I have always been fascinated with water lilies. Many years ago as a child I visited a botanic garden in France and marvelled at the stunning colours of the tropical varieties in the glasshouses. Vivid pinks, striking purples and snow whites, seeming to float just above the water, these rare and exotic plants fascinated me no end. Even today I find water lilies one of the most mysterious and exotic flowers out there.
There are two main categories of water lilies, the hardy water lilies which flower and bloom during the day and tropical varieties which bloom during the day and night. Here in Ireland we are limited to the hardy varieties when planting water lilies and one option for larger ponds or lakes- particularly in designs which emulate wild native nature- is the pretty native water lily. The small flowered Nuphar lutea which grows in shallow waters and lake lands and has unassuming yellow blooms which have rounded petals and a spherical flower shape. While hardy and pretty in their own right, this flower’s blooms are subtle in size and lacking somewhat in the wow factor of colour and scent which many of the tropical water lilies have.
A slightly more showy flower yet also a native flower is the Nymphaea alba. A more traditional water lily shaped flower, the white native hardy waterlily is a pretty addition to the Irish pond and has gorgeous white flowers and handsome shiny green foliage. Seen here in the alpine garden at Lissadell house in Sligo, the Nymphaea alba comes into bloom from June to September and is also suitable for larger ponds or lakes. It is best grown in about a metre of water but in some places can grow in almost three metres of water, making it a great choice for lakes or ponds which fluctuate in water level somewhat. The large lily pads are also valuable for offering shade and protection to aquatic wildlife.
When it comes to hardy waterlilies today there are plenty of other options available to us these days, many of these thanks to the developments of French horticulturalist Joseph Bory Latour-Marliac who propagated, cultivated and commercialised hardy water lilies. At the time when Latour-Marliac started his work in 1875, the only native water lily to Europe was the Nymphaea alba and all tropical varieties had to be grown indoors in temperature controlled water. Latour-Marliac found a way to hybridize hardy water lilies by crossing this white variety with other wild varieties he obtained from North America and elsewhere. Today the Latour-Marliac museum and gardens in the South of France showcase a huge range of stunning hardy varieties in whites, pinks, peaches, yellows, reds and fuchsias as well as blues. Interestingly it was also these water lily cultivars by Latour-Marliac which caught the eye of the artist Monet, who ordered many of his hardy water lilies there for his famous ‘jardin d’eau’ garden at Giverny. The artworks which showed these beautiful specimens resulted in an explosion in the plant’s popularity at the time, making water lilies much sought after across Europe.
Choosing and planting your water lilies
Today hardy water lilies are a fascinating collectors plant which many people become somewhat obsessed by and the many delicious candy shades of flower and various flower and petal shapes make for fascinating additions to large or small gardens. When choosing a specimen for your own garden the most important thing to consider is choosing the right variety. Consider the depth of water you have available to the plant and the space which the plant has to spread and grow and choose your cultivar accordingly. Don’t fret if you think you don’t have space for one of these beauties; Whether you have a lake, a pond, a water feature or just a water lily bowl- there are suitable varieties of water lily for every garden.
When planting water lilies you can plant smaller varieties into containers or plant them directly into muddy soils in the pond. Another option is planting them in a water lily baskets which sit on the ground of the pond, meaning you can adapt the location somewhat they mature and need deeper water.
The best soil for water lilies is a dense clay like soil such as Lelite Waterlily Aquatic Soil. After this they tend to be fairly low maintenance but thrive and flower better if occasionally fertilised with aquatic plant food.
3 Latour-Marliac varieties to add to your water garde
For the small garden
Nymphaea ‘Pygmaea Helvola’
Miniature water lily with pads from 8 to 12 cm in diameter, and 6 cm flowers. The tiny canary yellow flowers bloom non-stop during the season, and sit atop equally small mottled pads. Ideal for very small container water gardens. Plant one per 14 litre planting container at a depth of 10 to 25 cm in order to have approximately 50 cm of surface coverage after a year or two.
For wow factor
Nymphaea ‘Queen Sirikit’
Medium water lily with pads from 12 to 15 cm in diameter, and 12 cm flowers.
This is a cross between a hardy and a tropical water lily and was created by the legendary Pairat Songpanich at his water lily farm in Thailand. Plant at a depth of 20 to 60 cm in order to have approximately one square metre of surface coverage after a year or two.
For native appeal –
Waterlily – alba
A profuse bloomer, the Nymphaea alba has handsome green foliage and white flowers. It can grow in water between 1m to 3m and spreads to about 150cm. The green foliage is beautiful and is valuable for wildlife. Suitable for large ponds and lakes.
Start your own waterlily collection
Follow in Monet’s footsteps and order your own varieties of water lily online at Latour-Marliac. There is a wide range of their stunning hardy hybrids available for purchase from their extensive catalogue and you can choose from many varieties of white, peach, yellow red and fuchsia as well as the elusive blue. The prices start at about €21-€24 for the white varieties and go all the way to €89-€99 for the more deeply coloured blues such as ‘Siam Purple’ or ‘Queen Sirikit’
Future forests have a great range of water lillies in stock including the native ‘Alba’ deep rose red ‘Attraction and primrose yellow ‘Marliacea Chromatella’ varieties as well as the miniature ‘Pygmaea Rubra’ which is super for small water features and even a small water bowl. All varieties are available to order from the future forests website catalogue late Winter onwards. www.futureforests.ie
Did you know?
The elusive hardy blue
Until relatively recently the option of including a true blue coloured beauty in European water gardens has been an unachievable dream. Then, in 2017 everything changed. Pairat Songpanich, a water lily farmer in Thailand invented the world’s first blue hardy waterlily, a plant which is now known as Nymphaea ‘Siam Purple’.