Summer Bulbs for Water Features

An important feature of a well-designed garden is a focal point. Something with strong visual interest can become the exclamation mark among the flowers and foliage. I like to add a focal point that infuses the garden with personality. Water does just that for me.

Believe it or not but water features have been a part of gardening since ancient times and are well represented in every era and culture. In the Italy of 1550 AD, several royal houses constructed elaborate water gardens incorporating mechanical devices. The best-known is the Villa d’Este at Tivoli. Villa d’Este has a hill cascading with fountains and grottoes with water-driven figures that move or spout water. Then along came the industrial age and the invention of the water pump allowed us to harness water power. Pumps made it possible to recirculate water instead of diverting it from rivers and springs like in early times.

Then as water feature popularity spread across Europe, Hellbrunn Palace added a fun twist to theirs. Named “folly fountains”, these spouts would erupt without notice to surprise people for their entertainment. Remember, there was no cable TV back then …

But you really don’t have to go to those lengths in order to enjoy a water garden. I like the enchanting quality that water adds to a garden. Hot days just seem cooler when you’re relaxing by a tranquil pond with the sound of moving water providing a soothing background rhythm. It’s also a place where wildlife will come to take a morning drink and I can watch them from a distance while sipping my coffee.

Some water features are very formal with sharp edges and geometric shapes. Others are more organic, mimicking nature. Both styles benefit from the addition of moisture loving plants. In addition to the usual suspects many summer “bulbs” are beautiful additions to pools, fountains and ponds.

Here is a list of ones that I have used in masses all around my different garden ponds. Mix and match them as perennial elements in your water feature designs. Some you can plant in pots to sink in the water, others will thrive in the moist soil around the edges.

Plants for PondsAcidanthera – Try some as an unexpected garden surprise. They prefer the water’s edge.

Caladium candidum – I love using the different Caladiums and I especially like this one for its large green leaf texture and white venation to play against spikey leaved or small textured leaved plants in the planting design. The other advantage of using Caladiums is that you can bring spots of bright white or rosy color to shady spots around the water’s edge.

Calla Lily ‘Black Forest’, ‘Dark Eyes’, ‘Flame’, ‘Neon Amour’ – Calla lilies are another plant that can handle the sun or the shade. Callas will flower in a whole rainbow of color plus the leaves are large, glossy and oftentimes spotted or variegated adding to the visual interest around the water or emerging from pots submerged in the water.

Canna ‘Bronze Rosever’, ‘Cleopatra’, ‘Red King Humbert’ – Cannas are another versatile summer bulb that serves triple duty in my water garden. The large leaves bring textural interest, the plant has amazing flowers and leaves that you can plant close to the water, even a little submerged and it will thrive. Plus this plant will tolerate some shade!

Elephant Ear Colocasia (pendulous leaves) and Elephant Ear Alocasia (upright leaves) – Elephant ears lend a powerful focal point to a pond planting. Plant these in the water as well as around the water’s edge to soften the transition from liquid to terra firma. ‘Hilo Beauty’ has lovely white spots and ‘Illustris’ sports a dark purple leaf.

Eucomis bicolor – This unique bloom is visually true to its common name – pineapple lily. Plant it close to the water’s edge.

Fritillaria michailovskyi is – Another intriguing accent to consider around water features.

Galtonia candicans – Commonly known as Summer Hyacinth, this is another interesting bulb to add to beds around a pond, plus it is gently fragrant.

Iris ‘Alba’, ‘Bronze Beauty’, ‘Caesar’s Brother’, ‘Golden Beauty’ – Don’t be afraid to use irises right in the pond edge or potted and dropped right into the water, they can handle wet feet just fine!

Liatris spicata – Gayfeather is perfect around the pond; it attracts bees, birds, butterflies and hummingbirds and is also a summer flower arrangement mainstay.