OK. Let’s get the bad news out of the way. Lily Beetle! I hate the little blighters. All summer I make an effort to control them so I hope that none of the poo-covered larvae will mature and spend the winter cosy underground. But this spring I have been horrified by the appearance of the red devils as soon as the first lily foliage appeared through the soil. Not just a few but dozens of the things – and all intent on making dozens more! The creepy little things move slowly but drop off as soon as you try to get hold of them and, at this stage in the lily’s growth they fall into the base between the leaves and are impossible to get to.
So, with some reluctance and a little guilt, they were sprayed with insecticide. It is strange that I feel the need to justify using a chemical but that is the age we live in. In my defence, the small amount used was targeted at these few plants, which hold no interest for bees at present. Lily beetle are an introduced pest and not part of the food chain – oh that they were so that something would eat them – but they don’t, which is why lily beetle are such a problem. And if the lilies were destroyed at this stage and did not bloom, the hover flies, which need to eat protein-rich pollen in summer to make eggs, would have less to eat. Apart from anything else it would be irresponsible to grow lilies and not control lily beetle, which can fly from garden to garden with ease.
All the lilies seem to be affected although they seem to prefer the Asiatics and, this year, ‘Fusion’ a L. formosanum hybrid. They tend not to ‘prefer’ the ‘Tree lilies’ (OT lilies). What as horrible is that the masses on ‘Fusion’ were exploring the area and wandering onto daylilies (hemerocallis), which they don’t eat. Lily beetle (Lilioceris lilii) first became established in the UK in the 1990s and is now widespread throughout the UK and Ireland. It seems to have spread through Ireland in the past decade and is now widespread.
The good news is that Ageratum corymbosum made it through the winter and I have a batch of young plants to play with this year – I had a single plant last year. This is a simple plant that, as always, gets confusing because of naming. This is what I bought this plant as and I guess the name is right although this is given as a synonym for Eupatorium sordidum (Bartlettina sordidum) which is a much more majestic plant with purple, fluffy flowers and leaves covered in red hairs – well worth growing. The teo plants are not the same.
Ageratum corymbosum has rounded, faintly hairy, green leaves and long-lasting puffs of blue flowers. I know lots of people dislike ageratum – I do – but only because they are dwarf, smug little monsters scattered like a burst packet of Iced Gems around flower beds. The fluffy flowers themselves are fascinating in their own way and butterflies love them but I hate the dumpiness of most ageratum. You can buy seeds of taller varieties and they are usually available in mixtures of blue, white and (grubby) pink. White is not my favourite because the dead flowers are brown and ruin the effect – I am very fussy with white flowers and dislike those that die untidily.
Ageratum corymbosum has proved easy to grow from cuttings and reaches about 60cm high (so far) and seems to bloom for ever. The parent plant bloomed last year till frost stopped it and these youngsters have been in bloom since February. The new flowers ‘overtop’ the old ones so although they hang on after they fade and turn pale brown, they are disguised by the new ones. I think this is a useful plant for patio pots and borders and it seems robust and easy to please. Also, so far, there has been no mildew, which is often a problem on the seed-raised kinds. It is native to Mexico (I think) and will survive a touch of frost, though the top growth is damaged and the base of the plant will survive.
Would you Adam and Eve it!
Since I mentioned pests and insecticides above it seems appropriate to mention slugs. I would say that they are one of my most serious pests and I hate the slimy devils. But I am wrong, it seems.
The Royal Horticultural Society has decided that slugs are no longer to be classified as pests. According to Andrew Salisbury, the RHS’ Principal Entomologist, writing in The Guardian, slugs and snails play an important role in planet-friendly gardening and maintaining a healthy ecosystem adding that the RHS ‘will no longer label any garden wildlife as pests’. *
I am sure that the approach, which is obviously designed to highlight the importance of biodiversity, is well-meaning but really! I know that the biodiversity in my garden would be a lot less rich if I let the slugs eat every new plant I put in the ground. I am happy to let them nibble plants when they are established but tender young plants are not fair game. The RHS needs to consider what it represents and it is not representing gardeners with this decision. Utter madness.
*(from Garden News March 19/22)