10:16 03 August 2011



THE WORD Lily is as pretty as a Christian name as it is a flower: I rather wish I had christened one of my daughters with the name. Every Lily I have met has been utterly enchanting and very pretty...

THE WORD Lily is as pretty as a Christian name as it is a flower: I rather wish I had christened one of my daughters with the name. Every Lily I have met has been utterly enchanting and very pretty and every lily I have seen is the same.

I have always had lilies in my various gardens, either in pots or in the border and to date, touch wood, they have always remained true and dependable friends.

I say touch wood as so many gardeners have had visitations form the dreaded lily beetle which first colonised areas of South East England in about 1939. In the late 1980s it started to spread and today it is found all over the UK, also attacking fritillaries and cardiocrinums. Bright red in colour with black head and legs this beetle and its larvae feed on foliage, flowers and stems from spring to autumn. Do not mistake them for ladybirds!

The lily beetle usually weakens plants so much that they do not flower the following season and in some cases they can actually kill a plant. The spread of the lily beetle has been partly blamed on the modern trend of buying established containerised lilies. In the light of this, it is advisable to buy bulbs and plant them up yourself. Once growth starts, look out for small orange or brown eggs on the underside of leaves and dispose of them. If left where they are the eggs hatch into small reddish grubs which have the delightful habit of covering themselves with their own wet, black excrement.

Both beetles and larvae should be picked off by hand. The beetle has the clever habit of falling off the plant and lying on the ground upside down when a plant is disturbed, making it difficult to spot as it lies there black belly-up. Before touching infected plants lay down newspaper, therefore, and crush them underfoot before they attempt to fly off. There is no known organic treatment for this destructive little creature. Apparently, some of the chemicals suggested to combat it can cause Colony Collapse Disorder in honeybees. If you have a patch of stony ground, which is scorched by the summer sun, and you are having problems growing anything there, the Evening Primrose (Oenothera) is the plant for you. After all, in their natural habitat in the Americas they are found growing in stony ground in deserts and on mountain slopes. Miraculously this plant thrives uncosseted and flowers indefatigably throughout much of the summer right up until September. This is not, however, a plant for small gardens as most species self-seed prolifically and before you know where you are you can end up with a plantation unless you thin the seedlings in the spring. Another consideration is that they tend to produce strong-yellow flowers, a colour that can shout in midsummer whereas in spring it hums harmoniously in a strange way. The way to get around this is to interplant with white flowering plants such as Iceberg roses, white cosmos or Nicotiana sylvestris. There all sorts of different species of Evening Primrose. One of the easiest is the species stricta with large 8cm/3 primrose yellow flowers produced on a plant that can grow 1m/3ft tall and as much across. This ornamental genus, owing to its vesperal habit, is the perfect plant to be enjoyed by the commuter after a hard days work.


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