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The Gardening Coach

Catharine Howard is the Gardening Coach. Contact her for gardening advice and visit www.thegardeningcoach.co.uk for more information.

Why I do not want to plant lilies at all

I do not want to plant lilies at all.  I hate to think how those bright red lily beetles can zone in. Living  in the back of beyond well away from all human contact  they still arrive.  Do they travel about in prototype drones?

They – the lilies – frighten me with their twisty nostril smell and overtones of religious ecstasy or death.  I know there are rooms – myriads of them – for making exceptions to this.  Starting with the immaculate beauty and perfection of the martagon lilies.  I would go in my own drone to the steppes of the Anatolian plateau to see them revelling in snow-melt.  One day when the garden here has settled into an established framework, I’ll get those martagons from Avon bulbs.  Here is their mouthwatering catalogue description:

Lilium martagon album is a beautiful and refined plant with apple white petals and sulphur yellow stamens. Pamper them with a good leaf-mould rich soil in a shady spot where the paler colours will stand out”.

Christopher Ireland-Jones  is spot on about the pale shining out.  I made a client visit last week to a  garden recently installed round a brick and flint courtyard with an  indian marble water slide in its middle.  (The water is meant to wiffle down the riffled cut slope and make music.  Very like the effect of the water cascade at Chatsworth).  The courtyard has a north wall that remains in blank gloom.  We have smothered the walls in clematis, the climbing hydrangea and the white flowering akebia, out now and a subtle marvel.  Most of the plants are white  but when it came to choosing the hellebores I wandered off into the colours of Welsh slate.  One rogue white one has slipped in amongst the Blue Ladies  and shows them up as being too absorbent and dull.

Those lilies.  Rateable garden writers – Anne Wareham  and Lia Leendertz – say don’t do it.  The lily beetle will hide, lay eggs and the offspring will shred the leaves and shower the plants in excrement.  The plants will need picking over every day to furtively remove the bright red beetles before they jump off the lily and hide in the soil.

I have been unable to dissuade one customer.  Consequently  large  holes were dug two weeks back.  To these  grit was added at the base, and the bulbs – 5 per hole  with a spread of 20 cm between them were planted at that depth.

We planted bulbs of the astonishing Lilium regale.  The. plant is tall, one and a half metres or more and has huge  trumpet-shaped white flowers  with pink striped backs.    The stamens are egg yolk yellow. and with up to 25 flowers per stem, the scent is strong and wafting.

I shall wrap up with a prayer for human vigilance over insects and a swerve of a  warning:  Cat owners beware.   The RSPCA have reported that all parts of lilies can be fatal to cats, including the flower, leaves and pollen. Treading through nature ever more warily.

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