Charles Day is Wave Hill’s Ruth Rea Howell Horticultural Interpreter.
Impossible to miss in the Aquatic Garden, the giant water lily (Victoria amazonica) spreads itself over a large portion of the pond. Exotic-looking, and tropical in origin (from the Amazon, no less), it has huge, circular leaves with upturned edges, which offer a view of the undergirding structure of ribbed veins.
Joseph Paxton, a head gardener of a great estate in 19th century England, was the first person to get a specimen to bloom in cultivation. Inspired by the lightness and strength of its natural engineering and, with experience gained while building large greenhouses for his employer, he came up with the design for the Crystal Palace for the Great Exhibition of 1851, in London.
The giant water lily requires consistently warm temperatures and only thrives here during late summer and early fall. Fortunately, it can grow very quickly from a small section of root—planted in a container of rich soil and immersed in the pond, once the water has warmed in June—and will produce the impressive display we see now.
Many thanks for the additional historical information provided by Wave Hill Garden Guide Deirdre La Porte.