Over the last few years, gardening friends have been warning me about a garden scourge the seems to be new(ish) to my area. The lily beetle (Lilioceris lilii) is a pretty red and black beetle that defoliates just about anything in the Lily family, but seems to focus on Asiatics, Fritillaria, Soloman’s Seal, as well as any Lilium.
While the adult is beautifully bright scarlet, also making it very easy to spot, its progeny is a thing of nightmares. It’s a horrible thick blob of a thing that covers itself in its own excrement as a defence against predators and proceeds to eat emerging lily foliage to the ground. Now, I’m not at all squeamish when it comes to creepy crawlies of all types and I have a genuine curiosity about any creature that lives in my garden. As an organic gardener I am definitely not above squishing unwanted pests with my bare hands — it may not be pleasant, but its the safest (and sometimes quickest) method of pest control. But there is just something about a creature that instinctually slathers itself in its own body waste that commands a slow clap and a bow. Well done, lily beetle. Well done. I’ll be coming for you with gloves on, thank-you-very-much.
This is what passes for a flower bouquet at my house.
As a small space gardener I can’t grow the volume required to create large and frothy bouquets. I need to work with what I’ve got since we’re not growing cut flowers in Oprah quantities around here (I followed her Instagram account for a few weeks and could not believe the buckets upon buckets of roses that are harvested from her gardens). There wouldn’t be a whole lot left to enjoy in the garden were I to pilfer from it regularly. Instead, I harvest little bits of this and that and display them in tiny vases comprised of old perfume and medicine bottles, bud vases, and tiny bowls. I found a small stack of the tiny bowl (front right) at a market in Chaing Mai, Thailand. My favourite is in the right back, a rock with a hole carved in the centre. Can you believe I got that one free from a local junk shop? “Oh, you can just have it,” the proprietor replied when we inquired about the price.
Colourful bits of plant matter from my garden and an oddball assortment of free and practically free vessels = priceless (literally).
I believe it started with a small pot of Albuca shawii, a diminutive yellow flower that dances on thin stems in the breeze. It’s delicate leaves and stems are slightly rough to the touch and they have an unexpectedly nice, somewhat herbal scent. As a garden plant, it serves no real purpose except that it looks good and makes me happy, a fact that is neither here nor there now, but one that mattered a lot then. I’m still a small space gardener, but back then I was an even smaller space gardener and my primary garden space was a roof. There was no ramshackle shed or basement in which to hide the mess or store dormant plants. Every inch counted and if a plant didn’t serve at least two functions, it probably wasn’t welcome.
Since that first pot of albuca (which I still have in the same pot years later), I have gone on to grow all sorts of bulbs in containers of all shapes and sizes with very little effort. I look forward to their yearly appearance and wonder now, why on earth I deprived myself for so long.
I have written several times both on this site and elsewhere about taking a chance with forced or forgotten bulbs. My advice has always been to just try. Forced bulbs are often exhausted and will not produce flowers the following year. But sometimes they do. And sometimes they do the year after that.
Perennial herbs are coming up beautifully in my garden and we’ve been enjoying fresh oregano, chives, and French tarragon in our meals. I’ve also begun sowing annual seeds both indoors and out in the garden. With herbs on the brain I have compiled a resource guide that includes many of the best articles on growing, preserving, using, and eating herbs and edible flowers from this site.
I hope you will try growing some delicious herbs this season.