Water Features, Water Lilies, Lotus Plants

The Garden of Eden had a river running through it and, ever since, nearly all memorable gardens have had water features.
The first formal gardens, planted in Egypt 3,500 years ago, were arranged in straight lines along irrigation channels.  In our own times, an oasis garden, whose design invariably includes a water feature of some kind together with a variety of citrus and other evergreen fruit trees, offers an escape from the long stretch of hot and dry weather that takes up most of the year in Los Angeles and the Southwest.
When the weather is hot, there is no saving grace like a water garden. Actually, no matter what the weather, a water feature will transform virtually any garden into more of a garden – that is, more of a refuge from the outside world – than it otherwise would be.
When you step into a backyard and hear the sound of or catch the sight of a water feature, you are immediately drawn to it and removed from the chaotic hubbub of your job and freeway commute.  The effect is instantly settling, tranquilizing, and therapeutic — an environmental shot of Prozac, so to speak.
For a soothing effect, nothing can match the movement of water. Its sound pulls you magnetically into the garden. You don’t have to build a waterfall to produce the desired result. Submersible pumps are inexpensive units that create all the splash and gurgle you need. They are effective in any water feature, whether on level or inclined terrain.
A water pond need only be 20 inches deep. It can be any size or shape and should be moderately sloped on the sides. Plastic liners are what most experts recommend for holding the water.  They are easy to install and relatively inexpensive. You can put a plastic liner in a whiskey barrel on the balcony or in any sized excavation in the backyard.
It is not recommended to plant a water garden in the shade. Flowering water plants are sun lovers, and they require at least six daily hours of direct sunlight to strut their petals. When a tree is allowed to grow up over a water garden, not only is light stolen from the aquatic plants, but tree roots may grow through the pond liner, causing leakage.  If leaves do blow onto the surface of your pond, remove them immediately. When leaves settle on the bottom of a pond, they remove oxygen and encourage the growth of algae.
Water lilies (Nymphaea spp.) are everyone’s favorite pond plants.  They may be found growing all over the world in both temperate and tropical zones.  Cold hardy water lilies are the most widely grown.  They disappear into dormancy in winter but come back each spring. Their flowers are yellow, pink, red, or white.  Tropical water lilies, famous for blue and violet colors, are more fragrant but are killed by frost.

variegated tropical water lilies

Currently, there is a wonderful collection of water lilies with variegated leaves on display in Bel Air at the Skirball Cultural Center.

Lotus plants (Nelumbo spp.) are related to water lilies but their habitat is restricted to Asia and Australia.  Flowers are also available in a variety of colors.  Lotus rhizomes are widely consumed in Asian countries and China devotes 750,000 acres to growing them, the same number of acres utilized in the United States for growing citrus fruit.  Lotus plants also go dormant in winter but are highly resilient, often living for more than a thousand years. Not too long ago, a lotus seed found in a dry river bed in China, estimated to be 1,300 years, was planted and germinated.  Each lotus fruit is highly visible, resembling the sprinkling attachment you see on a watering can.

Echo Park lotus, photo courtesy of Pexels

There is an annual lotus festival in Echo Park — this year it falls on July 14th and 15th — where you can feast your eyes on a large expanse of lotus in Echo Lake.  Not long ago, all the lotus plants in Echo Lake, which had been there since the 1920s, died.  Thanks to Randy McDonald, an aquatics plant grower in Reseda who had taken cuttings from those plants while they were still alive, restoration of the original Echo Lake lotus was achieved.

Tip of the Week:   Sunland Water Gardens not only grows 200 varieties of water plants, but carries pumps, filters and pond liners as well as goldfish, koi, turtles, frogs, tadpoles and water snails.  Sunland Water Gardens is located at 9948 Sunland Boulevard. The gardens are open to the public 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday. For more information, visit sunlandwatergardens.com or call (818) 353-5131.

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