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Behind the Bloom: Water Lily

Behind the Bloom: Water Lily

| Rosie Jeffares-Levitt

No mud, no lotus. 
 - Thich Nhat Hanh

What's your favourite flower? As a florist, I'm asked this question a lot. The answer comes swiftly: hands down it's the Ontario water lily. The reasons why take longer to convey. 

First of all, I love it's stunning beauty. The white, waxy, floating flower with deep yellow anthers seems too exotic to be Canadian! In fact, it is part of the lotus family which are mostly tropical and subtropical. Yet the sweetly fragrant water lily is native to, and widespread throughout Canada. In the wet lands, lakes and quiet streams of Ontario, bevies of these buoyant beauties are a wonder of summer. 

As a child I'd ask my father to take me canoeing in search of lilies. It was a big ask, as still waters are replete with mosquitos! Yet the two of us both enjoyed a slow Sunday paddle. I never heard the whine of insects, only the swish of lily pads against the canoe. The circular leaves resting platforms for dragonflies and damselflies. Dad steered the canoe around as I harvested flowers, filling each gunnel with a lily. 

I discovered early on the diurnal habit of the lily. It opens during each day, and closes at night. There was nothing I could do to keep them going as a cut flower. Floating in a bowl they were gorgeous on the dining table. But my romantic water nymph fantasy couldn't be extended longer than a few hours. In no time the lilies would close up tightly, never to open again. 

I'd take fewer and fewer blooms on those canoe trips in later years. I learned to enjoy them in place, breath in their scent and listen to the chorus of insects and bull frogs. Therein lies another reason why I love the water lily: it isn't available as a cut flower. I couldn't sell one if I wanted to. And I don't actually! I'd much rather enjoy them in the places where they grow. 

Finally, I love the idea of the water lily as a symbol of how beauty arises from hardship. Thich Nhat Hanh, the late Zen Buddhist monk, famously said "No mud, no lotus". Like our water lily, the lotus grows out of the deep muck of shallow water. So, without going through the mud, you can't experience the beauty life has to offer. It seems fitting in our post-pandemic world. There will always be flowers for those who seek them.

• Rosie, owner Quince Flowers

Botanical Blog

Written By: Rosie Jeffares-Levitt

A collection of blog posts written by one of Toronto's top florists. With two on-going blog series, the first about flowers called Behind The Bloom & the second about plants called Plant Life.