This section is from the book "Beautiful Gardens - How To Make Them And Maintain Them", by Walter P. Wright. Also available from Amazon: Beautiful Gardens: How To Make And Maintain Them.
See a Water Lily garden on a day in late spring, when the water has been drained away, and the plants removed for division. The pond is a slimy, slippery expanse of dark ooze, deepening to a few inches of water here and there. Labourers in huge boots wallow heavily in the mire. Great masses of brown, dank, forbidding stems lie about. In is an uncommon sight, yet one which, by a curious coincidence, the author saw on two successive days when visiting the famous gardens at Gunnersbury House, Acton, and Aldenham House, Elstree. It is a little difficult to imagine, in such circumstances, the aspect of the ponds on a summer day, when the air is full of heat haze, the water, sparkling where exposed under a burning sun, is cushioned over with great, thick, green leaves, and starred with flowers. Yet it is in gardens such as these, where the plants are grown by skilled men, and are cultivated as carefully as a specialist cultivates his Chrysanthemums, that Water Lilies give of their best.
Fig. Plan Of A Water Lily Pond. X, lake for Water Lilies (Nymphaeas): 1 to 16, selected Nymphaeas. Y, islands, Salix Babylonica or other varieties of Weeping Willows on grass. Z, gravel path with rustic Oak branch bridge. A, grass. Plants on margin of lake: 1 to 18; trees and beds of shrubs on grass: 19 to 24.
And what a best it is! Who that has seen the Gunnersbury and Aldenham Nymphaeas in the height of their beauty can do other than gaze in admiration on the huge flowers of purest white, brilliant rose, and radiant blue! Resting on the bosom of the cool water, with their half-submerged carpet of shimmering leaves, and the quivering shadows of their sturdy stems drooping to the bottom, they form a most alluring picture of tranquil loveliness.
Fig. Water lilies at Messrs. De Rothschild's, Gunnersbury House, Acton.
Happily, the beautiful Water Lilies will thrive in much more circumscribed surroundings than those which they enjoy in the gardens of wealthy flower-lovers. The small pool in the home garden may have them. They will even enjoy life, and reward the grower, in tubs set in some cool spot, with the roots secure from hard winter frosts.
The specially prepared pond in the large garden will perhaps have cemented banks, the sides of which are studded with "saucers" formed by ridged rings of cement, in which the plants are established. But in smaller places a less elaborate plan may be necessary. A series of old baskets may be secured, filled with good loamy soil (manure may be omitted as it tends to foul the water), weighted with a heavy stone or two, and sunk to the bottom with the plants in them. The baskets rot away while the plants are establishing themselves. This may be done up to the middle of May. From 1 foot to 3 feet is a sufficient depth of water for the beautiful hybrids, although the native Water Lily, Nymphaea alba, is frequently found at a far greater depth in the lakes of many country houses. If the plants do not grow so luxuriantly, and produce such magnificent flowers, in the mud of a pond bottom as in the special compost of a cemented pond, there is the advantage that they do not need so much attention.
Flower-lovers who have no ponds may grow their Water Lilies in a brick or cemented tank. The author has seen several collections of great interest so grown, and on more than one occasion the talented Gunnersbury gardener has exhibited them in a tank. They are, of course, quite under the grower's command, and may be established in some cool and otherwise appropriate position near the house. With occasional division and soil renewal tank-grown Nymphaeas will flourish for many years.
A still more modest yet most pleasing and enjoyable plan is to grow them in tubs. The author has grown a small but interesting collection by sawing a paraffin cask through the middle, charring the two halves with lit shavings, embedding them to the brim in grass, putting a few inches of soil in the bottom, and filling them three parts full of water. The smaller forms, such as Laydekeri and odorata, should be chosen.
Pond-grown Lilies are subject to attack from voles, which must be kept under if serious loss is to be avoided.
Propagation is easily effected by dividing the crowns, taking care to see that each division has at least one bud.
There is a splendid choice of hardy Nymphaeas among the Laydekeri, Marliacea, and other hybrids. Ellisiana may be noted as a good red, and James Brydon as a crimson. Laydekeri rosea is a charming pink. Marliacea albida, white; and Marliacea chromatella, yellow, with marbled leaves, are two of the finest hybrids associated with the name of the famous raiser, Monsieur Latour-Marliac. Odorata sulphurea gigantea is another good yellow. William Doogue is a splendid red. Tetragona (pygmaea), white, may be noted as a pretty small-growing species suitable for a tub.
The Nymphaeas, although the queen of water plants, do not monopolise all the beautiful kinds. Nuphar luteum is a good hardy aquatic. Alisma Plantago (Water Plantain) is also worth growing. Aponogeton distachyon, the Water Hawthorn, is very pretty and deliciously scented. Hottonia palustris, the Water Violet, white, with yellow eye, is another gem. Stratiotes aloides, the Water Soldier, is interesting.
Acorus Calamus, Butomus umbellatus, Menyanthes trifoliata (Bog Bean), Pontederia cordata, and Sagittaria sagittifolia (Arrowhead), are non-floaters that thrive in or close to water.
Fig. A pretty water garden; note the bamboos on the margin.
A word may be devoted to plants which grow well at the margin of water. The noblest of these is the magnificent Iris laevigata (Kaempferi), of which there are so many splendid varieties. Iris Pseudacorus is also worth growing, as is Parnassia palustris (Grass of Parnassus). Cardamine Pratensis flore pleno, the double Lady's Smock, is a valuable plant, that grows remarkably in the Royal Horticultural Society's garden at Wisley. Caltha palustris and its varieties must be mentioned. Typha latifolia, the Reed Mace, may well be chosen on account of its distinct appearance. Bamboos like the margin of water, if the position is not exposed to hard frosts and cold winds. Finally, it should be remembered that the lovely Primulas Japonica and rosea never do so well as near, but not in, water.