Spectacular water lilies can bring real glamour to the garden
Water lilies are great flowers for summer with those large lily-pad leaves and sumptuous flowers, always made more interesting by being out of reach. They are expressions of luxuriant summer growth and lend a touch of drama to the garden. Everybody knows the water lily and it is easily the most popular water plant.
There is a native white water lily that grows in large bog pools in the West of Ireland and, being large and vigorous, it sometimes covers large areas. It is too big for a garden pond, growing in water 1.5 metres deep. The bog pools suit the wild water lily because the water surface is not big enough to get rough. Strong wave action can damage the leaves.
Many of the garden hybrids were raised from the wild water lily because it is hardy, while there are more colourful kinds from tropical areas.
A remarkable French breeder by the name of Marliac raised a race of smaller and more colourful kinds for garden use. The best of these are still in use and a group of hardy garden hybrids bear his name.
There are many named kinds in three main colours: white, yellow and pink. Some feature more petals which can be pointed.
'Albida' is a lovely white variety, much smaller than the wild native water lily which is generally not available, or suitable. 'Escarboucle' is an excellent red-flowered kind; 'James Brydon' is raspberry-red with pointed petals; 'Chromatella' has canary-yellow flowers; 'Carnea' has pale-pink flowers.
Water lilies can be planted when coming into leaf and they are sometimes seen in flower in garden centres. It does not greatly matter that a plant be in flower but there is the certainty of knowing the flower colour. It is annoying to get the wrong colour of any plant but it is worse when it has been planted in the middle of a pond. The large wax-like flowers seem to float on the surface, the lily-pads too and these help to shade out pond algae while providing a haven for fish.
The plants are not expensive and one plant is usually enough for most garden ponds.
Most lilies stocked in garden centres will have been held in shallow ponds and the plant must be introduced to deeper water in stages, extending the leaf stalks.
Rich feeding is important for water lilies, a good layer of mud at the bottom of the pond is their natural rooting zone, or they can be kept in porous plastic pots of soil and compost but these need to be replenished every couple of years.
It is much easier to let them get on with it in a layer of mud, rooting as they like.