Celebrating the Victoria amazonica lily at Chatsworth House


With its sweet pineapple-like scent and huge white petals lasting for a mere 48 hours the Victoria amazonica has long been associated with the ponds of Britain’s finest stately homes.

But it was only as a result of a hard-fought competition between gardeners employed by the country’s landed gentry 170 years ago that the flower, known as the Queen of the water lilies, was first successfully cultivated here.

It was at Chatsworth House, in Derbyshire, that head gardener Joseph Paxton claimed victory in the race to flower a Victoria amazonica.

That botanical landmark is now being celebrated with a new sculpture in the ornamental canal at Chatsworth House.

Paxton succeeded in getting the lily to flower by building a suitably large greenhouse to encourage its bloom. 

Announcing the news to his employer, the Duke of Devonshire, in 1849, he wrote: “Victoria has Shewn flower! No account can give a fair idea of the grandeur of its appearance.” 

The Victoria amazonica had been discovered in the early 1800s, but it was not until 1846 that it arrived on the British Isles, when the explorer Thomas Bridges dispatched a jar of 25 seeds packed in wet clay from Bolivia to England. 

Unfortunately, only three seeds germinated and they died as soon as the weather turned cold. It wasn’t for another three years that viable seeds were sent to Kew Gardens from South America.

From these Paxton managed grow a tiny plant, making sure it wasn’t damaged en route to Chatsworth by carrying it close to his body the entire way. 

Just two months later, having been planted in his specially-made greenhouse, the lily’s leaves had grown from just five and a half inches wide to four feet, cementing Chatsworth place in the botanical history books. 

Now the plant is to be the centrepiece of Chatsworth’s Beyond Limits exhibition, with an installation of 108 stainless steel lilies in the stately home’s canal created by artists Bruce Munro.

The steel lilies, which sit just above the surface of the water, have been carefully clustered by Munro at the far end of Chatsworth’s 650ft canal to make sure they weren’t overpowered by the grandeur of the house.

Each lily has 36 radial lines engraved on it and each line is made up of Morse code for the letter “c”, which stands for the speed of light. 

Mr  Munro, 57, said: “It makes sense to me to see time as interwoven, so you get past present and future completely interwoven, so you’re not compartmentalising time.”

He said he wanted the sculpture to be sympathetic to its surroundings.

“Because of the flora and fauna, we also didn’t want to start treading clumsily around in the canal. We instead decided to mimic how lilies naturally sit. That’s the fun of it, you have to play again. You just have to say ‘OK and I hope I’ve got it right’, he said.

The Beyond Limits installation follows other successful large-scale public works of art, including the Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red poppy installation at The Tower of London, which drew an estimated five million people in just four months. 

“I think it is capturing people’s imagination but I don’t think there is anything new about it,” he said. “It’s just another form of expression.” 

The installation will be open to the public from September 10 to October 30. 

News Source TelegraphNews

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