AGAINST ALL ODDS
The Little Nelumbo
by Juli Carbonell, Caracas, Venezuela
Click images to enlarge
Three years ago on a visit to Paradise
(Kit and Ben's Knotts' home and garden in Florida, USA) I became
enchanted with Nelumbos. Kit, always surrounded by all
things beautiful, later obliged giving me some tubers to bring
back to my home town, Caracas.
A few words about my town. Caracas, the capital city of Venezuela, 10´30´N
66´55´W, lies in a narrow valley 3,000 feet (914
meters) above sea level, at the foot of our Cerro Avila (7,400
feet [2256 meters] a.s.l) which separates it from the Caribbean
Sea. We live in Los Chorros, northeast of the city, an old coffee
plantation which around 1920 was subdivided into large plots
of land. Here well-to-do "caraqueños" built
European style villas to which they would retire from the old
town during the hot summer months for what was called then "temperamentos".
The city grew encompassing all those big houses, the land was
In one of those smaller plots our home, La Hechicera (The
Sorceress), was built. We are very close to the mountain
and our house is surrounded with very tall mango trees, which
shade all our property. Thus when we moved there ten years ago
the only place to grow my orchids was the roof of our house that
rises above the tallest trees. The orchids grew beautifully.
By the magic of Internet I became acquainted with Guillermo
Angulo and through him with the Knotts. The rest is history.
We came together with some other friends and started the Caracas Victoria
Society. Kit supplied us with Victoria seeds and Nymphaeas
and our adventure began.
But something was missing. Every time I saw the beautiful
ponds pictured on the Victoria-Adventure web site my love for
the awesome Nelumbos grew. Guillermo advised me against
growing them in the same pond as Nymphaeas, as they seem
to crowd out all other plants. There was in La Hechicera
no place to grow a Nelumbo except on the house´s
flat roof, but architect Sonia
Angeli, my friend and fellow CVS´er, advised against
building a pond on the roof. The consequences could be dire,
but since she knew of my desire to grow Nelumbos, for
my birthday she gave me as a gift a concrete pot, 3 feet in diameter
and 2 feet deep which, when filled with water, posed no danger
to the roof.
Happily I came back from Paradise in October 2004 with my
cache of Nelumbos well hidden in my handbag. With the
silliest smile on my face and great fear in my heart I breezed
thru customs, hoping that I would not be searched. Safe in Caracas
I gave Sonia some tubers
and proceeded to plant the others in a plastic pail, with the
idea of later trasplanting them to the concrete pot. Days went
by and nothing happened. Days turned into months and nothing
happened. Despairing I read again all instructions, wrote Guillermo
and Kit. Their advice: PATIENCE. Then about six months later,
the first floating leaves developed. Very excited we placed the
tuber in a round clay pot on top of a cinder block inside the
concrete pot full of water.
When everything seemed to be working the leaves turned yellow
and started dying, the culprits little black aphids. I believed
I could deal with these critters with the same insecticides I
use on my orchids, alas not so! The leaves that had survived
proceeded to die after I sprayed them with petrolate. I wrote
again to Kit and Guillermo. Their advice was to cut back all
the dead leaves, repot the runners in new medium, hope and pray.
It's 2006, one year and a half since I first planted my Nelumbo.
Finally new floating leaves, soon the risers. The black killers
came back, but this time I knew better. Hose them off was the
advice which I followed with no hesitation. Yet still no flowers.
By now the Nelumbo project was well known among my friends
and family, and everybody had something to say. More fertilizer;
I obliged. Maybe the water is too hot; take the cinder block
out, lower the clay pot; and add more water. Again I obliged.
Shade the leaves, maybe the sun is too bright and harms them.
This time the advice came from Bolivar my handyman, who proceeded
to place some potted Areca palms around the concrete pot,
shading the leaves.
I have no idea if all of the above worked or if it was just
serendipity, but you can imagine the joy of all involved when
FINALLY a bud started growing. No bud has ever been so closely
watched as this one was. Every day we had to give reports on
is condition. It seems it took forever to grow. About a month
later the most beautiful flower opened, its petals paper white
and translucent, rising proudly above the leaves.
Everybody and then some came to see this wondrous gift of
nature. Pictures were taken, e-mails sent, congratulations received.
Two days later, the petals fell off, the flower died, tears came
out of my eyes. Such beauty, so fast to go.
Happy rooftop gardeners
Bolivar and Juli
admires the flower
For three weeks we were away from Venezuela. We went to Bogotá,
Colombia, to visit with Guillermo Angulo at his beautiful Tegualda.
There we saw two Victorias in bloom and many, many orchids,
but no Nelumbo. Something had happened to his big pond
and all had died. I commiserated, knowing well the pain he must
have suffered on this loss.
On our return to Caracas I harvested the seeds, and following
TO THE LETTER the
instructions, was able to sprout seven. Two babies were given
to Mr. Jan Tillet, Head Gardener at the Jardín Botánico de Caracas
along with about 3 feet of runners that I cut when I repotted
my Nelumbo, which is no longer little but has turned into
a huge plant that most certainly can!