Say “deep water plants” and most people will instantly think of water lilies, but while they may well be the undisputed stars, they certainly aren’t the only candidates, nor are they always the best choice for every pond.
Although they are often over-looked in favour of their flashier relatives, there’s a good selection of other options to consider and many of them are far better suited to the average garden – especially if shade is a bit of a problem. Here are a few of the best.
Brandy Bottle (Nuphar lutea)
This plant’s common name is said to come from the slight smell of liqueur that its 2 inch (5cm) yellow flowers give off – although other people swear that it’s to do with the shape of the seed pods – which perhaps makes the alternative “Common Pond Lily” a more helpful label. Native to the UK, with its fleshy, oval leaves and cup-shaped blooms it offers all of the look of a water lily, but has one great advantage over its larger flowered cousins – it will tolerate partial shade.
Given the right conditions, however, it can prove rather too vigorous, reaching a spread of two-metres or more in a surprisingly short time, which tends to make it only really suitable for fairly sizeable ponds. For smaller ones, the related N. minima is a good bet, while other suitable varieties that are sometimes seen for sale include N. japonica, N. pumila and the American form,N. advenum, which has larger flowers.
Pond lilies thrive in depths from around one to five feet (30 – 150 cm) of water.
Golden Club (Orontium aquaticum)
The showy Golden Club – one of the Arum lily family – is often grown as a marginal, but it also makes a very striking addition to the deep water planting regime for depths of up to 20 inches (50cm) or so. It likes a lot of soil around its deep roots, so a lily basket is usually the best way to accommodate this plant.
With velvety blue/green foliage and yellow-tipped white flowering spikes thrown a foot (30cm) or more above the surface, Orontium lends a strong architectural feel to any pond, with the bonus of a relatively small spread (20 inches / 50cm), which makes it easy to manage.
Water Fringe or Floating Heart (Nymphoides peltata )
Although this small native plant is actually part of the bogbean family, it looks for all the world like a miniature water lily, providing a profusion of little star-shaped yellow flowers throughout the summer.
It is another good alternative to a true water lily for the smaller garden, although with a spread of slightly less than a metre it can become a nuisance where space is particularly limited unless it is kept in check. Fortunately it can be divided easily in late spring or early summer and its attractive appearance means you shouldn’t have too many problems finding homes for your surplus with other local pond keepers.
Like Nuphar, Water Fringe will also tolerate partial shade, although it favours shallower water, with a maximum planting depth of around 24 inches (60cm).
Water Hawthorn (Aponogeton distachyos)
Between its long flowering season – from spring well into late autumn – non-invasive habits and sweet, slightly vanilla scented blooms, it is not difficult to see why Aponogeton has become firmly established as one of the essential deep water plants for any pond. New plantings can sometimes be a little difficult to get started, but tend to do very well once they do take and the vigorous oval leaves and prolific white flowers more than repay any necessary TLC in the early stages. Water Hawthorn thrives in water of up to 20 inches (50cm) – and often more – but it’s a good idea to acclimatise plants gently, starting them off in a basket at less than half that depth and gradually lowering them to their final position.
For containers, the related A. krauseanus is a smaller alternative worth considering, which can be planted in as little as 4 inches (10cm) of water.
Although Aponogeton has become naturalised in some of the warmer regions of Britain, “home” is South Africa, so while plants may be safe in deep water through most winters, if the conditions are severe it’s probably advisable to lift them and store them inside.
There’s no denying the unparalleled beauty of water lilies, but equally even their most ardent fan would have to admit, they are uncompromising in their demands and successfully growing them can be a real challenge. For the typical pond, it can often be worth thinking about adding one or two other kinds of deep water plants; they have their own unique appeal and after all, nobody said you can’t have lilies too!