea ‘Alba’ in white and available in rich pink too. Among the best Nelumbos are N. japonica ‘Rubra’ with massive double flowers, 30 cm. Across and fragrant; N. ‘Kermesiana’, another Japanese form with flowers of the lightest pink, and N. ‘Osiris’ which bears cup-shaped flowers of very rich pink.

Two very hardy and easily grown deep- water aquatics deserve to be considered. Water Fringe (called variously Villarsia nymph oides, Nymphoides pellata, Limnathemum peltalum and L nymphoides) has heart-shaped leaves rather like a water-lily, but much smaller.

They are about 5 cm. Across, crinkled at the edges and attractively mottled with purple.

A plain-leafed version is available in ‘Bennettii’. In late summer, the Water Fringe bears little yellow trumpet flowers held a few centimetres above the surface. The individual blooms do not last long, but a plant can bear a fair number over a long period. Water Fringe, despite its name, is as happy in 60 or 90 cm. Of water as it is in a shallow pool. In fact, under any conditions it is a rampant plant and so is best kept in a container. The other deep-water aquatic is extremely popular and deservedly so. It is the Water Hawthorn or Aponogeton distachyus. It has long strap-like leaves of dark green or brown and it bears soft white flowers with jet black anthers. In frost-free ponds, flowering will continue well into the winter months.

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