The Little Nelumbo
That Could!

by Juli Carbonell, Caracas, Venezuela
Click images to enlarge

Three years ago on a visit to Paradise (Kit and Ben's Knotts' home and garden in Florida, USA) I became enchanted with Nelumbos. Kit, always surrounded by all things beautiful, later obliged giving me some tubers to bring back to my home town, Caracas. 

A few words about my town. Caracas, the capital city of Venezuela, 10´30´N 66´55´W, lies in a narrow valley 3,000 feet (914 meters) above sea level, at the foot of our Cerro Avila (7,400 feet [2256 meters] a.s.l) which separates it from the Caribbean Sea. We live in Los Chorros, northeast of the city, an old coffee plantation which around 1920 was subdivided into large plots of land. Here well-to-do "caraqueños" built European style villas to which they would retire from the old town during the hot summer months for what was called then "temperamentos". The city grew encompassing all those big houses, the land was subdivided again.

In one of those smaller plots our home, La Hechicera (The Sorceress), was built. We are very close to the mountain and our house is surrounded with very tall mango trees, which shade all our property. Thus when we moved there ten years ago the only place to grow my orchids was the roof of our house that rises above the tallest trees. The orchids grew beautifully.

By the magic of Internet I became acquainted with Guillermo Angulo and through him with the Knotts. The rest is history. We came together with some other friends and started the Caracas Victoria Society. Kit supplied us with Victoria seeds and Nymphaeas and our adventure began. 

But something was missing. Every time I saw the beautiful ponds pictured on the Victoria-Adventure web site my love for the awesome Nelumbos grew. Guillermo advised me against growing them in the same pond as Nymphaeas, as they seem to crowd out all other plants. There was in La Hechicera no place to grow a Nelumbo except on the house´s flat roof, but architect Sonia Angeli, my friend and fellow CVS´er, advised against building a pond on the roof. The consequences could be dire, but since she knew of my desire to grow Nelumbos, for my birthday she gave me as a gift a concrete pot, 3 feet in diameter and 2 feet deep which, when filled with water, posed no danger to the roof.

Happily I came back from Paradise in October 2004 with my cache of Nelumbos well hidden in my handbag. With the silliest smile on my face and great fear in my heart I breezed thru customs, hoping that I would not be searched. Safe in Caracas I gave Sonia some tubers and proceeded to plant the others in a plastic pail, with the idea of later trasplanting them to the concrete pot. Days went by and nothing happened. Days turned into months and nothing happened. Despairing I read again all instructions, wrote Guillermo and Kit. Their advice: PATIENCE. Then about six months later, the first floating leaves developed. Very excited we placed the tuber in a round clay pot on top of a cinder block inside the concrete pot full of water.

When everything seemed to be working the leaves turned yellow and started dying, the culprits little black aphids. I believed I could deal with these critters with the same insecticides I use on my orchids, alas not so! The leaves that had survived proceeded to die after I sprayed them with petrolate. I wrote again to Kit and Guillermo. Their advice was to cut back all the dead leaves, repot the runners in new medium, hope and pray.

It's 2006, one year and a half since I first planted my Nelumbo. Finally new floating leaves, soon the risers. The black killers came back, but this time I knew better. Hose them off was the advice which I followed with no hesitation. Yet still no flowers. By now the Nelumbo project was well known among my friends and family, and everybody had something to say. More fertilizer; I obliged. Maybe the water is too hot; take the cinder block out, lower the clay pot; and add more water. Again I obliged.

Shade the leaves, maybe the sun is too bright and harms them. This time the advice came from Bolivar my handyman, who proceeded to place some potted Areca palms around the concrete pot, shading the leaves.  

I have no idea if all of the above worked or if it was just serendipity, but you can imagine the joy of all involved when FINALLY a bud started growing. No bud has ever been so closely watched as this one was. Every day we had to give reports on is condition. It seems it took forever to grow. About a month later the most beautiful flower opened, its petals paper white and translucent, rising proudly above the leaves.

Everybody and then some came to see this wondrous gift of nature. Pictures were taken, e-mails sent, congratulations received. Two days later, the petals fell off, the flower died, tears came out of my eyes. Such beauty, so fast to go.

Happy rooftop gardeners
Bolivar and Juli

Dorothy Whittembury
admires the flower

For three weeks we were away from Venezuela. We went to Bogotá, Colombia, to visit with Guillermo Angulo at his beautiful Tegualda. There we saw two Victorias in bloom and many, many orchids, but no Nelumbo. Something had happened to his big pond and all had died. I commiserated, knowing well the pain he must have suffered on this loss.

On our return to Caracas I harvested the seeds, and following TO THE LETTER the instructions, was able to sprout seven. Two babies were given to Mr. Jan Tillet, Head Gardener at the Jardín Botánico de Caracas along with about 3 feet of runners that I cut when I repotted my Nelumbo, which is no longer little but has turned into a huge plant that most certainly can!

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