Lily Gluttony

– Posted in: Bulbs, Garden Design

I got “the look” tonight. It was delivered by the lady who walks here somethingorother-poo and it’s given to all of us who have too many lilies in life. You know “the look.” It combines a stare of disbelief, a roll of the eyes, a covetous sigh, and the growl of sheer, unabashed envy (the growl might have come from the dog). For a few fleeting minutes, I felt a whole lot like Marie Antoinette. But then I got over it.  And I fell back into wallowing in my lilies, the hell with the fact that the rest of the world was drooling. Let them eat hemerocallis.


I must say that I richly deserved “the look.” I was asking for it when I planted all those Tangos by the road. I’ve never been one to dabble in out-of-control consumerism per se, but this was a blatant case of conspicuous consumption.

Neighbors are philosophical about most flowers, I’ve found. Put your echinaceas along the road and everyone just thinks that you’re the neighborhood wild child. But there’s something over the top about lilies in general. It’s like they’re the orchids of the outdoor world. And Tangos are particularly immodest.

'Pup Art'

What is it about Tangos, you’re wondering? Well, it’s their galaxy of black speckles in the center. That’s their hallmark. Like the Milky Way in reverse, the shiny black accent serves as a stunning contrast to the petal colors. It pulls your eye to the center like mascara sends your gaze straight to eye contact. There’s a whole group of these beauts created by Mak Breeding in the Netherlands. And I confess, I met several of them in Holland before they were officially released. Some are semi-neon in color. And you guessed it — those were the ones that I sprang for. In quantity.

'Pup Art'

‘Graffiti’ is all well and good with its tiger-like configuration of black dots against a school bus yellow field. But my heartthrob is ‘Pup Art’ (I suspect they meant ‘Pop Art’, but the correct spelling was apparently lost in translation from the Dutch). We’re talking seething saffron red with shimmering black freckles. It opens later than ‘Graffiti’ and its the fashion statement that’s caused the stir on the street. Especially with the poo crowd.

Because these are Asiatics, they miss the boat on fragrance. And I must say, that “swoony” fragrance (I’m borrowing a phrase from Anna Pavord here, from her new book, Bulb) can be more than slightly overwhelming when your garden is within reach out the window from your office. Granted, I gratefully send the scent of heliotrope wafting inward to mask the odor of girl-slaving-over-computer, but lily aroma would leave me panting and fanning myself on the floor. Thus more sweat.

'Royal Sunset'

The Tangos aren’t the only game in town. I also do other Asiatics and they fill a hiccup in the garden that would otherwise be relatively boring. I give a lot of the other perennials a midsummer crewcut hoping for a second flush. Meanwhile, the lilies entertain during the intermission. The trick lies in surrounding them with perennials that work up to their height. And I can’t quite gather the height necessary to surround the Trumpets. So that explains why they’re not in residence. I used to have a slew of Orientals, but the chipmunks shared my admiration. Now I surround all my lily bulbs in a nest of oyster shells. It works (so far). But there’s another issue that’s even more of a problem for lilies.

Anybody else battling lily beetle out there? This is a bright red varmint who makes King Kong seem tame. This culprit never sleeps. They start in earliest spring, occur all summer, they have sex continually, their larvae is smeared wall-to-wall and the grossest mass of black goop, and they require around the clock vigilance. They also decimate fritillarias and Solomon seal. I have to devote half an hour daily to their eradication (I just pick them off and watch with glee as they drown in my handy can of oil, I’m organic here).

Another issue with lilies is that they’re purportedly poisonous to cats. I don’t say that from personal experience — Einstein is such a hellcat that he’s kept indoors, safe from cars and coyotes. But the lilies are also safe from him and vice versa.

'Black Out'

So I guess that you can say these divas are high maintenance. But nobody ever claimed that looking absolutely ravishing is easy. Maybe… just maybe… that’s why the neighbors walk over here to get their lily fix.




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priscilla July 20, 2011, 12:24 pm

grat article amusing & well written Good tips on Asiatic “protection ” & nice varieties I love Lilies & have had varying dgrees of success This time of year they are essential Thanks!

Right you are, Priscilla — Where would the July/Aug garden be without lilies? This seems to be a banner year for them…–Tovah

cheryl monroe July 20, 2011, 1:03 pm

wallow way! they are gorgeous, especially’Pup Art”..divine. I grow lots and lots of lillies and tuck a few bulbs in almost every container I make. They overwinter like a dream if the containers are drained properly and seem to suffer the attention of the dreaded red lily beetle far less. Not to make you jealous or anything, but I have killed exactly 4 beetles this year. I too have devoted many a gardening hour to erradication in the past and am happy for the break!

Okay, Cheryl, if you want to hear my theory — slavishly eradicating beetles is like putting money in the bank. It all adds up to fewer and fewer beetles — for you and your neighbors. If you can rally the whole ‘hood into doing it, all the better. I’ve got a whole town contingent going. We’re going to win this war! One day, I’ll be posting a blog that boasts of only 4 beetles also. I’m up in Maine this week, by the way, and they never had Japanese beetles before — they’re inundated this year. Anyone else noticing this trend? Good idea on containers, I’ve seen it in Holland, but rarely here — Tovah

Cathy July 20, 2011, 4:05 pm

Oh, Tovah, you make me want to plant those gorgeous Asiatics again. I have had to pull up so many of mine because the RLLB’s have invaded this area with a vengeance and are multiplying faster than well fed rabbits. Dealing with them is like bailing the Titanic with a sand pail.

I posted about these monsters on my blog earlier in the season…. I have a little trick that might make it a faster chore for you. I have a nasty tremor from my MS so picking them off the plant and squishing them – while would be ever so personally satisfying – is just not something I am very successful with. They simply drop off into the dirt or mulch and then I can’t see them.

What makes it easier for me is to smear a piece of cardboard with Vaseline or goopy thick shampoo. (Cut up an empty cereal box, or use the card from a pantyhose package – and do NOT ask what kind of person wears pantyhose in July. I am married to a psychiatrist and he says I’m not THAT crazy.)

Slide it under the lily and tap the leaf or the stem and knock them onto the card. They can’t get out of the goop. Fold the mess up into a plastic garbage bag and you’re done. I have just a few lilies – they attack my peonies and clematis and some of my roses, too – but one goopy card can hold a lot of them and the more I catch the better I feel.

I spray with canola, soap, and Neem and while that is effective against larvae, the adults just give me the bug equivalent of an obscene hand signal. I also spray the ground with an ammonia solution to kill the larvae. That helps keep the numbers down, but since they are pandemic here, more find their way here and start the mess all over again.

I am going to have to plant some more lilies… maybe a few outside my studio window so I can enjoy that heavenly fragrance again.

O my my my, Cathy — this is BRILLIANT! The perfect use for all my used FedEx envelopes! I can’t WAIT to tell my local postmistress — we’re on the Lily Beetle X Mission together. And good grief — I never heard of them on anything else but members of the Liliaceae. You’re saying that their menu has increased? Horrors! If they so much as look at my peonies hungrily, I will stop at NOTHING…Ever notice that they always fall to the ground upside down so you can’t see the little varmints? –Tovah

Nicole July 20, 2011, 4:16 pm

Those are absolutely gorgeous lilies-love Tango and Black Out ( red is my favorite color flower) and those are just sumptuous.

And the ‘Pup Art’ Tango color is an saffron-red that’s really hard to find in other flowers, Nicole. That’s what I love about lilies — the color range. I just got my B&D Lily catalog yesterday — that’s where I got these babies… — Tovah

Cathy July 21, 2011, 6:19 am

Yes, Tovah, they WILL eat anything close by if they either run out of Asiatics or just plain get bored and decide to go gourmet.

Phlox and peonies have suffered a lot of damage from them in my garden, and this year I almost had a heart attack when they hit on the clematis. I will confess to you that I pulled out some of the big guns for that. They have also attacked my hemerocallis, which they definitely aren’t supposed to, some roses (totally defoliated two this season already) and even the sand cherry tree.

Yes, that trick – falling to the ground belly up to avoid detection – is a nasty example of Darwin’s survival of the fittest. That’s what motivated me to catch them where they land. I have such a hard time with my hands, picking them was beyond my physical ability, and I was fighting a losing battle. And once they fell, I couldn’t see them at all.

So save those fedex envelopes – they are the perfect weight and size. And what I would do (I’ve used them before myself) is open the sides and then cut them in half and use just the front or the back. Cut a slit from one of the long sides halfway to the middle, and cut a little circle at the middle, big enough to just encircle the stem.

Set it under the plant and just go at it. I use a pencil or wooden BBQ skewer to knock them down. I get a tremendous thrill, watching them stuck there. You can completely clean a tall lily in less than 30 seconds.

Then I “power” spray to control the larvae, and spray the dirt with ammonia. Since none of the neighbors do any of this, within a week or two or three at the most, they’re back……

But being a glutton for punishment, I’ll go ahead and plant more. I just know it. I’ll delude myself into thinking I can stay ahead of them and I’ll try another spot and try to fake them out. It won’t work, but for a few weeks, I’ll almost convince myself that I did it!

Stargazer is my perennial favorite but I had a gorgeous tall white one and some minis, “Lollipop” that I pulled out last year as they were jumping from them to the peonies.

This is brilliant, Cathy, although I had nightmares about my peonies all evening. I’m headed out on the road so just a quickie now — can you share your canola, neem, etc recipe with us?–Tovah

professorroush July 21, 2011, 5:18 pm

No Lily Beetles here…and no squirrels on the prairie in my vicinity, so lilies are as easy as plant and forget. Sorry!

We’re so envious. But really, the beauty of lilies is that they’re uniquely unforgettable. Remember that painting by Sargent — Lanterns & Lilies? They’re the essence of summer, wherever you live.–Tovah

Compost for Plants July 22, 2011, 12:53 am

Beautiful gardens have always been the part of our history. From the lavish Hanging Garden of Babylon to the Ascog Fernery to the more modern residential, contemporary garden they beautify our homes.

You’re absolutely right — and lilies go way back in biblical history as well.–Tovah

Kyle July 22, 2011, 1:42 pm

I couldn’t agree with everyone more – these lilies are just wonderful. It’s good to see other gardeners and the like enjoying such a simple yet elegant flower. I have wild lilies growing all over the forested areas of my home and I couldn’t be happier. They really add beautiful dashes of color to my yard edges, and help break up the monotony of the greenery, so to speak. There is definitely a beauty to some gardens, and it is a shame that some people go without realizing this. Awesome post Tovah, I really enjoy reading your posts. 🙂

Your feedback made my (very, very hot) day, Kyle. Thank you. And you brought up a point that I forgot to mention — lilies seem to thrive in low light, woodland soil conditions beautifully. Anyone else noticed that also? Talk about a spark of color in the shadows…–Tovah

Tikyd July 23, 2011, 8:48 pm

The design on some of the lilies you have shown is amazing.

Doesn’t it seem as though lilies are spiraling much faster than other plants (except perhaps echinaceas) with innovations?–Tovah

Cathy July 24, 2011, 11:01 am


You can use insecticidal soap and horticultural soap to spray, but I find that canola and either Ivory Liquid or Seventh Generation work just as well.

Here are the recipes.

Recipe for RLLB Sprays

To 1/2 gallon of water add:
1/4 cup canola oil
3T clear dishwashing liquid like Seventh Generation
2T Neem Oil

You need to swirl it frequently when you’re spraying (which is why I prefer to mix 1/2 gallon at a time – it gets heavy!) as the oil and water separate out.

This time of year we are seeing some powdery mildew so I am also adding 2T baking soda to everything I spray.

The second part is to spray the dirt with an ammonia solution – 1 part household ammonia and 9 parts water is a 10% solution. Spray the ground under the lilies and that gets a lot of the larvae that hit the ground when you are spraying or they are sprouting and molting.

You can read my full post about these little monsters here:

And our full garden spray protocol (all natural, completely safe for kids, bees, birds, and fish) is here:

Hope that helps.

This is really, really helpful, Cathy. I’m going to bring it in to my friend at the post office tomorrow. She was about ready to give up on lilies entirely…Thank you! Hopefully, a few more lily beetles will bite the dust.–tovah

Patrick's Garden July 24, 2011, 8:55 pm

The finest catalog writer could come up with something as beautiful as the description of ‘Pup Art’ as saffron red with shimmering black petals. Sounds like a best buy to me.

Oh you’re so sweet, Patrick. But my favorite lily description was from a 19th Century traveling lily salesman, “a great Scarlet bell, with ecru ruchings on the petals, a Solerino frill around the pistil, and a whole bottle of perfume in each stamen.” Now that’s irresistible…–tovah

Cynthia Newby July 25, 2011, 2:55 pm

Jan says this is great and also Cathy is very clever!
People here yesterday for the Open Day said they spray with BioNeem — can anyone confirm efficacy/safety?
THX Cynthia

Thank you, Cynthia — Everyone out there in GGW-land, let me give you an introduction to Cynthia’s garden = she plants it for birds and pollinators and it’s the most gorgeous place on earth filled with echinacea and clouds of various wonderful perennials plus blueberries and berries especially for winged visitors. She had a Garden Conservancy Open Garden yesterday with 200 very appreciative attendees. So whatever she sprays with has to sit well with birds and other “good guys”. Can anybody weigh in on BioNeem for all creatures great and small?–tovah

Debbie July 27, 2011, 6:09 am

Where are all of you located? I’m sitting just north of Chicago, waiting for the sun to rise so I can patrol my garden for these nasty red bugs – Horrors! The japanese beetles haven’t been too bad this year (fingers crossed) but our wkend home out by Iowa is under siege.

I think most of us are located in the New England Lily Beetle War Zone, Debbie. The beetle was introduced here, lucky us. It’s mostly an issue in spring when you can pick them off by the dozens or watch your lily disappear overnight. Moving on to other foes: One evening last week, I found my asparagus COVERED with Japanese beetles. Picked them all off and it hasn’t happened again. Fingers crossed.–tovah

Debbie August 18, 2011, 1:33 pm

I grew up Amherst, Ma w/o a single memory of these scary bugs. An older brother has a perennial business (in Amherst) and he hasn’t mentioned problems. But he’s much more relaxed than me – I baby my perennials on my city lot while he has hundreds to NOT worry about. The japanese beetles are eating everything at West IL wkend house: alder trees, rose of sharon, willow, crabtrees – ick

Lily beetles are a fairly new curse, Debbie. Don’t know whether they’ve landed in upper New England yet, but if they were present — your brother would probably notice. I saw Japenese beetles in Maine this summer, and they’ve never been tormented by them before. I think it’s a particularly bad year. Where are all the bug-eating-birds when you need them?

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