PAD OUT YOUR POND; IN THE GARDEN; If you fancy growing water lilies, Diarmuid talks you through a few simple steps to get the most fabulous results.
at beside a shimming rectangular pond on the edge of a low wall I'm just outside the walled city of Marrakech in Morocco.
SIn 1922 French painter Jacques Majorelle purchased what was then a grove of palm trees, commissioned architect Paul Sinoir to design an Art Deco studio and, being interested in all things botanical, set about creating an amazing lush garden.
The workshop and surrounding structures were painted an ultramarine blue in 1922 which defines it to this day.
But I'm gazing beyond the blue to the tank of glorious water lilies which float serenely, soaking up the midday sun.
Of course Majorelle wasn't the first painter to be seduced by gardens or water lilies.
In the 1890s Claude Monet developed a Japanese water garden at his home in Giverny, France. The lilies that floated on his pond were to become the central theme of his most glorious paintings.
So enchanted with the species was he that he painted over 250 water lily canvases in the last 30 years of his life, immersing himself in nature in his outdoor studio. For thousands of years these exotic aquatic plants have mesmerised gardeners.
Their beauty and mysterious appearance sometimes convince people that they are beyond cultivation for ordinary people. But luckily this isn't so. If you provide the basics, they are tough as old boots, with varieties available to suit many situations. They can be grown very easily in garden ponds big or small, or even in tubs or waterproof containers on a patio or balcony.
Aquatic plants tend to be something of a mystery to those who garden in beds, borders or plant up potted displays.
But water lilies are so similar to many other species. They are tubers which are planted in compost, then submerged in water where they will send up shoots. Their leaves float like pads on the water's surface, before their flowers emerge in the sunlight from spring to autumn.
They last for two or three days and delight with open displays during daylight hours in a myriad of colours. The ones we grow in Western Europe are the hardy varieties and are dormant in the winter and can be left in the water.
How to grow water lilies...
1 Water lilies prefer still, non-moving water and a temperature which remains fairly constant. Pick the sunniest part of your pond as they love light and warm conditions and will not flower well in shade.
2 Buy them at a garden centre which specialises in aquatic plants - this will ensure that you get good guidance. Check that the stock beds haven't been infested with aquatic weeds... you only want to buy the lilies, not another piggyback species which may become invasive overnight.
3 Ensure that you choose plants which are just right for the size of pond or container you have. Varieties vary, from dwarf to ones that are greedy for space. And make sure the plants look healthy.
4 Buy the appropriate sized basket (pot) and soil-based compost as recommended by the garden centre. If you have to re-pot your chosen specimens before setting in the pond, water well before placing.
5 When you do place the plant in the pond or container ensure it is about 10 inches below the surface of the water. You may have to prop the pot up on some carefully placed bricks to reach this height. As your plants grow you can lower the levels of brick until eventually your pots/baskets sit squarely on the bottom.
6 Remove any decaying vegetation such as dying flowers or damaged foliage. Try to ensure that roughly 60% of the surface of the water is covered by foliage and add some oxygenating plants to complement the aquatic ecosystem.
7 Introduce some fish, but not too many, and don't add additional feed to your plants as that can encourage algae.
8 Ask your stockist for recommendations of species. And here's one from me - try some nymphaea which have achieved merit status with the Royal Horticultural Society: For small ponds or containers try nymphaea 'Pygmaea Helvola'. They have sweet-looking green leaves with some purple markings and spread 1ft-18in. They produce canary yellow blooms through the summer.
Nymphaea 'Paul Hariot' will thrive in medium-sized ponds. It has purple leaves and one plant will reach a spread of around 4ft. The beautiful and dramatic flowers change from apricot to pinkish-orange as they mature.
Nymphaea 'Escarboucle' produces red flowers and has a spread of up to 8ft. The blossoms can reach a width of 1ft through summer but you will require a pond with a depth of 3ft or 4ft to sustain healthy growth