Saturday, June 30, 2007

Lilies, Roses and Delphiniums

Another garden essay. The picture doesn't show any of the plants I write about, but it does show some red daylilies at about this time of the year.

I love lilies, the tall-stemmed perfumed white ones with enormous flower cups. They look unapproachably regal, like the cold queens of some ancient barbaric tribe. Yet their scent in a summer evening evokes much earthier thoughts: one thinks of skin and lips, husky voices whispering endearments, the ladies of the night.

As much as I love lilies I hate the lily beetle. This small orange-red beetle lives for two things: to destroy lilies and to copulate, and it is extremely successful in both. It appears to have no natural enemies in my garden, myself excluded, and each year it comes out a little more victorious in the war I wage against it. I am also getting tired of the manner in which it has turned my daily garden strolls into beetle crushing campaigns. I am beginning to think that my lily growing days may soon be over.

Or perhaps not. There are no good understudies for lilies as August star performers, and some stars are necessary for each month of the gardening season.

Roses are similar divas of the garden. My climbing roses are finally large enough to be admired from below. Their June dance of ivory, silk and lace coincides with the flowering of honeysuckles and leaves me drunk with the garden for days. But once the perfect flowers are gone, the awkward disease-ridden bodies remain to demand the gardener's attention.

Never mind that my roses were bought as disease-resistant, they seem to get blackspot almost before they get leaves. Organic remedies have no perceptible impact, so my blackspot treatment consists of careful removal of the sickened leaves. By August, the roses are close to skeletal, and the lilies are then also needed to draw the spectator's eye away.

Deciding the destiny of my lilies and roses is not going to be easy. Most real choices aren't. For whatever I choose, something essential will be lost: satiny petals, intoxicating scent and beauty of the floral form on the one hand, time and peace of mind on the other. And when the choice is finally made, regrets follow.

I still miss the delphiniums (delphinium elatum) to which I dedicated most of my compost, waking hours and miles of stake and string for several summers. The last summer I grew them they stood seven feet tall with hundreds of slowly opening sky blue eyes. Then one night it rained hard, and the following morning the delphiniums were lying helter-skelter across other plants, looking like duchesses who were dressed for a ball but chose instead to stand on their heads in mud puddles. This may have seemed funny to them, but was not my idea of a star performance. It wasn't too difficult to let them go. But I still have some regrets.

The lilies and roses would be much more painful to lose, as they, at least, complete their performances, and all the understudies I know for them are just that, understudies.

So should I grow them or not? There should be a third answer to this dilemma, just like there should be one for other difficult choices in life.