Now will the water lilies stain the lake
With cups of yellow, chalices of cream,
Set in their saucer leaves of olive-green
On greener ware, motionless, opaque.
So wrote acclaimed English columnist and writer, Vita Sackville-West (1892-1962) in The Garden. Poets, novelists, painters and historians have often eulogised the waterlily, at its colourful best in this country now that summer is here. In public parks and botanic gardens and in water features in city courtyards, waterlilies are blooming in creams, pinks, purples, reds and yellows.
Among the loveliest water gardens you will find anywhere in the world are those at Longstock Park, in the English county of Hampshire,(above).
There, in the serene lakes and ponds, waterlilies thrive with other bog garden species and statuesque damp-loving trees like the swamp cypress (Taxodium distichum).
While most waterlilies flower during the day, the night blooming, scented species were cherished in Indian Mughal gardens for viewing on balmy moonlit evenings. You can see them flowering at Saheliyon-ki-Bari, known as the Garden of the Maidens, in Udaipur, in the northern Indian state of Rajasthan. This renowned garden was built by the King from 1710 to welcome his future bride who arrived with forty-eight young women attendants. Located on the banks of Fateh Sagar Lake, it is a green retreat that contrasts with the dry landscape of Rajasthan.
Claude Monet (1840-1926) was a painter of light. He planted his garden at Giverny, an hour north of Paris, to respond to the changing light and would paint the same subject at different times of the day. He convinced local authorities to allow him to divert a local river to create a lake and planted it with waterlilies, which he painted on huge canvasses, now displayed in galleries around the world.
Named for the Greek deity Nymph, the waterlily (Nymphaea spp.) is a genus of about 50 species, both evergreen and deciduous. Along with the fabulous, giant Victoria amazonica, the water lily is a member of the Nymphaeceae family of eight genera of aquatic plants. And in Australia you can see the Blue Nile waterlily (N. caerulea), among others, at the 42ha Royal Botanic Gardens in Adelaide, in the Victoria House, purpose-built for Victoria amazonica, which flowers amidst leaves that can support up to 60kg.
Among the species used today to create hybrids, the white N. alba is deciduous and frost hardy, and bears fragrant semi-double blooms. N. lotus has fragrant, cream blooms that open at night, closing at midday, while the white N. odorata is native to north and tropical America and bears fragrant blooms some 12cm in diameter. Nymphaea nouchali is native to southern Asia and North Australia; in India it is used in fragrance production.
You can buy these aquatic species in containers, or by mail order, bare rooted. Plant them in an aquatic mix or compost-rich soil, in hessian-lined baskets (to prevent soil from drifting away), or in plastic pots: place stones at the base of your chosen receptacle to help it keep stable. Firm the soil down well, as, once submerged, air is dispelled from the container, causing the soil level to drop. Cover with gravel so that your soil does not wash away. Place the baskets or pots onto bricks, to allow the leaves to remain on the water surface, or, if the plant is leafless, just below the surface. Gradually remove the bricks as the plants send out roots to anchor in the base of your water feature.
While water lilies rarely attract pests nor suffer from diseases, they can be attacked by aphids, and the so-called China Mark Moth. This small brown moth lays its eggs on the underside of floating leaves, until its larvae cuts pieces out of the leaves in just a fortnightly cycle. You can remove the larvae, if you see them soon enough, and spray the foliage with a an environmentally-safe insecticide. As all water plants are greedy, feed with a slow release fertiliser.
Waterlilies are both beautiful and useful. Apart from their good looks, waterlilies oxygenate the water and crowd out non-beneficial algae, which consume sunlight and nutrients, while their leaves shade and protect fish.
• I received a terrific present just before Christmas. A small packet arrived in the post; inside was a cloth bag containing the evocatively named Baa Baa Brew. It’s a 100 per cent natural liquid fertiliser made from natural sheep manure. Following the instructions I placed the bag in a bucket of water, left it for two days, then poured the solution onto my pots of orchids and buxus. A second brew was made with the same bag. Another great solution for those gardening in small spaces. baabaabrew.com.au
• It’s time to water your summer vegetables with a weak solution of fertiliser each week, so that they will grow quickly, to ensure sweetness, particularly among the leaf vegetables.
• The Botanic Gardens, Adelaide are open daily from 7.15am weekdays, 9.00am weekends and public holidays. Free guided walks of the Gardens start at 10.30am, seven days a week.
• Monet’s garden at Giverny in France, is open from April 1 to November 1. giverny.org
With Many thanks to The Australian
Picture credit for Claude Monet's painting: Wiki
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