James Knock

A lot to look forward to

James Knock was a little mystery to me, I saw all these pictures of beautiful waterlilies that I had never seen before. I started wondering were they all came from because I never heard about this hybridizer at all! It seemed only natural to ask him if he would be interested in a small article on our website and luckily he said YES.

European hybridizer

James Knock was born in the late 1960’s in the UK, 30 miles from the center of London.  Yes, once again he is a European hybridizer, I think we are slowly taking over the world of hybridising … if we can beat Asia and North America that is 🙂

Although he says flora and fauna have always been at the center of his world, he actually studied graphic design.  That does explain his love for waterlilies, as he states that he was always drawn to waterlilies because of their near perfect geometric form.

His first

First pond
Patio Pond James Knock
Patio Pond

Like most of my interviewees and myself,  the first pond James was able to enjoy was one that his father built. It was a small formal pond in the middle of the patio at their home, built some years before James Knock was born. Subsequently some of his earliest memories are of this pond. “I’ll always remember being strictly told to keep well away from the pond, even though it had a substantial James proof grill covering it! Needless to say it proved irresistible to me. So I guess you could say I’ve always been interested in waterlilies. :-)”

As a teenager he was fortunate enough to be allowed to take this little six by four foot pond over. But as we all know by now, it wasn’t long before this simply wasn’t enough! So three more ponds quickly followed; the largest of which and the original patio pond still exist today.
First waterlily
Unnamed hybrid
Unnamed hybrid

If you read some of our articles on hybridizers, you already know one of our favourite questions is about their first lily! A lot of the times, people don’t really know where they got it from, they don’t know the variety or they received the wrong one.
James Knock is definitely an exception, he knew exactly what he wanted and did everything to have it.

“I can remember as a young teenager pestering my mother to buy a yellow lily, because yellow has always been my colour. At the time we only had the pink/red lily known as Mrs Richmond. So this was something special!
In those days waterlilies were hard to come by and by plant standards very expensive. Anyway I eventually won the battle, so it was off to the not so local tropical fish shop. We soon returned with my pride and joy Marliacea chromatella.
To this day every M. chromatella I’ve ever owned or sold was propagated from this single plant… thanks Mum.”

His favourites

Unnamed hybrid
Unnamed hybrid

You can tell a lot about a man if you know his favourites 🙂 James seems to be the sentimental type, choosing his first waterlily ever and the oldest waterlily nursery in Europe as his favourite.

Favourite Waterlily

“Favourite lily… for sentimental reasons probably M. chromatella, but this can change on a nearly daily basis during the flowering season. As those who know me will know, I’m a sucker for peaches and the like.”

Favourite Garden
“This would have to be the place where it all started Latour-Marliac nursery and gardens. I have nothing but admiration for Marliac, especially considering the time he was working in. I can’t think of many areas of horticulture where one hundred year old varieties are still widely held in cultivation! Speaks for itself really.”

His perfect one

Unnamed hybrid
Unnamed hybrid

I was really keen on knowing what James’ standards were for introducing a new hybrid. Seeing all these waterlilies online and not one for sale yet, his standards must be very high! But, we have to admit that we think this is a good thing. If a hybridizer thinks that every new one is a new little wonder, the market would be flooded with lookalikes.

James Knock seems to have quite a few requirements for his new hybrids.

The shape

Of course one of the most important and typical ones is the shape of the flower.

“One of the things that has always drawn me to waterlilies in particular, is their near perfect geometric form. So my ideal waterlily would have to take full advantage of this.
I like plants with good robust blooms, simply because they hold this beautiful natural form. My perfect bloom wouldn’t necessarily be particularly double, as I find many of these fail to open properly in my climate
. ”
I’m also a big fan of hardy hybrids that hold their blooms well above the water,  somewhat reminiscent of tropicals. Although this probably has more to do with a yearning for a more tropical climate. :-)”

The colour
Unnamed hybrid
Unnamed hybrid

Another typical and important requirement is of course the colour.

“I enjoy being able to view the nectar pool and stamens clearly, and find the colour contrast possibilities particularly interesting.”
And as he said before: I’m a sucker for peaches and the like”

Third requirement

This one is what makes James Knock so unique and I wish more hybridizers would consider this as a more important  feature in the future.

“My personal goal is to try and produce hybrids that will reliably perform in the U.K. climate. While our climate lacks extremes, it’s cool temperate maritime nature is hardly ideal for Nymphaea. Our summers are short and rarely much above 70 degrees. Although there are lots of considerations regarding the selection of good new hybrids, to me long consistent flowering will always come first.”

His collection


Every waterlily-lover has the same problem, we never have enough space to put all the ones we already have and yet we still want more… so we end up with putting more and more barrels in our garden….

“I had around 200 old named varieties in my collection, but due to space limitations I’ve been reducing this in recent years.
It’s tough as I love them all, but out go the non performers, and varieties I consider to have little hybridising potential.”

And of course we all have one lily, where we will make room for, even if it would have to be in our bathroom.  In James’ case it is a very special lady, there is even a tale about her…
“I would like to add “N. alba var rubra to my collection. Simply because I believe it still has lots of hybridising potential for temperate climates in particular.”

Inspiration & influence

Unnamed hybrid
Unnamed hybrid

Another repeated question is of course where the hybridizer get’s his inspiration. It doesn’t come as a surprise when James Knock tells us his admiration for Kirk Strawn. First of all, well, we’ve heard that before 🙂 second, Kirk was also a big fan of the peach waterlllies on hardy stems.

“Probably the greatest influence in my water lily life came from Kirk Strawn, and his nursery at College Station Texas.
Although I was never able to visit in person, I was very fortunate to correspond with Kirk, and in 1998 purchased one of every new hybrid released at the time.

I can remember vividly receiving plants in February, all in full leaf and full of blooms. This was quite a shock, as everything here was completely dormant at that time of the year. I knew straight away these were special. Anyway these were quickly potted up, and placed carefully in to individual shallow ponds.
Next morning, shock and horror!
I woke up to a really savage frost! Ice two inches thick on all my ponds! My precious new plants had every leaf and bloom frozen to death.
As a testament to the quality of Kirks plants, not a single plant was lost. To this day I still have every plant.”


James’ hybrids

Unnamed hybrid / Compost
Unnamed hybrid / Compost

James Knock started hybridising not so long ago, but already has more then 200 of them.

“The vast majority of my hybrids were produced around 2010, but unfortunately due to other work commitments, most have spent their entire lives in nothing more than a two gallon bucket. Hence the need for future testing. It always amazes me how these plants transform themselves when given the space to do so.”


As you know, I’m always very interested in the story behind the names of waterlilies.  I really look forward to see what will be the first waterlily James Knock names and of course what that name will be.

“I’m yet to formally name any of my hybrids, mainly because I’m a firm believer that a plant really has to deserve a name. And the vast majority of my hybrids haven’t been fully tested yet.
That said many of my plants have gained nicknames over the years, simply because they are easier to remember than numbers. I have one lightheartedly called ‘Compost’ because that’s so nearly where it ended up.”
That reminds me of the story of his mentor, Dr. Robert Kirk Strawn and his compost waterlily, named Clyde Ikins.
If we see the picture of the Compost waterlily, I think we should check out his compost from time to time 🙂
Unnamed hybrid
Unnamed hybrid

As each hybridizer has his own requirements for what he wants to achieve, some of them like to use the pod or pollen from a specific Nymphaea.  Due to the not so idealistic temperatures in the UK, James is more a fan of trying out new things all the time.

“It can be difficult to get desirable pods to set in our cool summers, and often even harder to repeat crosses here. Subsequently I’m always trying different things. I have crosses from ten years ago, that I’ve never been able to repeat. I’m sure the lack of consistent heat and an often damp climate has great influence on fertility here. This is all part of the challenge and addiction of hybridising.”


Unnamed hybrid
Unnamed hybrid

Of course we want to know when and where we can buy these beautiful waterlilies that James Knock keeps on showing off.
But unfortunately they are not for sale, neither can you admire them in a public garden.
James told us that he’s looking forward to introducing them to the big wide world in the not too distant future though.
I think we all look forward to that near future…. but most of all I just want him to continue his work as diligent as he is doing now, so we can enjoy good quality plants very soon.