By Sandra Gibson, August 2016
Photograph by Geoff Edwards
Ever since I visited an Elizabethan house in Derbyshire and found it filled with planters of lilies, whose intoxicating heat-laden scent filled that memory with forever-summer, I have grown lilies in my garden. I have grown them for their evocative power, their pristine beauty and the musty sweetness of their perfume. Looking so exotic, it is surprising that they thrive in our temperate conditions but their enemy is not climate: it is the lily beetle. The gardening magazines are adamant that this creature must be picked off and killed, such is its power to ravage. If they were talking about slugs: horrid, shit-coloured, slimy slugs – and I have found them despoiling virginal white lilies (ugh! ugh! ugh!) – then I would feel less hesitant about elimination. But lily beetles are so beautiful: a perfect red (better than pillar-box, better than geranium, better than Red Danger lip gloss, even). Yet scourge they do: leaf and flower; flower and leaf, their super-alert antennae in perpetual motion.
Disregarding your glossy wings, which half-unfurl, like sleek machinery, I have gathered you up, lovely red creature, and put you outside the garden gate. I have even said goodbye, knowing all the time it was au revoir and that you will fly back in to land on Mother Ship Lily, and I will be glad that I didn’t kill you, and delighted to see you again, even though you have your chewing apparatus ready. Even though you might not be the same one I put out.
Such is the irrational folly of prejudicial attachment, which adores the appearance and ignores the returning wings – and the deadly intent to chew lilies. Where were my feelings of tenderness for Mr Gross-Slime the slug? Nowhere.
So, I have changed my mind. I have made the lily beetle the number one reason for growing lilies. And do you know what? Since that decision my beetles have only eaten the leaves: they haven’t even licked the precious buds. It feels as if we have struck an ecological bargain, though my grandson says I’m just being anthropomorphic all over the place.
Unfortunately, my lily beetle was unavailable for a photo shoot; his agent said no.
*Also known as Rose Bay Willow Herb, the prolific wild flower called Fireweed, five feet tall with spikes of magenta flowers, cheers the hearts of those whose cityscape has become a bomb site or whose buildings have been cleared by machine. The dormant seeds spring to life after destructive events such as forest or man-made fires, hence the name, Fireweed. This occasional column will celebrate the persistence of wildlife in urban conditions.