Hardy Water Lilies

Hardy Water Lilies

A garden pool would be well worth while if only for the sake of enjoying the beauty of water lilies. Producing a succession of delightful waxen-petalled blooms from June until the first frosts of autumn the hardy water lily, or Nymphaea, is undisputed queen of the water garden. Available in shades of red, pink, yellow and the purest white, and in sizes that range from vigorous giants with 10-in. Blooms to dainty miniatures whose leaves are barely 2 in. across, there are varieties suitable for every situation, from a natural lake to a bowl on a sunny window-sill.

The elegant, almost exotic, beauty of water lilies creates the impression that they must surely need much expertise to grow, and coddling to survive the rigours of winter. In fact they require no winter protection whatever throughout Britain and in most parts of North America. Their constitutions, far from being delicate, are robust enough to survive considerable abuse. Some old crowns that I once consigned to a rubbish heap not only survived the winter in that inhospitable situation, but in the following summer put out hopeful new shoots.

Water lilies really are the easiest of plants to grow and no specialist skill is needed to establish them successfully. Though they will luxuriate in the freedom to root in a soil layer all over the pool floor, it is usually more convenient, for reasons already discussed, to plant them in containers. If the confinement of the roots discourages excessive leaf growth, so much the better, and I have seen no evidence that it inhibits flower production.

In firming the soil, not smothering the crown, and keeping the container top within 6 to 8 in. of the surface for a week or two – lilies can be settled in with very little check. Any flower buds or mature leaves on the plant at the time will almost certainly die back, but this is not a bad sign. New leaves will develop rapidly and it is to give these a chance to reach air quickly that the lily is not immediately submerged to the full depth that it will tolerate when established.

The hardy water lilies are perennial; growth disappears each autumn and is renewed every spring, year after year. They dislike shade, violent currents and cold mains or spring water. All they need to flower abundantly summer after summer is correct planting, a comfortable depth of water for the variety and a place in the sun. The more sun you give them the more flowers they’ll give you.

The first flowers after planting may not be as big, or as colourful, as those that will come later. Sound leaf and root growth is what matters most in the first season; blooms of full size and richness of colour will then follow as a matter of course. Established lilies flower from late May or early June until frost arrives, and good varieties are seldom without a show of gorgeous blooms, at their peak probably in July and August.

Many water lilies are described as fragrant but too much weight should not be given to this factor when choosing varieties. A delicate scent of vanilla or apple blossom there may well be, but it is not perceptible at a distance and the difficulty of getting one’s nose over a bloom in the middle of a pool will be obvious enough. The fragrance can best be appre-ciated when the blooms are used as cut flowers. They will last two or three days if cut young, care being taken to avoid ageing blooms, indicated by blackening stamens.

Lily flowers open in the morning and close up in the afternoon or evening, the timetable varying considerably with temperature and weather conditions. Each bloom has a life of about five days, the colour in some varieties becoming deeper each day until the mature bloom closes for the last time and sinks below the surface. New buds form in steady succession. Leaves, too, mature, disappear and are replaced. The process is continuous; the old blooms and leaves may, but need not, be removed during the early summer. From August onward, however, they should ‘be removed as they die off to avoid an accumulation of decaying material in the autumn.

When water-lily foliage pushes in a dense mass above the surface it is a sign that division and replanting is necessary. Container-grown lilies should, in any case, be replanted after three years. Carry out this operation in May or June, and renew the soil.

It is customary, and convenient, to divide lilies into groups to indicate their vigour of growth and consequently the maximum depth of water they will tolerate. The variety Attraction, for example, is classed as vigorous and capable of growing in 3 ft. of water. This is true, but it must not be inferred that Attraction needs 3 ft. of water. The enthusiast who makes a pit 3 ft. deep in a pool otherwise 18 in. deep just so that he can grow Attraction is wasting his time. Attraction, like all the vigorous group, will tolerate 3 ft. if it must, but it will grow equally well in half that depth. Almost all the lilies, miniatures excepted, will in fact grow perfectly with 10 or 12 in. of water over their crowns. Depth, remember, refers always to the depth of water over the crown, that is, soil level to surface, and does not include the depth of the container. The size of leaf and flower and the surface spread of foliage are broadly proportionate to the vigour of growth; the stronger growers, therefore, although happy to grow in 12 in. of water, are unsuitable for small pools because of the amount of surface their leaves cover.

Many varieties have a depth tolerance that covers two of these categories. Here then are fifty hardy water lilies that are favourites with British and American pond enthusiasts – and one or two mentioned as a warning.

Nymphaea alba. The native European lily, with 3-to 4-in. White flowers, will grow in cold lakes and in rivers, in water up to 10 ft. deep, and should be reserved for such situations. Quite unsuitable for garden pools. Do not buy it in mistake for N. mar-liacea albida which is a desirable ornamental variety. [BC] Albatross. Snow-white flowers, rather globular in form. Young foliage almost purple, but matures to green.

Amabilis. Has lovely wide-opening, pointed-star flowers with firm substantial petals. Colour salmon, deepening to rich rose. [AB] Attraction. A very strong grower with leaves and flowers of impressive size. The petals are garnet red with paler tips and contrast with white sepals. The flower centre ages to really dark red. [CD] Aurora. A free-flowering small grower whose flowers change remarkably from creamy yellow to orange to dark red. The leaves are attractively mottled.

[CD] Candida. A delightful little lily with dainty pure white flowers, bright green sepals and green leaves.

[A] Charles de Meurville. One of the most vigorous lilies, bearing claret-red blooms that may be as much as 9 in. across.

[AB] Colonel Welch. Has canary-yellow flowers that stand several inches above the surface. The flower/ foliage ratio is poor and it would not be my first choice except where a yellow is wanted for deep water.

[AB] Colossea. Essentially a lily for large pools. It flowers freely producing blooms that, although flesh-tinted, are in overall effect more white than pink. [c] Comanche. Another of the small ‘sunset-coloured’ lilies. The flowers change from pink-flushed apricot to coppery red, while the leaves mature from purple to green.

[B] Conqueror. Somewhat resembles Attraction, but the red is brighter, and it does not need so much

room. Prolific.

[CD] Ellisiana. A good small lily that is hard to find. The garnet-red flowers are shapely and bright. [AB] Escarboucle. Deservedly popular; the intense red, superbly shaped flowers are produced freely over a long season. A wonderfully consistent performer. [BC] Firecrest. Has fragrance, and deep pink, wide-opening flowers.

[B] Formosa. A particularly attractive shade of

pink; the flowers are well filled with petals.

[c] Froebeli. Ideal for small pools, easy, reliable and very free with its deep wine-red flowers.

[AB] Gladstoniana. Rewards plenty of elbow room with magnificent bowls of gleaming white waxy petals. Very prone to lift foliage.

[BC] Gloriosa. America’s favourite red, it will give Escarboucle strong competition in Britain when it is better known. The flowers are well shaped and bright, the leaf growth modest.

[BC] Gonnere. Known also as Snowball because of its round, double white flowers. The cup of green sepals is really filled with broad pointed petals of

purest white. Definitely a pool aristocrat.

[BC] Indiana. Has flowers that change from light orange-red to brilliant coppery red, and is generous with them. Leaves heavily marked with purple. [BC] James Brydon. Has everything: broad-petalled cupped flowers of rich carmine with a golden centre; purple leaves of modest size that never overcrowd; and an ability to adapt to pools even of the smallest size.

[CD] Joanne Pring. An excellent small-pool lily with deep pink petals that shade lighter towards the tips. [CD] N. laydekeri lilacea. Has delightfully shaped flowers that deepen from rose-lilac to crimson-carmine.

[CD] N. laydekeri purpurata. Another good variety for small pools, producing lilac flowers overlaid with rosy crimson with great freedom when well established.

[BC] Mme Wilfron Gonnere. Has large double rose-pink blooms whose shape recalls the beauty of the finest double camellias.

[BC] N. marliacea albida. The most widely grown white hybrid lily. Like the others in the marliacea group, it is easy, reliable, mildly fragrant, very free with flowers of classic shape – and foolproof. [BC] N. marliacea carnea (Morning Glory). Reputedly flesh pink, but though the petals have a blush of pink at the base the general effect is white. [BC] N. marliacea chromatella. Known as Golden Cup in America, but the colour is rather primrose or creamy yellow. The leaves are mottled with brown. Deservedly popular.

[BC] N. marliacea rosea. Prone to be disappointingly white for a season or two but when established the blooms become light rose pink.

[B] Masaniello. A good doer with large, cup-shaped fragrant flowers, deep rose pink with touches of carmine.

[BC] Moorei. A yellow very similar to N. marliacea chromatella, which is often supplied for it. The leaves should be spotted rather than blotched. [AB] Mrs Richmond. A very prolific producer of buxom globular blooms of rich pink, deepening towards the centre.

[B] Newton. Bright vermilion (almost scarlet) flowers lifted attractively above the surface, and filled with exceptionally long golden stamens. The narrow pointed petals give it the look of a tropical. [BC] N. odorata alba. A spreading grower with scented white flowers and beautiful pale green leaves. [D] N. odorata minor. Has dainty white, fragrant blooms and is admirable where depth and space are limited.

[BC] N. odorata sulphurea grandiflora. To my eye, is the deepest of the yellows and its flowers, freely produced and lifted well above the surface, are altogether delightful. The green leaves are heavily marked chocolate brown.

[c] N. odorata turicensis. An excellent free-flowering, small-pool lily. The charming pink-and-cream blooms have a surprising amount of scent. [BC] N. odorata W.B. Shaw. Deliciously scented flowers, with narrow pointed petals of delicate shell pink, lifted well above the surface. [CD] Paul Hariot. Another of the ‘sunset’ group, with flowers that change from apricot-yellow through orange-pink to deep pink. The green leaves are spotted with maroon.

[c] Pink Opal. Has fragrant blooms of warm deep coral pink held well above the surface. Recommended as a cut flower, when the scent can be fully savoured.


[D] N. pygmaea helvola. The most truly miniature lily and an altogether delightful plant. Two-inch mottled leaves match perfectly the proportions of the dainty pale yellow flowers which are produced with great freedom. Perfect for small pools (and why not the shallows of larger pools?) it will flower as readily in a bowl in a sunny window.

[CD] N. pygmaea rubra. Has pink flowers (the outer petals whitish pink) that deepen to red, and is not as pygmy as the others.

[BC] Rene Gerard. Produces an abundance of large, upright flowers with broad pointed petals whose basic pink is streaked and splashed with carmine: an effect some find curious, some beautiful. [BC] Rose Arey. Has an elegant beauty, a wealth of flower and a richness of colour that make it, for me, the best of the lot. The blooms, as much as 8 in. across, are superbly shaped, with long pointed petals, slightly rolled and incurved; the colour a rich luminous pink. And scented, too.

[c] Somptuosa. A free-blooming small grower with good-sized globular.double pink flowers, deeper at the centre, that are noticeably fragrant. [BC] Sunrise. A very fine American variety that responds to a good English summer, with magnificent uplifted sulphur-yellow blooms that can be as much as 10 in. across when the plant is established. Some rumpling in the petals may persist untidily in cool seasons, but at its best it is superb.

[D] N. tetragona. A white pygmy closely similar to N.pygmaea alba, though it has a smaller leaf, reddish beneath and mottled when young. Both produce plenty of dainty white flowers which seed readily. [AB] N. tuberosa richardsoni. A fine white lily for large pools and lakes. The massive globular blooms are produced freely over a long season. [AB] Virginalis. Rated by some knowledgeable judges as the supreme white lily, with fragrance. Classical perfection of shape and unblemished purity of colour.

[BC] William Falconer. Except for atropurpurea which is less shapely, this is the darkest coloured lily, bearing blooms of a sumptuous deep ruby red.

Sorry, comments are closed for this post.