The greenhouse isn’t just handy for heat and protection from the elements; this year I am using it as protection from pests too, like a massive environmesh tent. Once upon a time I used to grow lots of lilies. They were a favourite and a regular. I was a sucker for a properly heady scent, for a real knock-your-socks-off, silk-knicker-wearing perfume, and lilies provide that in spades, wafting seductively across the garden. It was the sort of scent that drew me outside on hot summer nights and encouraged such activities as lounging and languishing, activities we all need a little more of in our lives.
But that was before the explosion in the population of lily beetles. I’m sure in those heady days I was able to grow lilies reasonably unmolested: plant the things and up they would pop. Lily beetles are little pretty things, bright scarlet in colour, and almost too beautiful to crush mercilessly beneath a heel. The adults, though certainly visible, are reasonably harmless in themselves. It is their grubs – dull coloured and well hidden – that do the damage. They are laid on the underside of the leaves and one of their first moves is to cover themselves in their own faeces. Then they start eating.
When you notice them you need to try to remove them by hand, but your fingers become covered in the brown gooey stuff. They are voracious and tricky to find, so the only way to keep on top of them is to check under every leaf almost daily and then to squish them gruesomely between two fingers when you do. Oddly, all thoughts of languid lounging go out of your mind.
This is how I stopped growing them, the scented pay off just was not worth the faeces-covered slaughter that I now had to carry out on a weekly basis. So I just threw away my lily bulbs and I did without. And then last year I was sent some for free. I rolled my eyes and potted them up, meaning to hand them on to someone with a greater blood lust. But in fact they just sat in the corner of my greenhouse. And they grew.
They grew all summer long in fact, entirely untouched by lily beetles. As they came into flower I brought them outside and enjoyed them in the garden, just like it was the old days. However these were orange in colour and not especially strongly scented: not at all my lily of choice. So I have decided that if I am going to grow lilies in the greenhouse, then it may as well be the premium, the most luxurious and delicious lily that I know of, and I have bought myself 10 bulbs of Lilium longiflorum, the Easter lily (I have no idea why Easter, as they bloom around midsummer). They are a beautiful pure white trumpet shaped lily with a glorious scent.
I have split the bulbs between two pots, planted them into peat free compost and watered well. I will give them the occasional check over for the lily beetle but with a bit of luck last year’s pattern will be repeated. I am coming to suspect that normally the beetles find the lilies by way of the scent of the foliage, and planting them indoors throws them off enough to keep them away, even later on in the summer when the weather is warm and the greenhouse doors are left open all night. The two pots with their huge white trumpet flowers will look pretty magnificent at the top of my garden steps, and will be good reason to venture out in the warm summer evenings, to sit and enjoy the ravishing fragrance, just like in the good old days.