On my recent trip to Philadelphia I was reminded, while at Longwood Gardens, just how much I miss having waterlilies in bloom. My grandmother had a “lily pond” when I was growing up–nothing more than an old bathtub that had been buried in the ground up to its rim with a few stones laid around the edges, but it worked. Each spring I would go down and spend a day or two with Granny and we’d get the garden cleaned up and go through the ritual of going down into the cellar and hauling the rubber washtub that the waterlily was planted in up the flight of old stone steps. Granny wasn’t a very big woman and I was probably only 9 or 10 years old at the time, so we’d struggle and heave and haul until we’d wrangled the thing up the steps, then drag it across the yard and plunk it down over the side of the “pool” that we had just spent the morning mucking out and scrubbing clean.
The waterlily was the old tried-and-true yellow ‘Chromatella’, as I recall. It was cold enough in Kansas that Granny’s small “water garden”, as it were, froze solid in the winter, so she overwintered the waterlily, pot and all, in the cellar. We hauled it down in the fall and back up in the spring every year for as long as I can remember. We would check the tubers, make sure they were still alive–maybe remove a few if the plant seemed to crowded–and then she would topdress the pot with some old chunks of cow manure scraped up out of the neighbors pasture and top that off with gravel from the driveway to keep the mussing up of the water to a minimum. We had, after all, just scrubbed the pond clean!
So as we were walking through the magnificent water gardens at Longwood a few weeks ago, it brought back many memories. Not just memories of my summer at Longwood, but memories of summers long past–of Granny, the old bathtub, the musty smell of the cellar after being closed up all winter long and of the first waterlily flower to open each summer. Who says you can’t go back?
(The waterlily pictured here is not the old-fashioned hardy ‘Chromatella’, but instead is a tropical lily called ‘St. Louis Gold’. It’s one of my favorites of the tropical clan and was in its full glory a few weeks ago when we were visiting Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA, near Philadelphia.)