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Cornucopia - Battle for a perfect Lily

Battle for a perfect Lily
Joan Millard

Last autumn I decided to treat myself to some new lily bulbs, since I had been growing others in pots for a couple of years and thought it was time to plant them out into the garden. I don’t know whether there is any way of keeping lilies as strong as the very first year of planting but mine all seem to have dwindled slightly both in quantity and in size. I suspect that they need a richer soil or certainly more feed than I have provided. However, I had new bulbs and they were going to be fantastic!

My choice was from the Oriental and Trumpet range, 'Tiger Woods', 'La Mancha' and Lilium regale and one more suitable for garden planting, 'Purple Rain'. The bulbs arrived in November, for immediate planting before they dried out. The first three varieties were planted deeply in tall pots, three lilies to a pot. 'Purple Rain' found its way into the garden in a fairly shady spot under the apple tree. As with all bulbs the next few months required no work until the delight of seeing the shoots in early spring.

As the bulbs grew, one fine sunny afternoon I noticed a speck of red, that scourge of lily growers, the dreaded lily beetle. There it was in all its glory, this beautiful, bright red insect basking on the foliage. Perhaps I shouldn’t use the word basking, since these voracious little pests do nothing but munch their way through the foliage and then the buds of every lily they can find. Anyway, I was alert to the danger, as we had battled throughout the long, hot summer of 2006. I have found the only way to tackle them is to pick them off by hand and to squash them firmly. Of course they are wily little creatures and only show themselves in the sun, clinging to the back of the leaves where they are less visible and they drop to the ground rapidly when approached. I find the best way to tackle them is to cup a yogurt pot directly underneath where you are trying to catch them and they will promptly fall into the pot ready to be crushed using a short stick. Be warned, they can also fly off if left for too long. Lily beetle patrol has to be done religiously every two or three days to control them. Worse still is seeing one beetle on top of another for you can then expect the results in the form of slimy larvae, looking like bird droppings. The larvae are devastating to the plants if left untreated. There will be brown marks and eventually holes in the leaves unless the larvae are removed and squashed. This job is as delightful as it sounds. Of course, there are systemic sprays to treat the pest but they have to be sprayed frequently and in the right place. Remaining lily beetles retreat into the soil at the end of the season to over-winter.

By mid-July, I thought that I had eradicated the beetles but from time to time I have still spotted a few throughout August and have had to chop down some spent foliage early to get rid of the larvae.

Now that my lilies have flowered, I can report the success of my efforts. The first lilies to bloom were the magnificent L. regale, tall and definitely regal, with their enormous trumpet blooms. Each stem had over a dozen trumpets of white-tinged pink blooms. The perfume was exquisite. Funnily enough, the beetle had scarcely attacked this variety at all.

'Purple Rain', planted in the garden was very subtle, not blowsy and showy like most lilies. In fact it was so subtle as to be almost unnoticeable in the position I had chosen to plant it. The flowers were quite small but were cream with a horizontal stripe of deep purple across the middle of each petal, bleeding into the cream. It also has purple spots near the centre and purple stamens, a lovely flower when inspected closely. Unfortunately, I had planted it next to a large Acanthus spinosus, whose blooms are the same colour. Next year, I will move it to a position nearer to the front of the border, possibly amongst something pale yellow, such as Anthemis tinctoria 'E.C.Buxton'.

My ‘piece de resistance’, now in mid-August, has been the massive blooms of the last two Oriental lilies, 'La Mancha' strong pink with frilled edges of silvery white, and 'Tiger Woods', white, striped and spotted with deep crimson red. Both of these lilies have bright orange stamens. The latter variety was bought with my golfer husband in mind but I have since discovered that he is not a great admirer of the man. However, he cannot fail to be an admirer of the lily.

Showy lilies are, perhaps, not to everybody’s taste, just as some gardeners have an aversion to gladioli, dahlias and bedding plants. To me they are so stately and have such beautiful markings that I cannot resist. Now that my lilies are going over (I find that they seem to bloom for about three weeks), I will feed them well to nourish the bulbs for next year and gather up my energy for the battle of the beetle, 2008.

First published in the Berkshire Group Newsletter, Winter 2009
and subsequently in Cornucopia Issue 26.
© Copyright for this article: Joan Millard

This article was taken from a copy of Cornucopia that was published in 2010. You could be reading these articles as they are published to a national audience, by subscribing to Cornucopia.


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