When we were growing up in West Bengal, we took the lotus and water lily for granted. Not their beauty, but their presence. It’s only when you shift to places with fewer natural water bodies that their absence strikes you.
The beauty of the water lily—its leaves float on the water, unlike those of the lotus, that stick out above the surface—is inspiring. Claude Monet, painting in his dream-like garden, has immortalized them in his works. Says avid gardener and Ikebana master Rekha Reddy: “The shape of the water lily and its sight are pleasant and divine.” Reddy speaks from experience. She keeps a beautiful garden in Hyderabad—guess what the latest addition to her Eden is? An unusual peach water lily. Water lilies come in various shades: pink, peach, white, blue, red, even yellow.
The water lily is more versatile than you may have believed it to be. During a shoot at a well-appointed home in south Delhi once, we strolled on to the balcony for a breather. There, in a large ‘urli’, grew water lily. When we asked the woman of the house about it, she said it brought with it a definite calm. At another shoot in Kolkata, I remember how disappointed we were that the morning was overcast and the water lily was most reluctant to show off its petals. You can actually sit out one morning and watch the petals open out to the sun. There are water lilies that bloom at night, but most prefer the day.
Although water lilies grow best in a pond or some standing water, you can grow them in smaller containers, which is just what the apartment dweller dreamt of. Assures Sunita Singh, who grows them in a small balcony, “I’ve had huge success placing the water lilies in a cement tub that I fill with water.”
It is the width of the pot, more than the depth, that matters to the water lily. If you find that the plant has spread and crowded the small space in a couple of years, it may be time to re-pot and divide the tubers.
As Reddy says, “It is so much a part of our culture and it is easy to fall in love with, so you want one of these plants and you want to watch it grow.” The water lily is as local as you and I are, so it is not too difficult to grow. You can pick one up from some nursery. Since the lilies proliferate horizontally, a wider tub is a better long-term investment.
Try not to use a pot with a hole at the bottom and opt for a heavy clay loamy soil rather than the usual grainy potting soil. You could add a thin layer of gravel at the top to help keep the soil in place, but make sure it is not too heavy, since that would stifle the young shoots that push their way through from time to time. In fact, even when you are planting the lily, let the tip of the tuber show.
The flowers respond to sunlight, so place the tub where it gets some hours of direct sun. Once you have chosen the location, place the tub in water with at least 6 inches of stem under water. Make sure that the water level is constant, since evaporation can rob your water body of moisture. “Once the root stabilizes in the pot or in the pond, the plant grows very easily,” assures Reddy.
Lilies in the time of dengue and chikungunya can require some attention from you. Make sure you change the water regularly and to be safer still, add some fish like guppies. They will feed on any larvae.
Uma Prasad, who has a postgraduate degree in plant pathology and soil microbiology, says: “I recommend organic fertilizers like vermicompost and neem cake once in three months. Neem cake also acts like a pesticide.” Just remove infected leaves when leaf spots show up.
Apart from that, this is a fuss-free plant. “The only time there was a problem was when I had a pair of ducks as pets for my kids,” recalls Reddy. “They loved the leaves of the water lily and insisted on playing day in and out in the large pots with our precious water lilies, till the plant almost died!”
Now, you know better.