The elusive hardy blue waterlily….

Nymphaea 'Purple Fantasy'

Nymphaea ‘Purple Fantasy’
(Pic: Tamara Kilbane)

Back in the late 1800s the only hardy waterlilies available were white or pink and very occasionally red. Then a Frenchman (Latour-Marliac) succeeded in hybridising waterlily species drawn from different parts of the world, and gave us yellows, more reds, and a cluster of copper-orange varieties. The garden world marvelled at the range, and Monet filled his ponds with the new varieties. Following Marliac’s death in 1911, the numbers of new varieties dropped to a trickle. No other hybridisers seemed to share quite the same knack of picking the right parent lilies to cross.

By the 1980s-90s new hybridisers had finally broken through this barrier, and a multitude of exciting new cultivars started to appear, including eyecatching new peach colours which are already popular with my customers… but no hardy blues.

It is only in the last five or so years that successful crosses between hardy lilies and tropical blue lilies have been made, firstly in Thailand, and then in the USA. Some of the resulting lavender and purple lilies have recently been trialled at Denver Botanic Gardens as part of the International Waterlily and Water Gardening Society’s New Waterlily Competition (I was privileged to be on the panel of judges). One of the new winners is shown above.

Tamara Kilbane reports in the latest IWGS Water Garden Journal that some of the new hybrids have proved hardy even in Denver’s harsh winters, so I very much look forward to some of these hardy blue/purple varieties making their way to Europe where hopefully they will make as big an impact as those yellow and orange varieties did in Victorian times. Hardy blues are here to stay!

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