Good to Grow: Lily pads and fish ponds

Today I went to visit a lily pond. I had seen the photos and heard a few rumors; let’s just say it did not disappoint and provided the perfect mid-day retreat.

Tucked behind a grassy bottom where deer fawns often play and up a long gravel driveway is a white farmhouse with an inviting front porch and a nearby forest of trees. With this view, it’s no wonder the porch is where my friend has created her makeshift office.

After a quick greeting and inspection by their pup Walter, we were off to the pond. First, I heard the fountain and then there it was, two blooming water lilies floating in the water with goldfish darting through the leaves. It was storybook beautiful.

My experience with ponds is a fishing pond at my grandfather’s farm that provided childhood entertainment and a place for the animals to cool off, so I had a lot to learn about this lily pad aquatic garden.

Susie and Bobby created this pond about 12 years ago. It’s not huge, maybe the size of a 5-foot-by-7-foot area rug, and built from stones found on the property. It is not the width, but the depth of the pond that lets the lilies and fish survive the Appalachian winters.

There are two types of water lilies, hardy and tropical. The hardy cultivars are perennials in zones 3-10. The tropical and night blooming water lilies need a water temperature of 70 degrees or above, so for our area tropicals should be removed from the water and stored inside during the winter months.

To plant hardy water lilies, place the tuber in a plastic pot with several air holes, and submerge into the pond, generally 12 inches to 18 inches deep. Keep in mind you want to use heavy soil such as clay; a potting mix, which is light and fluffy, will just float away into the water.

After planting, it won’t be long before plant leaves become lily pads on top of the water. These leaves provide shade for fish and a place they can hide from harm (or photographers), as well as a landing spot for frogs.

Other aquatic plants growing in the pond were Green Arrow Arum, which created some height and is also grown in a submerged container, and the common water hyacinth. The water hyacinth looks like hydroponic lettuce floating in water and is fast-growing. It does need to be thinned out through the season or it will cover the pond and restrict the light needed for underwater life.

This pond has an abundance of goldfish. They are fun and add an extra layer of life to the pond. Bobby says some are at least 10 years old and proof that given the right cover and depth of water, they are survivors, even in this woodland setting. Susie has photos of an owl who visits regularly and sits on the edge watching them dart about the water.

A fountain or aerator is a good idea. Susie and Bobby installed a pump and waterfall that run year-round. They may have to clear off the snow and ice in the winter, but running it all year gives the fish oxygen even when the pond is frozen.

My visit was timed to see the lilies in bloom. Water lilies can be pink, white, orange or red; these were a vibrant yellow. Stunning and peaceful in the hot sun, the blossoms open in the morning and close about dinnertime each day, repeating this for 3 to 4 days. Once the bloom has faded, it is a good idea to remove it from the water to prevent disease.

A couple of days sounds quick to enjoy these beauties, but no worries — I could see plenty of buds forming just under the water surface.

Many aquatic plants are considered invasive, so planting them in a pot is recommended. If a pond is out of your reach, consider a large container. The same principles apply — pick a sunny spot, add a filter or pump, submerge plants and add maybe a fish or two, then “ta da!” you have a water garden.

As I headed to my car, I was happy. I had spent time outside, safely visited with friends, had been accepted by the pups, and even briefly seen Froggy, the bashful bullfrog. And oh, the beautiful aquatic blossoms. My visit to the lily pond was a success.