Seeking solace from the relentless chaos of city life, more homeowners are enjoying the simple pleasures of a water garden in their backyard. The hypnotic song of flowing water is a soothing backdrop to the visual imagery and creates a sense of inner peace. Water lilies are the centerpiece of the water garden inviting warm conversation and admiration for the weary urban dweller.
Nymphaeas, commonly known as water lilies, are the very same plants that the famous painter Claude Monet became so enamored with over a century ago. The first time you gaze at these mysterious aquatic wonders you understand why. The magnificent flowers on these plants are enchanting. The water lily plant lives out its life submerged in water two to three feet deep. They are potted in black plastic containers without any holes, filled with heavy clay topsoil that is soft to touch like rubbing talc between your fingers. At the base of the plant is the crown where the stems, leaves and flower buds emerge. The stems are fleshy and strong, varying in color from grape red to celery green. They feel cool to the touch like the skin of a crisp red apple. The leaves resemble olive green paper plates that stretch outward across the water surface as if to serve invited guests. Many are solid in color while others are spotted with large freckles made of purple blotches. Still others have deep variegation resembling black rivers flowing intricately across the leaf surface.
There are many varieties of water lilies, but the tropical ones have the most exceptional flowers. Mother Nature has created these perfectly complex flowers with the intricate design and incredible detail of a skilled engineer. In a visual spectrum of color, they range from pure cotton white to royal indigo. The buds emerge slowly over several days from beneath the water surface. They are paintbrushes pushing upward, round like elephant ear garlic that comes to a point, wet with color inside. Once the buds reach a height of nearly a foot, standing tall as a soldier at attention, the flowers begin to open. Slowly the outer layers relax and just a sliver of color is revealed. The petals are broad and long like giant daisies in the shape of a large teacup. As the flowers open, the rich yellow buttercup center is revealed, a perfect circle, broad and pure in color and clarity, filled with nectar to entice bees and other flying friends to pollinate them. The stamens are separate, vibrant and bold, standing tall, like tiny slender fingers surrounding the center. On the first day, the flowers are more compact and stand erect. The petals are vivid, rich and deep in color. It is as if an artist dipped a thick round brush in wet shiny color and created each petal with a swift single stroke, smearing the paint in granular variation. The fragrance is thick and sweet smelling as if you just sunk your teeth into a ripe juicy melon. Each flower will last about three to four days and will fade and soften with each passing day. The flowers relax as the petals open, expending the last of their energy at one last gaze into the sky. Finally, they gently lay to rest on their side, exhausted they slip under the water surface to sleep. The cycle continues as new buds emerge to have their day to bask in the sun’s golden rays.
Water lilies are magical to watch and create a sensory delight in the water garden. They require the care of an average houseplant. A little pruning and fertilizer encourages these aquatic marvels to grow and prosper in any sunny water garden. Each winter they go dormant and sleep. In early spring, repotting and a sprinkle of fertilizer awaken the sleeping tubers. They emerge as prolific as the year before, returning like an old friend that has been missed so much.
Ponds and fountains have been popular throughout history and can be traced back thousands of years. The sound of water motion has soothed and calmed us for centuries. Water gardens inspire whimsical daydreams as you rest your eyes on the surface of the water. The azure mist and muted tones of the morning caress your eyes ever so gently. Smooth as glass, the still water captures the subtle movements in the sky and clouds above and creates both a window and a mirror to gaze in. A perfectly placed wind chime, the sound of water cascading over flat stones, a glass of cool mint tea, and timeless water lilies are all the elements needed to rejuvenate your soul and renew your spirit.
© 2000 Jacqueline D’Elia