An Introduction to Water Gardening
The place of water in the garden
Although water gardening has in recent years achieved widespread popularity through the introduction of modern materials for pool construction, it has been an important feature of gardens from time immemorial. Over three thousand years ago waterlily ponds were recorded as being the principal feature of the famous palace gardens of Ikhnaton. The Greeks in Homeric times constructed nymphaeums with constantly running water and the Japanese dug pools in the shapes of birds and animals in which they grew all kinds of water plants. Ancient Chinese gardens also featured pools, alive with decorative carp and framed with rushes, while the Indians held waterlilies in high regard and they were widely acclaimed by the great literary minds of the day.
It was probably the high regard which man always had for water-that induced him to cultivate them and so start a primitive form of water gardening. Certainly the ancient Egyptians must have used large quantities of waterlily blossoms.
Their monarchs were often laid to rest with wreaths made from the petals of the tropical blue-flowered caerulea. These were placed on the mummy in regular patterns until the sarcophagus was full of floral tributes. The reason for this custom was the belief that the beautiful blooms of the waterlily rising pure and clean from the slimy mud were comparable with purity and immortality. The two principal aspirations of man.
Waterlily blossoms were used in other religious festivals and also offered to visitors as a gesture of friendship and goodwill. So they were obviously quite important to the people of that time who were evidently skilled water gardeners.
In Britain we do not have such a long association with water gardening, although the native white waterlily, Nymphaea alba, has long been cultivated and its rootstock harvested for the making of dye. The earliest reference to water gardening in this country was made in 1731 by Philip Miller in his famous gardening dictionary. He writes, ‘In some gardens I have seen plants cultivated in large troughs of water, where they flourish very well and annually produce great quantities of.’
Water had, of course, been used extensively for its own sake. Purely as a mirror or to break up the landscape. However, the serious business of cultivating and developing aquatic plants did not take place until Paxton, and a little later Marliac, started introducing and hybridising aquatic plants, more particularly waterlilies. Even if it has not always taken quite the same form, man has had a long and enduring relationship with water gardening, an alliance that is being continually strengthened with the passage of time.
This passion for water is not difficult to understand, for it is a creature of many moods. Sometimes a raging fury, occasionally a lyrical whisper, but more often a placid mirror. It is because it can be so varied that it has such a widespread appeal.
The young identify with the bubbling frothing fury of a mountain stream. Then with the embrace of first love they forsake it for the romantic, soft, swaying curtain of droplets from a gentle fountain. While those of us mellowing with the years delight in the cool glassy stillness of a pool which quietly reflects all about it.