It was in 1982 I first decided to experiment with growing water lilies, and decided to do so using a half barrel. I had one red water lily, two water hyacinths, two goldfish, and two or three trapdoor snails. The barrel garden was a terrific success! The following year I installed an in-ground pond, and in successive years kept enlarging my water garden until today it is 1.2 x 5 metres (4x17').
You can easily duplicate my barrel garden for well under $100; the total cost dependant on how resourceful you are! Half barrels are sold at a variety of garden supply outlets, but often also at home improvement centres. Check numerous sources. Some half barrels will be ready for use (the interior having been burned to clean them) while others may need work. At garden supply outlets, there is a plastic interior half barrel liner available. This guarantees no contamination of the water from previous barrel uses (although the burn treatment seems to do this very well).
Though it is possible to grow a large number of water plants in areas that do not receive at least five hours of sunshine daily, water lilies will generally not bloom if they don't receive that five hours. That may mean placing your half barrel or tub at a level above the floor in order to get maximum light. It definitely means water lilies are not suitable for north- and east-facing balconies! It does not mean you cannot grow many other water plants and even one or two somewhat-shade-tolerant hardy lilies, about which more can be found in my book Gardening Off The Ground.
Your balcony or deck water garden need not be a half barrel, but I suggest the size of whatever container you choose should be not less than a half barrel. I have seen old laundry and bath tubs recycled as water garden containers and they serve well! You may also buy your own specially-made pre-formed pool (generally of rigid black Fiberglas or plastic) from any number of garden and building supply dealers. Another route is to build a grid (base) for a pool out of wood or concrete, covering the harsh surfaces with felt cloth, and then installing a PVC pool liner (40 mil recommended). Usually such liners are available in various sizes in garden supply outlets; they should be black or dark green.
If you are designing a pool, an important point to remember is though water lilies and a few other plants like to be placed so that there is at least 30 cm of water over the surface of the soil in their planting container, most other water plants (iris, for example) prefer, or demand to have the soil surface of their container at the surface of the water. This means if you are building a pool to be covered by a PVC liner, or are purchasing one of rigid Fiberglas, plan to have at least one shelf that is only about 20 cm (8") down from the top surface of the pond. This will enable you to set the shallow-water plants where they like to grow. In a barrel or pond without such shelves, it is necessary to build up platforms with overturned pots or bricks for these plants. An alternate way of suspending shallow-water plants in water gardens, is black vinyl-coated wire holders sold at major water garden supply dealers.
If you plan to design and build a water garden pool for your balcony or deck, the depth of water is an important consideration. Hardy water lilies (as opposed to tropical types) are generally able to survive Winters with no additional protection [zone 6] in a pool with a water depth of at least 50 cm (20"). Fish cannot survive Winters unless the water depth is at least twice this, and some oxygen can get to them. However, if you build a pool with a 50 cm depth, you may well be able to keep your hardy lilies over each Winter right at the bottom of the pool.
If you are unable to over-Winter hardy lilies, the next best is to remove the plants, cut back all the foliage and place them (container and all) in a black plastic garbage bag, which you tie tightly closed (to retain moisture). Store this in a cool, frost-free location, perhaps at a friend's or neighbour's who gardens at ground level!
Obviously the number one plant for water gardens are the glorious water lilies. Basically, there are two types (hardy and tropical) which you may want to consider growing. The first, the hardy lilies, come in a number of exciting colours ranging from bright red to pink, yellow, cream and white, with some varieties changing in colour as each flower ages. 'Comanche' for example, starts out an apricot colour and later changes to a copper-bronze. Hardy lilies are best obtained in early Spring, and placed in the pool at about the same time that tender annual flowers and tomato plants are placed permanently outdoors. However, they are still available now, and planted soon, will give you a good show right up until a heavy frost. Hardy lilies will cost around $40 each (depending on their size) at garden supply dealers.
There are at least two hardy water lily varieties which can be considered 'dwarf' in growth habit. Though I do not exclude other larger-growing varieties for use in half-barrels or other containers of this size, the dwarf hardy water lily (Nymphaea pygmea 'Helvola') and the dwarf pond lily (Nuphar pumila) are particularly recommended. Note too that the latter is also capable of growing in shaded conditions.
If purchased by mail-order, hardy lilies may arrive bare root, and need to be planted into an open (mesh-like) basket. It is best to obtain planting baskets from the supplier when you get the plants. For a small young plant, the first planting basket should not be smaller than 15 cm (6") square. If you buy your lilies from a garden supply dealer they may well already be in four- or five-inch plastic pots. While you can grow lilies for the first season without transplanting, the better way is to buy mesh baskets as described, and transplant the lilies before you sink them into the pool. Virtually any soil, even heavy clay, is fine for planting water lilies. Be sure to have each plant's crown (from whence the leaves grow) just above the surface of the soil in the basket. Follow the suppliers' directions.
When transplanting lilies into baskets, or in any case, as soon as you put them in your pool, or in succeeding years, as soon as you see growth coming up, is the time to fertilize. Long-lasting tablets such as Water Garden Plant Food (14-3-3) is ideal in that it will last an entire season—just push them down into the soil at the outside of the pot or basket, burying them at varying depths. Use quantities suggested by the manufacturer (Vigoro). Tablet fertilizer is one important step in preventing algae.
Major "corporate" horticultural news was announced July 30. IMC Vigoro Canada Inc., headquartered in Tillsonburg Ontario, has purchased 100 per cent of So-Green Corp. and its holding company, G.T. Manley & Sons, with head offices in Unionville, Ontario. This acquisition, according to IMC Vigoro president Don Gayford, in a telephone conversation I had with him that day, "makes us the largest manufacturer/marketer of lawn and garden fertilizers in Canada."
The So-Green company will continue to operate as a separate entity, so consumers will still have the distinctive brands and products of the former two companies from which to choose at various retail outlets. John Manley, former So-Green president, is joining IMC Vigoro in a senior marketing capacity.
Vigoro has manufacturing plants in Delta, B.C.; Edmonton, Alberta; Tillsonburg, Montreal and Prince Edward Island; while So-Green's manufacturing is done on a custom basis. The prime marketing office is in Tillsonburg, but Western Canada is serviced from a Winnipeg office.
IMC Vigoro is also manufacturer of Safe Step, a superior ice-melting product that can be safely used on good quality concrete, and around plants. * Art Drysdale is the Horticultural Editor of Plant & Garden magazine and is seen daily each hour at 23 minutes past, on Canada's Weather Network with a two-minute garden tip. In Toronto and environs he is also heard Saturdays from 8 to 10 am, with a live two-hour garden broadcast on TALK640 (640 on the AM dial). this is the end