The Lotus: Simple and Sensational

Nelumbo nucifera ‘Alba Striata’ bloomed the first season.

The lotus is definitely one of the most dramatic blooms in my garden. The distinctive bloom—held high on its stem—is one of those things you really can call “startlingly beautiful.” Its form is striking, yes. But look inside, and you’ll be amazed by the bright-yellow seed capsule, surrounded by golden filaments that support the anthers. Another one of its startlingly qualities is the fragrance. To my nose, neither good nor bad, but like no other.

The bud, about a week before blooming.

The lotus is easily grown in a tub or barrel. You don’t need to have a pond. (What’s more, overwintering lotuses is simple, too.) I order my lotuses by mail at this time of year. There’s a short window of time (only in the spring) when the rhizomes can be dug and shipped as bareroot plants. This year, I’m going to try two new varieties: Baby Doll, a miniature from Perry’s Water Gardens and Daintiest, another small variety from Lilypons Water Gardens.

When the rhizomes arrive, you plant them in a plastic bucket of heavy garden soil that can be amended with well-aged manure. I use a 8″-deep (12″ dia.), plastic buckets that I get at a home goods store. Once the rhizome is seated in the mud, I lower the bucket into my water garden, which is a glazed ceramic pot. The key is to get the soil surface 4-6″ below the water surface. If the planting pot is too low, raise it with some flat stones or bricks.

Alba Striata at the end of the summer, showing its distinctive foliage.

Give the plant as much sun as possible. The first leaves to emerge are the floaters, which sit on the surface of the water—just like waterlilies. After that, you’ll get some of the dramatic parasol leaves, which rise above the surface of the water. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a bloom or two. But even if it doesn’t bloom, the leaves are gorgeous and tropical. Water beads on the surface of the leaves in a magical way.

Lotuses don’t come cheap. You can expect to pay about $30-40 for a mail-order plant. To me, it’s worth it because the plants are simple and spectacular. If it doesn’t bloom the first year, hold the tuber over the winter, bring it out in spring. And get ready. You won’t be disappointed.

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