The Problem With Lilies

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Lilium regale – the ultimate lily?

Lilies are, without question, one of the most elegant summer flowering bulbs. Gertrude Jekyll, the renowned garden designer and plantswoman, would frequently plant large clumps of Lilium regale in strategic spots, creating height and drama at pivotal points in her schemes. In addition to stature, the lilies also contributed intoxicating scent and white flushed pink flowers that stood out against dark foliage. There are lilies for sun and lilies for shade, lilies for acid soil and lilies for chalk soil, as well as varieties that enjoy both dry and moist positions. They even enjoy being grown in containers. In short, there’s no excuse not to grow lilies somewhere in your garden. I share Ms Jekyll’s passion for graceful Lilium regale, as well as taller and showier hybrids such as ‘African Queen’, ‘Golden Splendour’ and this year’s delectable newbie ‘Red Velvet’ (top of post, photographed today).

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Lilium speciosum ‘Rubrum’ at The Garden House, Devon

I’d like to leave my love-in with lilies there, but of course mother nature isn’t inclined to make things so easy for us gardeners. The problem is the most wanted pest in my garden after seagulls and snails, the dreaded lily beetle (Lilioceris lilii). Just a glimpse of one of these scarlet beasties is enough to set my pulse racing. Hence no picture in this post! They mean one thing and one thing only – trouble – in the form of rapidly devoured leaves and disgusting black goo dangling from the undersides of any foliage that remains. The goo disguises the kind of repulsive slug-like larvae that Roald Dahl would have had great fun with in his books.

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Part of the HW Hyde & Son display at the 2013 RHS Chelsea Flower Show

Despite being easy to spot, the adult beetles are masters of escapology. Just one false move and they drop to the ground, making them impossible to find and squish. This year I started spraying early as a preventative measure which appeared to work, but I let my guard down too soon. This weekend I discovered several nasty grubs munching away at my treasured plants, but no sign of the offending adults. I picked off the effected leaves and destroyed them, then sprayed again for good measure. Unfortunately lily beetles always find a way back, so it pays to be vigilant year-round. Look out for your fritillaries too, especially after mild winters, as lily-beetles will decimate these with equal vigour.

A few bugs are not going to stop me from growing more of these otherwise easy-going bulbs, but it does pay to inspect plants regularly. Late attacks are normally less damaging, as the bulbs have built up their strength for the following year, but early infestations can result in smaller bulbs and poor flowering.

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Lilium ‘Golden Splendour’