Hardy, tropical and magical: A guide to waterlilies | Home & Garden

A garden pond can be either a pestilential mess or the beating heart of a landscape, depending on how well it is designed, engineered and maintained.

My general advice is to avoid small, shallow ponds with inadequate pump and filtration devices. Think big. You need some fish to eat mosquito larvae, but not so many that their waste will overwhelm the filters. Let’s not get bogged down by the logistics of the ornamental pond, though, because the point is, once you have one, you can join the world of the waterlily.

There is something magical about the way waterlilies have mastered two domains: the watery one from which they grow, and the sunny one, where they float and flower.

Thirty-five years after he came to the waterlily garden at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, as a student, Tim Jennings is still there, now a senior horticulturist and manager of a show that started in June and lasts until October.

The painter Claude Monet returned repeatedly to the waterlily as a subject. Jennings never left it. Who better to ask about this fabulous plant?

It is easy to see the enduring appeal of the waterlily in the display at Longwood, a courtyard with five rectilinear ponds and a central circular one, 50 feet across, together holding 160,000 gallons of water dyed a dramatic jet black. The dye helps to hide the plastic-lined, mud-filled crates that house each lily’s crown and roots. I’ve grown them in broad aquatic-plant pots, though any wide, shallow container will work, Jennings said, including a dish pan.

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