All yellows at peril

pollen beetles on Ligularia dentata

And, such are the surprises of gardening, much else too.  Hemerocallis ‘Hyperion’, wrecked.  The lovely mahogany-backed H. ‘Corky’, wrecked.  The courgette flowers I’d promised myself for supper, battered, fried, impossible: wrecked.  The brazen flowers of Ligularia dentata, not that I wanted to eat those, but would have been fun in a vase, impossible to use.  But only between the hours of 8.00am and, give or take a bit, 10.00pm.  By the evening, even the sheets on the line are clear.  What have they got in common?  All are yellow.  And the wrecking agent?  Hundreds, no, thousands, or even thousands and thousands, of tiny black beetles.  Pollen beetles.  At least, that’s what I think they are called… Meligethes aeneus to be precise.  Oddly, on most garden flowers, they seem not especially interested in the anthers that hold the pollen, but congregate at the base of the stamens, making thick black masses inside daylily flowers, filling the tube of honeysuckle flowers, clustering deep down in the flower boss of ligularias, sunflowers and more.  A desperate need of nectar, probably.  Ok.  Unsightly but not damaging.

What does get damaged is a lot more maddening.  I had some rows of Cima di Rapa, a splendid Italian veggie, a sort of turnip, that races not to make roots, but flower stalks.  They’re every bit as delicious as broccoli, produce skinny side shoots once you’ve harvest the main one, and the pigeons don’t seem to like the taste.  Alas, pollen beetles do.  And long before the yellow brassica flowers open.  They burrow into the young flower buds, lay eggs, and the resultant larvae scoop out the buds innards.  It all happens very fast, a couple of days only it seems.  There you are in the veggie patch, basin in hand, and there’s not a decent stalk of cima di rapa to be harvested.

My kitchen garden is also where washing is dried.  There’s no point in taking anything sheet-like in until the cool of the evening.  The yellow sheets are worst, each dotted with hundreds of beetles, utterly refusing to be shaken off.   That is, until they all vanish to an unknown location as the air temperature falls.

The only yellow things in the garden that they are not in the least interested in are the yellow garden chairs, so at least we can sit in a beetle free zone, and watch the black daylilies.  Cheering.

A courgette flower, clear and crisp if picked before breakfast is, by the time I’ve actually eaten, crawling with them.  The day lilies start picking up a few almost as soon as the petals open, get increasingly covered as the day progresses, and must trap a goodly number of industrious wee animals when the petals collapse.


About david stuart

garden writer and journalist, and occasionally a designer, with a garden in the Scottish borders, and his pal's gardens in Edinburgh, London, and Lincolnshire. They keep both of us very, very busy. Books I've written listed on my website, and dozens of articles and garden and plant pictures. Currently working on several new projects. One of these was to return to painting - see the blog - and which is proving exciting! or, more fun, have a look at
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