Behind the Scenes by Dr. Nuala Sterling
As the Lily Group celebrates 75 years since its inception it is scarcely surprising that many of the great and gifted knowledgeable individuals are now but a memory, living through their writings. Their past contribution has been in discovery, identification, classification, culture or hybridisation, as well as simply enthusiasm for Lilies. It is tantalising not to have known more of these people so recently departed Dr. William Stern, Sir Peter Smithers, Chris North, and Michael Jefferson-Brown. One cannot but be aware too of the great plant hunters as we refer to the origin of each of the species which provide so much pleasure and breadth of our flora.
Yet for a Society to continue to grow we must attract new members thirsty for knowledge as to the best way to grow these beautiful flowers. Information is available in occasional articles in the RHS journal The Garden (2004, Vol. 129, iv, 296-200) and on our website. Each autumn the presence of a stand at the RHS Great Autumn Show provides another focus.
Members of the committee take it in turns to introduce potential new members to the group. A fabulous display of species photographs by Alasdair Aird is a real showstopper drawing the attention of visitors as they walk around the show. This is backed up with examples of 'Lilies and Related Plants', the Newsletter, information on the Group's activities, an application form and informal discussion. It is a very enjoyable experience to meet so many interesting plants people who may range from keen gardeners, liliophiles, horticulturalists, florists and authors interested in the history of plants, some will be keen to join. Of course it need not be just committee members; others might offer to contribute as Pat Huff has suggested (Newsletter June 2004 page 32)
A persistent source of enquiry at the Lily Group stand was the vexed question of the Lily Beetle pest. From the exasperation of one lady whose daily killing of the red beetle was negated by a neighbours lack of intent to the decision of one to give up growing lilies in desperation. Frantic was the frustration of trying to catch the beetle swiftly falling on its back, the difficulty in squashing them and the disgust at the protective excrement of the larvae. But few people thought of breaking the life cycle and seeking out the larvae or pupae. Only one generation is produced in a season - the adults emerge in April feeding on leaves and laying eggs through the summer. When fully mature the larvae pupate in the soil to emerge 2-3 weeks later as adults. They overwinter in shelter often in the soil, knowledge of recent research work into the Biology and potential control of the lily beetle by RHS Entomologist Andrew Salisbury who started a PhD project in 2004 is eagerly awaited http://www.rhs.org.uk/learning/research/projects/lily_beetle.asp Also http://www.rhs.org.uk/Science/Plant-pests/Lily-beetle
However much is written in reference books, sometimes with varying advice, there are always new questions to be answered. Learning about the variations of germination and the rewards of growing lilies from seed a new devotee can scarcely believe what is going on in hypogeal development of root and bulb. The development of the cotyledon leaf is followed (later) by the true leaves, but what about the dried remnant of the first? Uncertain I left it in place only to find it a sturdy 'handle' to assist the transfer of the tiny bulbs. The alternative of leaving all in pots for two seasons may be followed by a mass of 1 cm bulbs and tangled roots, evidence from the bulging plastic pot as to what should already have been completed (or sown less densely). There is a great temptation to investigate what is going on in the pots and clearly seedlings differ, the development of true stems with or without flowers is a clear guide to transplant.
Two visits to the Linnean Society, the International lily Conference in 2004 and in this year's visit programme (Pat Huff LG Newsletter June 2006 p6.) were a great delight. This time in a visit to the dungeons and controlled environment of the Herbarium, where guided by the Librarian and Archivist Gina Douglas, we were privileged to see specimens prepared by Linnaeus himself in the 18 th Century. The fortuitous preservation of this collection of 40,000 specimens from the estate of Sir J.E.Smith is history itself, Linnaeus Tercentenary in 2007 puts in perspective our 75 years and the importance of handing on knowledge to each generation in celebration of past explorers in more primitive but leisured times. Link to the Linnean Society