Bring the water garden indoors

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Mini water gardens and micro lotus appeal to houseplant lovers and collectors alike.

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November 4, 2019

Micro lotus and mini indoor water gardens are a perfect fit for the houseplant trend.
PHOTO ©ENCIERRO | ADOBE STOCK

Confession: I just might be obsessed with tiny cute things. I have tiny cute dogs, tiny cute chickens and tiny plants are my jam. I’m not talking about fairy gardens or the like, I’m talking about species or cultivars of plants that stay tiny. Itty-bitty tiny plants.

It’s all I can do not to pinch my Lithops to death from all the cuteness.

I’m a collector of the tiniest micro-orchids, mini-est of African violets, the tiniest succulents and the most miniscule of mosses. If you sell plants online, the first thing I’m going to search your store for is the keyword “micro” (followed by blue, because I’m also obsessed with blue flowers). My latest tiny plant obsession? Mini water gardens and micro lotus.

There are only two known species within the lotus genus: Nelumbo lutea, which is native to areas of North America and Nelumbo nucifera, which is native to areas of Asia. It is this second species from which micro lotus appear to be primarily selected and hybridized by Chinese nursery growers.

Do you know who these micro lotus and mini water gardens are perfect for? All those new houseplant crazy customers coming your way!

Plus, collectors of unusual plants or anyone who is looking to bring a bit more nature indoors. Miniature water gardens can bring a lot of beauty indoors while using a very small footprint.

Remember all those videos of people making teeny-tiny Barbie-sized food? If you don’t know what I’m talking about, jump on YouTube when you get a moment and check out Jay Baron. I apologize in advance for sending you down this rabbit hole, but his videos of cooking and baking the teeniest tiny foods is mesmerizing. Don’t judge me; we all need a break!

An indoor water garden only requires a small, water-tight container, tiny water plants and a window or small grow lamp.
PHOTO ©AMANDA | ADOBE STOCK

I’ve been trying to tell people that tiny plants are poised to have a moment. If you don’t believe me, check out the recent uptick in pictures on Instagram of tiny cactus in the teeniest tiniest ceramic and terracotta pots. Fingernail size. Adorable.

That said, size is a relative thing when it comes to dwarf and miniature plants. Standard lotus plants can be beasts. So what qualifies as a micro lotus usually grows to about 6 to 14 inches tall and wide, give or take. But the flowers are still relatively large. Micro lotus varieties will grow in shallow water and can be maintained in small bowls, or even large teacups — in which you’ll see them displayed by some growers. You may also see micro lotus categorized as “teacup lotus” or “exquisites.”

Cuteness aside, tiny plants are the perfect solution for plant keepers who don’t have much space. Most of the new houseplant addicts live in apartments and they struggle to squeeze their large leafy friends into small windowsills. Most of these customers aren’t going to be able to engage in water gardening in the traditional sense. And for those of us who don’t have room outdoors — or who don’t want to mess with a full-scale pond or water garden operation — a small indoor water garden is the perfect solution.

To bring the water garden indoors, all you need is a small water-tight container or bowl, one or two small water plants and either a bright window or a small grow lamp. It’s all easily doable, even if you don’t have a yard. With the explosion of plant grow light technology and consumer options, there are plenty of small yet efficient grow lamps perfect for small water gardens. Indoor water gardens offer you the opportunity to sell a high margin plant along with unique (perhaps handmade) containers, plus a grow lamp. Sounds like a tidy and profitable package. Creating merchandised setups won’t take up much space in your shop, but they’ll certainly be impressive.

Micro lotus are often shipped bare root to consumers, so it’s possible that is also how you might resell them. However, for spring and summer sales, growing plants ready to be dropped into pretty bowls will better inspire your customers.

I’d already ordered a collection of micro lotus from an online retailer before I wrote this column and had planned to share some photos of my new mini water gardens with you. Unfortunately, I was sent a follow up email saying my plants would not ship until spring 2020. I’m looking at an eight-month wait. Such is the reality of micro lotus availability right now. (Please let me know if you can hook me up sooner!) But I’m willing to wait — because that’s how bad I want them!

If you can’t book any true micro lotus for 2020 sales, then consider looking for miniature water lilies (Nymphaea spp.) True pygmy water lilies, variants of the species Nymphaea tetragona, are equally difficult to find but there are a number of miniature or dwarf water lilies available. And don’t forget that many types of hardy lotus, water lilies and other aquatics are also perfect for patio and balcony gardeners. You might also consider offering pre-sales for such hard-to-find specimens. If I’m willing to pay upfront and wait eight months, I’d bet some of your customers would too.

If you’re looking for a way to energize your water gardening selection and expand your customer reach, you might want to think small. Micro lotus and mini water gardens could be an exciting new offering for your small-space or indoor gardeners this coming spring.

Leslie (CPH) owns Halleck Horticultural, LLC, through which she provides horticultural consulting, business and marketing strategy, product development and branding, and content creation for green industry companies. lesliehalleck.com