Louis Raymond experiments in his own gardens like

a mad scientist, searching out plants that most people have

never seen before & figuring out how to make them perform.- The Boston Globe

…Louis Raymond ensures that trees can grow in Brooklyn…

or just about any other place where concrete consumes

the dirt and skyscrapers shield the sunshine.- USA Today


NEW Trips to Take!

Myrtle's easy when the conditions are right.


NEW Plants to Try!

Louis tries to capture the exact words to describe the fleeting but deep pleasures to be found in these Summer-into-Autumn incredibles.


New Gardening to Do!

Allergic to bees? You can still have an exciting garden, full of flowers and color and wildlife.


Plant Profiles

Emerging foliage of a water lily



Water lilies aren't just for Summer, when the clumps are in flower.  In early Spring, the new foliage slowly makes its way from the clump up to the water surface.  And it can be as colorful as the flowers themselves.  Foamy, floating frog-egg colonies have nudged against the leaf in the bottom center of the picture above.  This is a huge clump of a hardy white lily, Nymphaea 'Marliaceae Alba'; it's in dire need of division.


Younger leaves are more colorful.  They have only just emerged from the clump, and are held well underwater.  Leaves that reach the surface transition from deep purple to pinkish-green; by Summer they'll all be green.




The spectacular leaf below is still unfurling, and has the color and form to make any tulip or peony retreat in shame.




About the time the submerged water lily foliage is at its most colorful is also the time to do any repotting.  The huge clump in the top picture is years overdue.  It proved to be a tangle of three pots of lily ensnared by the plant's thick and rope-like roots.  Although purists pot their water lilies in special black-plastic pans that are the size and depth of dishpans, almost anything can be pressed into action.  When I purchased three small plants of 'Marliaceae Albida' four years ago, the nursery had pressed into service the cheap green pots normally used for hanging baskets. 




Water lilies grow from massive woody rhizomes that send out both leaves and roots every inch of the way.  Only the tip sections need to be harvested for the repotting.  Handling water lily rhizomes is similar to handling scary seafood such as octopus and lobster—except that the lilies don't bite.




Seen end-to-end, the thickness of the rhizome is as clear as its creature-from-the-deep appearance. 




Not all water lilies are monsters.  In the picture below is a demure variety, which I think is 'Virginia'.  Its young foliage is just as colorful as that of 'Marliaceae Albida', but the growth is very compact.  It also needs division badly: the rhizomes—which, in this case, have narrow black roots, not the octopus tentacles of 'Marliaceae Albida'—have crept all the way across the exterior of the pot.




The rhizome tips are dainty—at least comparatively. 




Water lilies respond quickly.  With all the water lilies divided and replanted in fresh soil—see "How to Handle it" below—blooming this Summer should be more frequent and over a longer period of time. 



Here's how to grow these dramatic aquatic perennials:

Latin Name

Nymphaea  'Marliacea Albida'

Common Name

Lady of the Lake


Nymphaeaceae, the Water Lily family.

What kind of plant is it?

Aquatic rhizomatous perennial.


Zones 3 - 10.


Colony-forming, thanks to thick, woody, and potentially wide-spreading rhizomes.  Long-stemmed leaves arising from the base.  The stems extend up to the water's surface, upon which the leaves float.  The stems of the flowers elongate suffciently to hold the blossoms at the water's surface as well.

Rate of Growth


Size in ten years

When grown in submerged containers in a lined pond, water lilies flower best when divided every few years.  In three years, the floating foliage of such a containered clump could fill a circle four feet across.  Planting directly into the bottom of an earthen pond, 'Marliacea Albida' could spread indefinitely.


The growth of container-grown clumps is open, with the floating foliage polka-dotting the water surface, not paving it.  Water lilies growing in earth-bottom ponds can spread so widely, and grow so thickly, that the foliage completely covers the pond, with the leaves jostling together in a thick overlapping mat. 

Grown for

its pure-white flowers, each with a prominent yolk-yellow boss of stamens.  They are freely produced over a long period.


its vigor: 'Marliacea Albida' is easy and reliable.

Flowering season

Summer:  June into September here in Rhode Island.

Color combinations

'Marliaceae Albida' goes with everything, although the yellow stamens are especially lively near plants that also celebrate yellow.

Partner Plants

Water lilies are peculiar in their need for locations that are uncompromisingly full-sun; see "Where to use it" below.  They do best, then, in relative isolation, with open water on all sides.  Further, it's often the case that a water lily looks best placed out in the middle of a water garden, where the only access to appreciate a flower at close-range would be by wading—or boating.  Thank goodness the flowers are so large.  If a water-lily's nearest horticultural neighbor is several feet or even yards away, the whole notion of "partner plants" benefits from a more spacious mindset.


Partner plants are, overwhelmingly, inspired by water lily's relentless horizontality.  Welcome anything that celebrates verticality, even if it's just inches.  Classic pairings are herbaceous: the sword-leaved aquatics such as cat-tails and water iris; aquatic grasses and reeds, such as Scirpus; the ornamental cultivars of Phragmites, and Arundo; and the broader but still predominantly vertical growth of aquatic water cannas and thalia.  (Aquatics with truly broad or even round leaves, such as lotus or ornamental taro, would be repetitious near water lilies.  They, too, need to be partnered with narrow foliage.) 


In my reflecting pond, I'm also experimenting with woody species and cultivars that tolerate or even prefer boggy or directly-aquatic siting: Gold-leaved willow, hardy mangrove, and Italian alder.  Atlantic white cedar and two ornamental cultivars of poplar are next to be trialed.

Where to use it in your garden

Water lilies can only grow aquatically, so their placement in a garden is really a matter of placement of the body of water which contains them.  Because they also prefer full sun, their water garden needs to be sited away from potential shade from buildings or trees.  Even within an otherwise full-sun water garden, water lilies need to be sited away from large colonies of aquatic plants whose growth projects out of the water, such as water iris or cat-tails, which could become tall enough to cast the water lilies into shade in late afternoon. 


'Marliaceae Albida' is a medium-sized water lily, and can be grown in  water gardens of less-than-Olympian dimensions.  A whiskey barrel would be cramped, but an old bath-tub buried to its rim would be swell. 


Water gardens are inherently focal, and look right at home in the most prominent location.  They have such self-possession that they can make even an out-of-the-limelight spot special.


Full sun and good soil.  "Good" does not mean potting soil, which would float out of the pot when you tried to submerge the container.  Instead, use heavy garden soil; the last thing to worry about with aquatic plants is whether the soil permits good drainage!  See "How to handle it" below.  

How to handle it:  The Basics

Purists grow water lilies in shallow plastic containers without drainage holes.  (What plant needs good drainage when growing underwater?)  Dishpans are the right depth and dimension, although they are usually available only in pastel colors that would be distractingly visible when submerged.  Aquatic-plant retailers stock plastic containers that are black.  They are expensive, so instead, I use seven-gallon black nursery pots. 


Fill the pan half-way with heavy garden soil.  Orient the thick rhizome at a 45-degree angle, with the growth tip at the upper end.  Keeping that tip exposed, bury the rest of the rhizome with the soil.  Leave a good half-inch at the top of the container, so you can top the soil with a layer of pea-gravel.  This holds the soil in place as you lower the container into the water.  Be careful the gravel doesn't cover the growth tip.  Slowly lower the container into the water.


Here's a quicker and, so to speak, dirtier way to pot-up water lilies.  Forget about the gravel and the heavy garden soil, and use, instead, hunks of rough turf harvested from where you might have been going to enlarge a current bed.  Or dug from a "back lot" portion of your garden, where it doesn't matter if the ground is suddenly a few inches lower.  This year, I was fortunate to have large swathes of heavy soil that was largely colonized by moss.  And it's also fruiting season for the moss, so it's at its thickest, springiest, and most cohesive: It digs easily with a couple of inches of soil attached.  Fill the bottom half of the pot with turves—shovel-sized hunks of turf or, in this case, moss—placed upside down.  This keeps the attached soil from washing out the bottom holes of the pot.  Then array sections of lily rhizome, coiling up their thick snaky roots as best you can, and fill to the top with right-side-up turves.  Keep the growth tips of the rhizomes pointing to the top and uncovered by the moss.  Stuff extra hunks of moss around the top nooks and crannies, to hold the rhizomes in place and also to keep soil from washing out of the pot as you lower it into the pond. 


Using turves instead of free soil this way, water-lily planting is more like making fluffy Easter baskets, with water-lily growth tips instead of eggs.  And the pots are noticeably lighter because they don't have that top layer of heavy gravel.  


Hardy water lilies survive in any climate as long as they are growing in water deep enough that ice doesn't freeze to the bottom.  They aren't hardy in the way that terrestrially-growing plants are, and couldn't survive having the soil around their roots freeze, as would be normal for, say, peonies growing in Vermont. 


As long as the roots and tubers are safe from frost, let alone the thickening ice, a water lily that's growing in a container or directly in an earth-bottom pond will rest out the cold months happily in chilly but unfrozen Winter water.  For containered or earth-bottomed water lilies in sufficiently deep water, you don't need to do anything in the Fall but wait until Spring for them to resprout. 


If you grow your lilies in a planting pan that's submerged in a comparatively small above-ground water-garden container, though, you need to remove your lily from it and to store it in a frost-free spot.  The entire container itself could freeze solid in serious cold, killing your water lily outright.   If you have the greenhouse or interior space, you could move the entire water garden indoors for the Winter; hardy water lilies will grow year-round when they can.


If, like me, your greenhouse in Winter is cheek-by-jowl already, you'll want to store your hardy water lilies dormant.  Let them experience a real frost (but not a water-garden-as-ice-cube freeze) so the foliage is killed and the plant understands that it's now time to settle down for that long winter's nap.  Then lift the plastic planting tub out of the water garden or pond.

Clip off the dead leaf stems, and turn the pot gently over so the mass of soil, roots, and thick rhizomes tumbles gently out.  Hose through it to expose the rhizomes, and store those somewhat like you would dahlias: in some sort of loose "medium" (potting soil, wood shavings, vermiculite) in humidity but not actual muddy-and-dripping moisture.  The plastic planting tub is great for this: Put a layer of the medium across the bottom, then gently coil the roots and tubers atop it, then gently bury them with more medium.  Store them anywhere that's chilly enough—but still frost-free—to keep them dormant.  Check on them regularly through the winter, sprinkling with water if they seem to be shriveling.


If you have the extra warm-and-sunny greenhouse space in March (but who does?), plant the rhizomes as you did originally, and bring them into growth in shallow water.  Fifteen-gallon galvanized washtubs (you get them at Agway) come in handy here: They're big enough to hold the plastic planting tubs, and deep enough that the top of the tubs can be a couple of inches below the water level.  And they aren't so terribly big that they hog your greenhouse.  This is often the best way to "overwinter" water lilies that you can't, for some reason, just leave submerged in a larger water garden: shorten the Winter.

How to handle it: Another option—or two?

Water lilies that grow in submerged containers benefit from being divided every few years; when they get too crowded, the amount and duration of flowering can suffer.  In climates with severe Winters, where the growing season is comparatively short, you might not need to divide more often than every four years.  In frost-free climates, hardy water lilies can grow year-round, and so you might need to divide them annually.   


Although you can divide water lilies almost any time during their growing season, Spring is the most intuitive, when new growth has appeared but leaves are still making their way upward to the water surface.  Lift the container out of the pond and gently tip it so that the root mass slides out.  If, like me, you've forgotten to divide your water lilies for a few years, the rhizomes will have crept far out of the pot, sometimes enveloping it in a "medusa" of snaky roots and impressively thick rhizomes.  In that case you'll need to hack though things with loppers to free the original pot, let alone release the original soil and rhizomes it still contains.  The rhizomes root and leaf all along their length.  Save the sections you may have needed to lop off just to expose the pot: They're prime new growth—the most important sections to replant.


Hose off the soil to expose the rhizomes.  Cut off the woody older portions of the rhizomes rootstock, leaving 4 - 6" of the healthy rhizomes with the main growing tips.  Most likely, you'll have more sections of rhizome than you need for any one pot.  Even in a large container, such as the seven-gallon nursery pots I use, three or four rhizome tips will be plenty.  Pot-up the rhizomes as above, either the soil-and-gravel method of the purists, or the turves-of-moss-or-grass method of the iconoclasts.

Quirks or special cases

For Homo sapiens, dry-land gardening is the norm, and aquatic gardening is, as a whole, a special case.


Water lilies need their own eccentric amount of tinkering, which often involves wearing waders, let alone handling heavy pots of dripping and sometimes squishy growth.  If you're squeamish about wetness, mud, and slime, forgo aquatic gardening in favor of dry-land. 


Also, you can't grow water lilies if you don't already have a water garden to grow them in. 


There are dozens of hardy water lily hybrids.  Flowers can be white, yellow, pink, apricot, magenta, and a deep raspberry that water-lily retailers persist in calling "red."  There are no hardy lilies with flowers that are truly orange, and only tropical water lilies have flowers that are blue. 


Although there are no single water lilies—and hence no doubles, either—some do have more petals than others.  There are dwarves as well as giants, and some spread more widely in earth-bottom ponds than others.  Some cultivars have foliage that is mottled with purple; some are more tolerant of less-than-full sun. 


Because water gardens are inherently flat, and those that feature water lilies must be fairly open to ensure that the lilies get full sun, it's difficult to have much variety of water lilies in the same pond without the look becoming jumbled.  If you limit your choices by color, you can have more variety.  Specialize in white lilies, or white as well as yellow ones.  Or pink-to-raspberry ones.  Or apricot ones.  Then you can have as many varieties as your pond will hold.  If you want to have a collection focusing on another color, create another pond.  Dwarf water lilies are a real advantage: That "other" pond might be just a whiskey barrel, so you can have a screaming-magenta water lily, too. 


On-line and at specialty retailers.


By division.

Native habitat

Nymphaea 'Marliacea Albida' was hybridized around 1880 in France, by Joseph Latour-Marliac; its ancestry is uncertain, although one parent is likely to be the European white water lily, Nymphaea alba.  Latour-Marliac was the first to hybridize water lilies to produce flowers in colors other than white: yellow, pink, fuchsia, and deep raspberry red.  His exhibition of them at the 1889 World's Fair in Paris was a sensation—particularly with the painter Claude Monet, who soon expanded his gardens at Giverny to include a water garden.  It is stocked with water lilies he ordered from Latour-Marliac, which are the subject of Monet's famous series of paintings, Les Nymphéas.

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