Water Lilies for Your Garden Pond
Waterlilies are known botanically as nymphaeas, although plants as diverse as our native Nuphar lutea (yellow pond lily) and the giant tropical Victoria amazonica are referred to as waterlilies too. Probably the most familiar true waterlily is our native white Nymphaea alba, a vigorous plant with large, fresh green leaves and snow-white, cup-shaped blossoms. It is much too vigorous for the garden pool, requiring in excess of a metre of water in order to do itself justice, and occupying a vast amount of surface area. However, together with its red form N. alba rubra it has proved invaluable as a parent of many modern hybrids.
Nymphaea odorata has played an equally important role in hybridising, but is also an excellent garden plant in its own right. Being of modest proportions and growing in as little as 45cm of water it is one of the finest scented waterlilies for the garden pool. Its individual blossoms may be 15cm or more across and are borne amongst handsome, fresh green foliage. A soft pink form, N. odorata rosea (Cape Cod waterlily), is exquisite and N. odorata rubra startles all with its vivid crimson blooms.
Nymphaea odorata has been hybridised variously with other species and its own sports to yield a distinctive race of cultivars of similar habit and with the same rich fragrance. All of these are easy-going, thriving in about 50cm of water. Except for ‘Helen Fowler’, a more vigorous kind with immense, richly scented, deep rose blossoms up to 25cm across. This variety requires slightly deeper conditions, but still produces tidy clumps of pale green foliage.
‘Luciana’ is of similar colour but more modest growth, while ‘William B. Shaw’ is creamy-pink with deep red internal zoning. ‘Firecrest’ has sparkling pink blossoms with conspicuous red-tipped stamens. Its foliage is purplish, and except for the lack of mottling, of a similar hue to that of the popular canary-yellow flowered ‘Sulphurea’. But my favourite amongst the odorata hybrids is the bright rose-pink ‘Suavissima’ with its rich cloying fragrance.
For the very small pool the diminutive N. odorata minor (mill pond lily) can be recommended. A native of the shallow bogs of New Jersey, this little beauty has sweetly scented, white, star-like blossoms 8cm across and tiny, soft green leaves with dark red undersides. Another closely allied miniature, N.odorata pumila, produces similar blossoms, but has dark green leaves with a purplish cast.
Nymphaea tuberosa (magnolia waterlily) is another North American native but of more substantial proportions. The wild species is vigorous, with distinctive fleshy tubers which give rise to large, green, orbicular leaves and pure white, scentless blossoms. It is rather large for the modern water garden, but its cultivar ‘Richardsonii’ is of more tidy growth with splendid, pure white, globular. Generally speaking the N. tuberosa varieties should be avoided by the home gardener and enjoyed in the pools of parks and public gardens where they have ample space to develop properly. However, N. tuberosa often produces improved seedlings and many of these have been selected, named, and become established and widely planted garden varieties.
Indeed, one of the finest, fragrant, pink-flowered varieties, N. caroliniana, is believed to be the result of a union between N. odorata rosea and N. tuberosa. Unlike its parents though, it is of modest growth and will flourish in as little as 35cm of water. A white form called ‘Nivea’ is equally agreeable, so too are the beautifully formed pale and deep rose-pink varieties ‘Perfecta’ and ‘Rosea’.
The tough and resilient N.candida requires similar conditions and although not perhaps as elegant as N. caroliniana and its varieties, is nevertheless a valuable addition to the smaller pool. Particularly in colder areas. Many geographical forms exist, but these are only of interest to botanists. The typical plant grown by the nurseryman has white, scentless, cup-shaped flowers with golden stamens and crimson stigmas borne continuously from May until September.
Nymphaea tetragona (pygmy white waterlily) is equally floriferous, producing tiny, white, star-like flowers amongst small, dark green leaves that have rich purplish undersides. The flowers are complete miniature replicas of the larger hybrids, being sweetly scented and seldom more than 3cm across. As one might suppose this is really a plant for the sink or tub garden, although it can be used to good effect in a rock pool or planted towards the edge of a more substantial water garden. Nymphaea pygmaea alba is the plant usually offered by nurseries and garden centres and is doubtless just a form of N. tetragona improved by selection and cultivation.
Nymphaea tetragona ‘Johann Pring’ is a mutant which occurred in the Missouri Botanical Gardens. This has deep pink flowers up to 6cm across with distinctive rings of orange and pink stamens. Its leaves are dark green, like miniature lily pads, and provide a perfect foil for the delicate starry blossoms.
The pygmaea hybrids are of similar character and need shallow water too. Their parentage has been lost in the mists of time, but most gardeners acknowledge that they are probably the results of various crosses between N. tetragona and the half-hardy Mexican N. flava. All are free flowering and welcome additions to the garden pool. Particularly the lovely N.pygmaea ‘Helvola’ with its beautiful canary-yellow blossoms, for this will come into flower only a matter of weeks after planting and is probably the best-natured waterlily of all. Unlike the other pygmy kinds its foliage has a heavy chocolate mottling, but this in no way detracts from the beauty of the flowers.
Nymphaea pygmaea ‘Rubra’ is the best of the miniature reds, sporting tiny stellate blossoms with vivid orange stamens amongst handsome, purplish-green leaves. The closely allied N.pygmaea ‘Rubis’ is larger in every part, while the old variety ‘Hyperion’ has blooms of the deepest amaranth. ‘Maurice Laydeker’ is sometimes sold as a miniature and although it does produce superb blossoms of deep vinous red, it is scarcely a pygmy and quite a shy bloomer.
None of the pygmy kinds will grow in more than 30cm of water. Most prefer less than half of that whilst the popular large flowering hybrids really need a depth of 60cm. Fortunately the void between can be filled by the group of waterlilies known as the laydekeri hybrids. These were developed by the famous French waterlily hybridist Joseph Bory Latour Marliac and named in honour of his son-in-law Maurice Laydeker. Their exact parentage is unknown, but all produce a profusion of medium-sized blossoms amongst compact groups of dark green lily pads.
Nymphaea laydekeri ‘Purpurata’ is the best known and most widely cultivated, a handsome plant with rich vinous-red flowers sporting conspicuous bunches of bright orange stamens. The bright crimson N. laydekeri ‘Fulgens’ is a worthy companion and N.l aydekeri provides a notable contrast with its fragrant, soft pink flowers, while the sparkling white N. laydekeri ‘Alba’ has an aroma akin to that of a freshly opened packet of tea.
A similar group of waterlilies occurs within the popular range of more vigorous varieties and these are known as the marliacea hybrids. Once again these are of indiscernable origin, but all are obviously closely allied and can be confidently recommended for the medium-sized garden pool. However, I always like to restrict their growth to a container, for without exception all will become invasive if planted directly upon the pool floor.
This particularly applies to N. marliacea ‘Carnea’, a beautiful flesh-pink hybrid with a powerful vanilla fragrance. Not infrequently sold under the names of ‘Apple Blossom’ or ‘Morning Glory’ this is one of the most reliable varieties for the gardener with a sizable pond. The pure white N. marliacea ‘Albida’ is not quite so robust and like the soft yellow N. marliacea ‘Chromatella’ will grow in much shallower water. Both possess a simple charm, their neatly sculptured blossoms resting amongst attractive, dark green foliage which in N. marliacea ‘Chromatella’ is boldly splashed with maroon and bronze. Dappled foliage is also a characteristic of the fiery-red N. marliacea ‘Flammea’ and to a lesser extent N. marliacea ‘Ignea’, although this is better known for its deep crimson, tulip-shaped blossoms which are quite unique amongst the marliacea hybrids.
Of course, this group of nymphaeas does not accurately represent the variety of shapes and colours available to the gardener, but for the newcomer tothey are indispensable. The experienced gardener will doubtless wish to try more temperamental cultivars.
‘Gloire de Temple-sur-Lot’ is always reputed to be awkward, but merely requires to be left undisturbed. Once happy with its surroundings it will erupt in a mass of fragrant, fully double pink blossoms like giant incurved. A magnificent variety for the keen gardener and a splendid companion for that other connoisseur’s delight, the pure white ‘Gonnère’. Unlike its pink counterpart it is easily established, thrusting up rich green leaves and perfectly formed globular flowers like floating snowballs.
‘Rene Gerard’ is a more conventional kind for the medium-sized pool and has star-shaped blossoms of rich rose blotched and splashed with red. Together with the vigorous deep crimson ‘Escarboucle’, garnet red ‘Attraction’ and the lovely dark red, paeony-flowered ‘James Brydon’, it completes a quartet of highly commendable red nymphaeas for deeper water. Except, of course, for ‘Charles de Meurville’, but this is not really red, more of a deep plum and conspicuously tipped and streaked with white.
‘Sunrise’ is the best of the yellow-flowered cultivars, producing immense, soft, canary-yellow blossoms up to 22cm across. A successful union between this and the superb white semi-double Virginalis’ has resulted in the appearance of ‘Hal Miller’, an outstanding rich creamy-white variety. This was raised in California quite recently and I feel sure will become one of the most popular modern waterlily hybrids.
The equally lovely bright pink ‘Pearl of the Pool’ is destined for honours too. This is a double kind with gorgeous blossoms like pink icing sugar. Although not freely available in Great Britain at the moment, it has already taken the United States by storm and is likely to do the same here, ousting ‘Rose Arey’ from the number one spot. Not that I would desert my old friend, for I believe that the dependable ‘Rose Arey’, with its large, rose-pink, stellate blossoms and rich aniseed fragrance still has a lot to offer.
So do the chameleon varieties. I am always amazed how seldom they are planted, for without exception they are free flowering and easily grown, flourishing in as little as 30cm of water. ‘Graziella’ is the most popular, with handsome purplish-green mottled foliage and innumerable stellate blossoms of deep orange-red which pale with age. However, it is ‘Aurora’ which is the most spectacular, producing cream flower buds which open yellow and pass through orange to blood red with each succeeding day. ‘Indiana’ is similar, but slightly smaller, with orange flowers that intensify to red, and striking mottled foliage.
In fact, with the cultivar ‘Arcen-Ciel’ it is the foliage rather than the soft blush blossoms which is the main attraction. Each leaf has a ground colour of green, but is liberally splashed and stained with purple, rose, white and bronze.