Ihave an old white enamel pan the size of a large book and four inches deep that I am forever growing something in, and at the moment it holds an infant water lily.
Such brains as I have seem to leak out about the middle of April, which is when I start thinking of Projects, none of them very ambitious, but most of them foolish, if judged by strict constructionists.
This year I got a packet of water lily seeds and sowed them in May in the enamel pan. Nothing happened indoors, and as I left for England early in June I set the pan outdoors on the rim of the fish pool. The pan has two inches of dirt and two inches of water, and when I left there was no sign of a sprout.
When I returned there was one tiny water lily, the whole plant no larger than a penny. You had to look closely to be sure it really was a plant and not a fragment of leaf that had blown in.
There were rainstorms and crows and probably coons and certainly the terrier and the hound trotting about the pool rim. And there must have been days the water was all evaporated. So I expected nothing at all, and really I should have 50 plants instead of just one, if the seeds had been properly cared for.
But there it is, and in recent weeks it has grown a good bit and now covers a surface of perhaps 60 square inches. Now I must lift it and set it in a four-inch pot of good tenacious rich clay. Somehow I shall devise a way to set the pot in the pool so four inches of water covers it, and then (if all goes well) I shall move it once more, into a plastic pail and set it back in the pool with about 10 inches of water over it. It may very well bloom by late August or September.
Then it will come in the house for the winter (about Nov. 11) and go back in the pool the end of next May.
There is not much sense growing water lilies from seed. There are dozens of kinds of great beauty already on the market, and my little seedling is almost certainly not going to be as handsome as most of those I already grow.
But the little seedling has lovely olive-green leaves with blotches and streaks of bronze, and tiny as it is, it has that lust for life that is such an attractive feature of all water lilies. It will probably be a semi-double pale lavender with about 12 petals -- you notice I have already got it blooming in my head.
This past week I got an old pottery pitcher and cut 15 water lilies to put in it, for a buddy who has been going round and round with doctors. There were some big yellow ones ('Charlene Strawn') and a couple of shell-pink ones shaded carmine on the outer petals ('Pink Opal') and then the rest were blues or lavenders or purples (the wild Nymphaea colorata, 'Pennsylvania,' 'Blue Star,' 'Mrs. Martin Randig' and 'August Koch').
This year I do not have the wild blue N. gigantea, probably the most beautiful of all water lilies, because of some mishap or other over the winter, when I store the dormant tubers in a cookie tin in damp sand. On the other hand I do have the rose-colored 'Mrs. C. W. Ward' which somehow got into the same tub as 'Pennsylvania,' though I have no recollection of planting her there. I suspect she is from that tuber that was sort of half rotten that I threw in the pool to float loose until I thought of something, and instead of floating she sank down in the whisky barrel holding the blue water lily. Anyhow, there she is, and looking very smart, thank you.
I do not like water lilies in a vase very much, unless there is some good reason for cutting them to give to somebody who doesn't grow them. They are much handsomer just rising out of the water of a fish pool. It doesn't take many of these flowers to make a great impression on the gardener. The only thing I hold against them is they are not open early in the morning, which is the best time to poke about the garden in hot weather. If they were only open at 6 a.m. it would be well, but most of them are not open till about 9 (which of course is 8 a.m., real time) and Mrs. Ward is always the first by a good hour or so, then 'Pennsylvania' and then the others. The miniature yellow 'Helvola' doesn't open till nearly lunch time, and they all close well before sundown.
Still, there are blazing hot weekends. The thing to do is make some onion sandwiches, preferably with Walla Walla onions if you can get them, or maybe Vidalias, or just plain onions in a pinch, and get them very cold in the icebox. Cut them in half and seize two and dash out about noon, munching rapidly to prevent heat stroke. You can then view the water lilies for two or three minutes by the clock, then dash back in the house. This can be repeated a number of times on Saturdays and Sundays while the onion supply lasts. It is not the most leisurely way to view your water lilies, but perhaps the most exciting way. Such a pleasure is totally unknown in all the great gardens of Britain.