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Lily Tanks



The work of the garden architect is generally condemned by lovers of the simpler and more natural forms of plant arrangement. In a climate such as ours the use of too much stonework in the shape of statuary, fountains, vases and balustrading has little to recommend it. But if the designer will give us tanks and sunk basins, in which to grow Lilies and other plants, we cannot feel too grateful. Were it not for tanks, water gardening would be impossible for the many whose grounds do not contain natural ponds or streams. 

In designing tanks the first thought should be to ensure the utmost simplicity, both in the surroundings and in whatever architectural work may be necessary.


In the old gardens of Italy the excessive use of stone work is justified, not only on account of its suitability to the climate and way of living, but because the designs were almost invariably good and pure.


The shape of garden tanks will necessarily be deter­mined by the situation for which they are designed. Speaking generally, however, the more severe their outline, the better.


Nothing can exceed in suitability a rectangular basin, with a broad coping of wrought stone, set in a framework of turf. If the pool is in view of the house, it may be necessary to slightly amplify the design, so that it may not appear inharmonious with the lines of the building.


A good effect may be obtained by forming the ends into the shape of a Moorish arch, the bays being deeply recessed. So long as the outline is bold and dignified, enabling the eye to grasp the whole scheme at a glance, a satisfactory appearance is practically certain. It is the scalloped edges, the sinuous curves and raised parapets, that disfigure so many of the creations of the garden architect.


Garden tanks are often set in dreary expanses of graveled walk, or at the meeting of several pathways. Many of these are in kitchen gardens, and have formerly served the useful purpose of supplying soft water for greenhouses and vegetables generally. The worst of these places is that there is no possible inducement to remain for more than a minute or so.


An ideal position for the simplest form of garden tank would be the centre of a rectangular court, a brick or stone walled enclosure with a doorway at either end. Here would be assured a degree of warmth and shelter that would make it a pleasant spot for reading or work­ing, even in the early days of the year.


A grass margin would fittingly surround the flat kerb, whilst clumps of Irises, Shrubby Spiraeas, Cannas, Paeonies, Funkias, Lilies, and bold foliage plants, could be grouped in masses behind. On the wall, what opportunities for growing some of the handsome forms of Clematis, Magnolia, Roses, and sweet scented Jasmine! Truly beautiful would be this garden picture when the surface of the pool scintillated with the jeweled forms of the hybrid Nymphaeas - ruby, topaz and silver.


It is a common idea that tanks must be built of con­siderable depth, and that unless protected by a low wall or parapet they are dangerous. For this reason hundreds of garden pools have been emptied and filled in with soil. Only in exceptional cases is it necessary for the tank to be more than two and a half or three feet deep, this being ample for the class of plants that will find a home there.


It is a good plan to excavate the soil to a greater depth in the middle than at the sides, a shallow ledge round the margin will keep the roots of the water plants from spreading towards the walls. Most lilies and other aquatics look better if kept somewhat in the centre of artificial basins, and are more effective if entirely surrounded by water than crowded against the walls and corners.


Deep tanks have a further disadvantage in that they are seldom properly filled. Nothing looks more un­sightly than a tank in which the water scarcely rises half way. The walls cast a heavy shadow over the surface, the plants are unhealthy, and the water cold.


Besides, the lily tank should form a definite note in the scheme of design, a center which inspires the arrangement of plant grouping around. Sunken water surfaces are useless as reflectors, and are lacking in those color values which in sunlight are so precious. Even in quite large tanks the distance between the top of the kerb and the water line should not be more than two feet, in smaller basins twelve inches is sufficient.


If the ground surrounding sunk tanks has an upward slope it should be laid out in a succession of terraces. This is especially important where there is a wide margin of turf.


Nothing looks worse than a grass slope falling abruptly to the water's edge. Such an arrangement is fraught with danger, and the use of a mowing machine is difficult.


By connecting the various levels by short flights of steps, and substituting walls of rough stone or brick for the grass slopes, a much better effect will be gained. A skilled mason is not required to construct such walls, which may be built of the cheapest materials, the crevices furnished with wall and rock plants. 


In garden courts abrupt changes of level are to be preferred to monotonous slopes and easy gradients, we gain then the charm of variety, and open up endless possibilities in the way of color and shadow effects.


In more elaborate lily tanks steps should actually lead into the water itself. A flight of broad, but shallow, stone stairs at either end of the tank cannot fail to greatly enhance its beauty. Their presence is a direct invitation to view the lilies more closely, a note of intimacy, which suggests that the water garden is made for our particular pleasure and interest.


High copings and balustrades act as barriers, and prevent the jeweled water surface from forming any close relationship with its surrounding features. Some may argue that steps leading into water, even continuing their way beneath the surface, are ridiculous, in this case, however, picturesque value far over-­rules any worthwhile principles.


We have only to remember a flight of weed-stained steps, the boat landing on some sleepy quay side, or the broad and spacious stairway, white and sunlit, which dips into a Venetian lagoon, to appreciate the idea.


Tanks which form part of some architectural scheme should be planted only with the best kinds of Water ­Lilies, whose formality and clearness of outline exactly fits them for such places. In the beds around should be grouped plants of stately foliage and somewhat stiff habit - Cannas, admirable both as to their well shaped leaves and gorgeous flower spikes, Madonna Lilies, Salvia patens, Funkias, especially F.sieboldi, Irises of sorts, and the cool green of Harts-tongue.


Free growing herbaceous plants must be excluded in this instance; however well adapted they may be as a setting for the quiet pool in the homely garden, they will be as weeds in the almost tropical brilliance of the formal Lily­ Court.





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