August-blooming lilies are well worth growing, even if some people -- like my husband -- think the pale pink belladonna is the world's ugliest flower. They're quite wrong, although I see their point: like amaryllis, these lilies really should be grown against a background that sets them off. I rather like their scent: Smoky rose, I'd call it.
When we bought the house six years ago, a small clump of pink belladonna bloomed the first summer. I was quite taken with them, even though they were in the middle of the lawn. The stalks sprang up between mowings, which, that year, were considerably fewer than they are now. Within a week of the shoots' appearance, the stalks were two feet tall and had such clusters of buds on them that I couldn't bring myself to mow them down.
A few days later they burst into bloom. Though I've done nothing to them for six years -- except mistreat them far more than they deserve -- this year they have made their presence very obvious. We now have a plentiful row of them along the fence. I don't understand how they came to grow here since the first lot is quite far away and no longer blooms. I assume that these delicate flowers excel at naturalizing. The sheep don't seem to like them nearly as much as they like everything else I try to grow, so they have spread vigorously with few enemies.
They'll remain where they are, I've decided. But I'll plant something around them next year so that they will appear a little less stark. Their soft color seems to need something equally soft to set them off -- perhaps some dusty miller. CORN-PONE: Corn is a marvelously clean vegetable to grow, wrapped, as it is, in squeaky husks. Right now there's an excess of Silver Queen available at vegetable stands. But yellow corn is certainly plentiful, too. While the Silver Queen is delicious when eaten young and very fresh, I prefer Golden Queen for freezing. It seems to maintain its sweetness longer than the white. Let the white go beyond its peak, and you have pretty tasteless stuff. The yellow is more forgiving. When I picked my first crop, I pulled up the stalks, needing the space for fall crops. I have heard, though, that if you leave the stalks in, you can plant fall peas between rows and they will enjoy the corn stalks' support. MELON MADNESS: I grew Sugar Baby this year with the idea that a smaller watermelon wouldn't be quite so apt to take over the entire garden in its zeal. I was quite right -- the vine was thick, but kept itself relatively contained, straying only slightly into the corn and tomatoes. I have a half- dozen melons on the ground, ranging in size from basketballs downward. When I got back from vacation two weeks ago, I found to my dismay that the vines had browned and wilted. Having never grown watermelon before, I didn't know they were susceptible to cucumber wilt, spread by the striped and spotted, respectively, cucumber beetles. If melons are fairly close to being ripe -- within a week or so -- then they're likely to be fine, despite the dead vine to which they're attached. But if the fruit is a couple of weeks shy of readiness, it's more likely to just sit there and rot. I'm assuming that the smaller of my fruit come under the latter category. But our local extension agent urges us not to pick the melon if there's any life at all in the vine. I noticed just last week that there were still a few green leaves left, and some of the smaller fruit were attached by rather green stems. So I'll leave well enough alone and get my watermelon lover to test the larger fruit for ripeness. She does this by knocking the melon, ostensibly to listen for hollowness. I've never been a good judge of watermelon ripeness, largely because I don't eat much of it. But I am told they make excellent daiquiris. MORE MELON MADNESS: Other members of the melon family are ready to pick now, although I can't boast about mine. I'm glad not to be alone in despairing of my cantaloupes, which this year can only be described as runty. I suppose the flavor is good, but how can you tell with only one or two spoonfuls of eating out of one measly melon? On the other hand, I know of one gardener who tosses seeds into the poorest part of her garden and has to let the fruit rot away, there's so much of it. Like zucchini, it can't even be given away if there's a great deal of it. I believe I shall steal some, however. Cantaloupe is easy to judge for ripeness. Sniff the top, as you would in the supermarket. Allow the stalk to dry up completely before you even attempt to pick it. Within a few days, you'll detect the scent of the cantaloupe, and by then it's a safe bet for eating. A READER ASKS: What do I do to keep birds from eating my blueberries? A: Anti-bird netting isn't difficult to find and it's very effective. I, personally, have never ventured into blueberries, although I intend to as soon as I figure out where to put them. But my neighbor boasts quite a crop. This year he covered his bushes with netting and reports that it worked beautifully. Our local garden supply center has rolls of netting for sale. Call around; I'm sure you won't have any trouble finding it.