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Water Lilies

From Our Water Garden Correspondent: Dennis W Lilee.


There are a great many types of water lily, from the huge, spectacular, Amazonian ones several feet across, to the more humble White water lily (Nymphaea alba) which is native to Britain.


Now unless we are lucky enough to have a huge tropical glasshouse, the first is out. Still we can always visit Kew (in Richmond) or the Eden Project in Cornwall and admire them from time to time. Back to the kind the rest of us mortals are able to grow, in between the two. In early Victorian times water lilies were really only available to the wealthy and there weren't many varieties available. Then along came Monsieur Latour-Marliac from France. He saw a great future for water gardening and raised many new and beautiful hybrids.


By 1900, water lilies were becoming more available and today are available at most garden centres. The water lily family is Nympheas and now includes a great many varieties, from white, cream, yellow to pink and red and many will flower continuously from June to November. There are even quite a few companies who will send them by mail order. Water lilies are surprisingly tuff, in that they will not only stand a considerable amount of cold British weather, but they will stand a surprising amount of abuse.


For example, in 1889 M Latout-Marliac sent a collection of his hybrids to the Paris Universal Exhibition in a glass case by train. This case got lost along the way and didn't turn up again for over a month. The railway authorities then wrote and asked him what should they do with them. He naturally assumed that the plants would probably just be a soggy dead mass, and so told the authorities to return his plants by a slow train. On their arrival he was amazed to see his plants in good order, pushing up shoots and very little the worse for wear.


Water lilies suffer very little from pests and diseases. But if you intend having a large pond covered almost exclusively with water lilies and wild fowl as well, you may have problems. Apart from the native variety, I have already mentioned, which is sufficiently vigorous not to worry about being eaten by ducks.


So apart from that, what else should we consider when planting water lilies?


Firstly, they like to be in a pond in full sun, not overshadowed by trees or buildings. They prefer perfectly still water, so vigorous fountains, waterfalls and streams are out. The main reason they prefer this is that rapid currents keep water temperatures too low.


To grow at their best, water lilies prefer to be in some kind or container, or basket, and grow in nice rich soil containing lots of organic matter. When you purchase your water lilies from the nursery, they should come complete with the necessary plastic slitted growing basket. If not, these are readily available from most garden centres, or water garden specialists. These containers are especially useful as they will float and still contain the necessary rich compost.
Once you have got your water lily pond sorted out and your plants are growing in beautiful abundance, you will no doubt want to get propagating. Fortunately this isn't difficult and can be managed in one of two ways. Firstly by dividing the tubers, or rhizomes, in March or April and then potting them up in their own little basket or containers. Or you could pass some of them on to another water gardening friend.


Alternatively, you can propagate water lilies from seed. Carefully sow the seeds in shallow pans in February in light soil, ensure the soil never dries out, and keep at 60°F.

I recommend propagation by division, because not only is it the easiest method, but if you collect your own seed, it may well be sterile, coming from hybridised plants, and so will not grow.


If you have any comments or queries on water lilies, or any other pond queries, send me an email dennis.w.lilee@gardenadvice.co.uk and I'll do my best to help you out.


Until next time, happy ponding!







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