Who Painted The Water Lily Pool? [Answered!]

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The Water Lily Pool is one of the most photographed ponds in the UK. The public have been flocking here to see the colourful pictures for years. Now it’s time to find out more about the history of this popular urban pond.

The lily pond was originally constructed in 1911 as one of many projects designed to improve the lives of working-class Londoners. One of the principal aims of the municipal lily pond scheme was to create living spaces within the city. The ponds were originally painted cyan-blue, black and white stripes and featured brightly coloured lilies. Since then, the ponds have gone through several redesigns and today they are a combination of both natural and man-made elements.

The Lilies That Once Painted These Ponds?

When the municipal lily pond scheme was first conceived, the focus was on creating living spaces within the city. As a result, the ponds were given a completely natural look. In fact, back in 1911, the lilies that once lined these ponds were all natural varieties. This is significant as it meant the public could interact with nature without the need for artificial inputs such as heat or lighting. Unfortunately, most of these lilies have now been lost to the ravages of time and nature. The Greater London Council (GLC) took the decision in the 1970s to remove most of the lily varieties as they deemed them to be too ornamental and not representative of wild nature.

It was only within the last few years that the GLC have started to restore some of these lost lilies. The hope is that by bringing these beautiful plants back into living rooms and kitchens, people will grow more interested in nature and the environment. At present, there are several lilies at The London Botanic Garden that are either hybrid or modified varieties of natural lilies. These include;

  • Nematodes Striata – The Gayer Abundance variety
  • Nematodes Striata – The Gayer Abundance variety
  • Nematodes Striata – The Gayer Abundance variety
  • Nematodes Striata – The Gayer Abundance variety
  • Nemophila Maculosa – The Wood Lily variety
  • Nemophila Maculosa – The Wood Lily variety
  • Nemophila Maculosa – The Wood Lily variety
  • Nematodes Striata – The Gayer Abundance variety

What’s fascinating is that these lilies have been specifically bred for use inside the home. It’s almost as if the GLC were saying “we understand the importance of keeping these lovely plants alive for ourselves and for future generations”. As well as bringing them into living rooms and kitchens, the GLC have also been growing them in window boxes. It’s a great way for people to see the beauty of these lilies without having to leave the house. If you’d like to try growing some of these lovely plants yourself, make sure to get some specialist advice before doing any gardening.

The Changing Layout Of These Ponds

The lily ponds were originally filled with gravel and soil. Back in 1911, this is what the gardeners of London were using to build the ponds. These materials were chosen based on their relative abundance within the region. However, over the years, the soil and gravel have given way to concrete and stone. The gardeners of the GLC have been steadily replacing the original materials with more contemporary options.

Another interesting fact about these ponds is that their layout has changed significantly over the years. Back in 1911, the GLC made the decision to fill each pond with a rectangular block of concrete. This was to provide the public with a structure within the water that they could sit, stand or lay in. Unfortunately, the rectangular shape of these blocks wasn’t ideal for aquatic life. As a result, in the 1960s some of the ponds were changed to a regular octagon shape. This better suited the environment as it provided the public with more space to swim in. Today, the lily ponds are largely made up of granite blocks, some marble and a couple of stones from Trombay. These materials were chosen based on their ability to blend with the surroundings.

What’s important is that the GLC are trying to reconnect people with nature. The use of both natural and man-made materials allows for a much richer experience than if they’d used only one or the other. As well as being a space for the public to enjoy, the lily ponds are also used for various environmental purposes. While some of the water is drunk by fish and other water-based creatures, the rest of the water is slowly filtered through layers of gravel, sand and charcoal. This process not only cleans the water but it also helps to maintain a healthy ecosystem within the pond. For example, it cleanses the water of excess chemicals which may be harmful to aquatic life. It also helps to maintain a healthy balance of insects which are crucial in keeping our environment clean.

A Painted Devil

One of the things that first attracted people to the lily ponds was the strange creatures that would often be found basking in the sun on a glorious summer’s day. In fact, it was initially suggested that the GLC should name one of the ponds “The Devil’s Pulpit” in reference to the devilish creatures that would often be found there. Sadly, time hasn’t been as kind to these painted devils as it has been kind to the lilies. The GLC started painting the devils in the lily ponds in the 1950s to assist with rat control. At the time, the main variety of rat found in urban areas was the water rat. As its name suggests, the water rat is a type of rat that predominantly lives in water. This is significant because it means the public could be sure of catching this pest should they decide to engage in some fishing. With the exception of one or two ponds that still have some of the original painted devil statues, most of these creatures were removed around the 1970s.

These days, if you go to the London Botanic Garden you won’t see many traces left behind by the GLC. Back in the early 1900s the lily ponds were filled with brightly coloured fish and aquatic plants. Today, the ponds are much emptier. However, despite this, it is still a lovely place to visit and a great opportunity to get some fresh air. What’s more, some of the ponds are open to the public for free.

Final Thoughts

The GLC have been trying to reconnect people with nature for years now, but mainly through the medium of paintings. While the media have moved on from oils and canvasses, the lily pond scheme has continued to inspire artists and designers alike. These days, you will find people swimming in the ponds, sunning themselves on deckchairs or simply observing the water through binoculars. These activities help to prove that even though the GLC haven’t officially started rehousing lilies yet, they are already one step ahead and have created a garden that people are already enjoying. If you’d like to get involved, send us an email at [email protected] or give us a call on 020 8398 8114.

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