(and possibly most important)
The French and the Americans
by Kit Knotts - Click images to enlarge
Nouveaux Nymphaea hybrides
Revue Horticole 1895
© photo Association Edouard André
With new species and subspecies of waterlilies, some quite
colorful, being discovered and brought to cultivation in the
latter half of the 19th century, the possibilities for crossing
them greatly increased. Though Eduard
Ortgies pioneered the technique for purposeful hybridizing
of waterlilies, documented by Jules
Emile Planchon in Flore des Serres et des jardins de l'Europe,
Volume 8, 1852-1853 (French
- English), it seems
that new waterlilies were limited to a fairly small number of
garden varieties for quite some time.
It took an article by Charles
Antoine Lemaire about Nymphaea Devoniensis, which appeared
in the Belgian publication Le Jardin Fleuriste in 1854, to inspire
a Frenchman to explore the potential of hybridizing waterlilies.
He was Joseph Bory Latour-Marliac.
Lemaire and the other writers of the time reported supposed crosses
of hardies with tropicals but there is no evidence any were successful.
Nevertheless, creating them was the dream of many including Latour-Marliac,
as it is of hybridizers today.
We don't know for sure if or when Latour-Marliac found the
Planchon article, or if he developed the technique for hybridizing
waterlilies on his own, but we do know he struggled for some
years before introducing his first hybrid, sending N. 'Marliacea
Chromatella' to Kew Gardens in 1887. A dazzling array of hardy
hybrids followed, more than 100 attributed to him today, making
him arguably the greatest hybridizer of all time. Descriptions
of many of them can be found in articles from Revue horticole.
His own account of his early efforts appeared in The
Garden, 1893. There he claimed to have successfully crossed
hardy lilies with tropical night bloomers but there is no scientific
evidence to support this.
Nymphaea odorata sulfurea and
Revue Horticole 1890 - Image from Shigitatsu
At about the same time, another Frenchman, Antoine
Lagrange, was introducing new hybrids as well. His first,
N. 'Marie Lagrange', named for his wife, was a deep pink tropical
night bloomer and was introduced in his 1899 Catalogue. In the
following years, Lagrange introduced a succession of tropical
day and night bloomers as well as some hardies.
Nymphaea 'Marie Lagrange'
Revue Horticole 1899 - © photo
Association Edouard André
Though none of the Lagrange cultivars are still in cultivation,
there was obviously a rivalry between Lagrange and Latour-Marliac
at the time. Both entered numerous competitions, winning top
prizes for their creations, and vied for prominence in France.
It was Lagrange who provided the aquatic plants for the most
prestigious lily pond in France, Paris' Bagatelle, from 1908
through at least 1912, featuring many of his own creations and
those of other hybridizers. After that, it was the Establishment
Latour-Marliac that provided the plants. Aquiculture Lagrange
ceased to exist for reasons we don't know.
The competitions and exhibitions may provide the reason some
of the cultivars reported in the literature of the time have
disappeared. Could it be that these were fabulous hybrids, worthy
of admiration and prizes, but difficult or impossible to propagate?
A possible example of this appeared in a report on "Les
Plantes Aquatiques a l'Exposition et Les Nymphéacées
Nouvelles", Revue horticole 1900: Latour-Marliac's N.
'Mosaique'. The description is similar to that of N. 'Arc-en-Ciel'
but it was only mentioned the one time.
Impressionist painter Claude Monet played an important role in
popularizing waterlilies. At Painting-Photography-France.com, "The
Lot-et-Garonne and Claude Monet", we find this:
Waterlilies, Green Reflection, Left Part
Image from WebMuseum
". . . He once said, 'It took me time to understand my nymphaea;
I planted them for pleasure without dreaming of painting them.
Suddenly I felt there were fairies in my pond. I took up my brushes
and palette and, since then, it has been almost my sole model.'
. . . Situated close to the confluence of the rivers Baise, Lot
and Garonne, Les Ets Botaniques Latour-Marliac was founded in
1875 by Joseph Latour-Marliac who created the first hardy hybrid
nymphaea in multiple colours. When these incredible hybrids were
exhibited in Paris they caught the attention of Claude Monet
whereupon he immediately began placing orders for them for his
garden at Giverny. In 1904, whilst on his way to Spain, he came
here to the Lot-et-Garonne to see for himself the source of his
At the same time that Latour-Marliac and Lagrange were changing
the waterscape in Europe, several Americans were hoping to do
the same in the United States. Edmund
D. Sturtevant opened the first aquatics nursery in the US
in 1876, located in Bordentown, New Jersey. He assembled an extensive
collection of waterlilies from all over the world, introducing
many to the public, including several of his own chance seedlings,
largely hybrids of N. gracilis. Sturtevant moved the nursery
to the milder climate of Hollywood, California, about 1894. In
1921, it was sold to Harry Johnson and it became Johnson Cactus
and Water Gardens.
Already well established as a seed and bulb company based in
A. Dreer Nurseries ventured into aquatics sometime in the
early 1890's. The nurseries were located in Riverton, New Jersey.
They are perhaps best known in water gardening for introducing
N. 'James Brydon', N. 'Wm. Doogue' and N. 'William Falconer'
in 1900, the first American hardy hybrids thought by some to
rival Latour-Marliac's creations.
Victoria at Dreer's Nurseries
Image from Riverton Public School Riverton Project
published his classic book, The Water Garden, in 1897. In it
he described Nymphaea pulcherrima, later known as N. 'Blue Beauty',
as a "Garden hybrid of American origin". The description
indicates that this perhaps best known Tricker hybrid was a chance
seedling of N. caerulea rather than the result a purposeful cross.
It was very similar to a hybrid created by Henry
S. Conard in 1900 named N. 'Pennsylvania', also later known
as N. 'Blue Beauty'. To understand how this occurred, read The Saga
of 'Blue Beauty'.
Image from The Waterlilies by Henry S. Conard
Two great gardens in St. Louis, Missouri, were also deeply involved
with the development of waterlily hybridization thanks to Henry
Shaw. He opened what later became Missouri Botanical Gardens
to the public and hired James
Gurney, recently from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, as
head gardener in 1867. The next year, Shaw founded Tower Grove
Park, where water features were an integral part of the design.
Gurney was largely responsible for the design and became superintendent
on Shaw's death. He became well known for his work with waterlilies,
particularly night blooming tropicals, so appropriate for the
excellent lighting for evening viewing at Tower Grove Park.
"Back in the early 20th century, working
people were only free to go to the Park at night. This is why
James Gurney concentrated on developing night flowering waterlilies.
The Park was illuminated by bright arc lights atop tall poles."
-- Walter Pagels, personal communication, December, 2005.
86K | Larger
The stage was now set for a new and revolutionary
Next - Missouri Botanical Gardens' George H.
André, Edouard. Revue horticole, 1900.
Berghs, Father J.M. Articles in Water Garden
Berry, B.C. "Nocturnal Hybrid Water-lilies
of the Late James Gurney". Missouri Botanical Garden Bulletin,
10(9), November 1922, p. 147-150.
Conard, Henry S. The Waterlilies, A Monograph
of the Genus Nymphaea. The Carnegie Institution of Washington.
1905, Chapter VII.
Innes, William T. Goldfish Varieties and Water
Gardens. Innes Publishing Company, Philadelphia 1947, 1949.
Latour-Marliac, J.B. HARDY
HYBRID WATER LILIES. THE GARDEN, March 18. 1899.
Extract from a paper read before the Royal Horticultural Society,
August 9, 1898.
Masters, Charles O. Encyclopedia of the water-lily.
T.F.H. Publications Inc. Ltd., Neptune City, NJ 1974.
Botanical Garden Web Site.
"The Lot-et-Garonne and Claude Monet".
Pagels, Walter. The
Saga of Blue Beauty.
Pagels, Walter. Personal communication, December,
Planchon, Jules Emile. 'Ortgiesiano-rubra',
Flore des Serres et des jardins de l'Europe, Volume 8, 1852-1853
(French - English)
Robinson, William. 1887, . Canary
Water Lily. THE GARDEN, July 23, 1887.
Robinson, William & Latour-Marliac, B.
The New Hardy Waterlilies.
The Garden, December 23, 1893.
Sturtevant, Edmund D. Aquatics in California.
Garden and Forest, December 9, 1896
Tower Grove Park Web Site.
Tricker, William. The Water Garden. A.T. La
Mare Printing and Publishing Co., Ltd., New York, 1897.
Victoria-Adventure Web Site, Biographies
Vilmorin, Maurice-L. LES NYMPHAEA RUSTIQUES
(THE HARDY WATERLILIES - English)
Revue horticole 1891.
Part 1 - The First Hybrid Waterlilies
Gallery of Next Hybrids Images | Named
Waterlilies | Water Gardening's History