Tuesday, January 7, 2014

A Day at the Water Gardens

Thanks to a tip off from an article in the Gardening Australia magazine, our family took a day trip to Melbourne's east to visit the magical Blue Lotus Farm, a property devoted to the cultivation (and breeding?) of lotus and waterlilies. It really is a wonderland - lake after lake, linked by little wooden bridges, the water surface barely visible under a carpet of leaves and scattered everywhere with flowers. There are the tall, nodding bowl shaped blooms of the lotus, their strange, perforated centers foreshadowing the distinctive, woody pepper-pot seedpods they will become. And, amidst the shiny green lilypads, resting on the surface like floating crowns, the sweet, sherbet-coloured blooms of the waterlilies.  

Inspired by the charmingly ubiquitous water gardens of Bali, I've been dying set up my own bowl gardens at home. And so, after wandering through acres of gorgeous lotus and lilies, snapping heaps of photos, scoffing a delicious picnic and testing to see if saliva rolls magically off lotus leaves the way water does (it does indeed), I bought, from the adjoining nursery, a sweet little pink lotus and a teeny tiny, yellow flowering waterlily, both suitable for growing in smallish bowls.

But it's not just the Balinese water gardens that inspired me. I have to admit that I have a thing for waterlilies. I have had since a year 12 biology trip to Stradbroke Island. As a massive nature nerd, this camp was one of the highlights of my year - tramping around with my friends, staying in cabins and cooking our own food, showing off my knowledge of flora and fauna (I was unbearable), swimming in tea-coloured freshwater lakes, swimming at the beach, collecting data, collecting plants, spotlighting for possums and, so romantic I can hardly believe it happened, walking at night along the beach with the curly-haired, surfer boy of my teenage dreams while phosphorescent waves broke magically on to the shore. On the last day of the camp, the teachers drove us to a swamp that was covered in brilliant blue waterlilies, their mysterious perfume filling the air with an strange, sweet scent. I don't recall what the educational point of the trip was but I do know it involved wading into the swamp, taking some kind of measurements and getting very wet and very muddy. 

Once we'd finished collecting the data, we picked bunches of the lovely blue-purple lilies before emerging from the swamp to discover our legs were covered with blood-engorged leeches. Someone took a wonderful photo of my friend Ruth and I, up to our waists in the swamp, grinning at the camera, our hands full of waterlilies while another friend behind us shrieks her way into a leech-induced panic attack. On the bus and barge home to Brisbane, I sat next to the curly-haired surfer boy, the lilies cradled carefully in my lap and for the next week they sat in the kitchen in a glass of water, opening every morning like glowing purple stars and filling the house with their incredible scent.

testing spit on lotus leaves
A spot of internet research suggests that these magical lilies were probably Nymphaea cerulea, the Egyptian Blue Waterlily, not native to Australia but naturalised along much of the east coast. However, Australia does have native waterlily species (Nymphaea spp.) as well as lots of other wonderful aquatic plants. Click here the link for an excellent summary of native water plants by Nick Romanowski, who's an expert on the subject. Turns out, the lovely sacred lotus (Nelumbo nucifera) which features so prominently in the art and mythology of Asia, is native to Australia as well.  I suspect both waterlilies and lotuses were eaten by Indigenous groups in Northern Australia but a quick Google search failed to reveal any reliable information on this.

Sadly I won't be growing native waterlilies, or the gorgeous, scented blue Egyptian variety. My new lily purchase has tiny, butter yellow flowers that don't really smell. And while my lotus is the same species at those growing in monsoonal lakes up North, it's a specially bred miniature variety without the fabulously weird pockmarked center. However, my enthusiasm remains un-dampened. I wish I could say the same for my shoes.

my little lotus

teeny tiny water lilies

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