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Shagging in the Lilies

Watering cans, beetles and losing a friend

I've started avoiding the news. The hysteria this week over a certain government adviser has reached such a frenzy that I can't bear it any longer. Thankfully I'd booked the week off work and as the weather has been glorious I've been able to spend a lot of time outside in the garden.

Chris's lilies are about to flower, an event you'd think would be something to celebrate. Unfortunately the anticipation has been sullied by an invasion of red lily beetles which eat the stems, leaves and flowers. Battle lines have been drawn and Chris is not taking any shit.

"Chriiiiiis," I called across the garden yesterday, "there's another one!"

"Kill the bastard!"

"I'm not killing it! I'm a vegetarian!"

"I'm not asking you to eat it," Chris stomped across the lawn in his not so invisible socks and Birkenstocks combo, frowning. He meant business. "Where is it?"

I pointed to the pretty little gem of a creature twitching its antennae and wiggling its bum like it was doing the conga. "Look, just under that leaf. No that one. No, down a bit, down a bit. Up a bit."

"Twat." The expletive was directed at the beetle, not me, as he finally homed in on it. Grabbing it off the leaf, he plucked it from the plant, brought it towards his face so he could better see the culprit then squashed it dead, rolling its mangled body between thumb and index finger and flicking its lifeless and sticky corpse across the garden.

"That'll teach it." He was triumphant.

"Yeah, it'll certainly think twice before coming back to our garden."

Chris won't tolerate anything eating his garden. The slugs have no chance as he goes through tub after tub of blue slug pellets every year, sprinkling them with gay abandon on the flower beds and planters. For those wily and deceitful gastropods that evade his obstacle course he has one last trick in store for them, a liberal sprinkle of blue dots in the cupped leaves of the plants themselves. He's like the Anti-Willy Wonka of the slug world.

One surprising shortage during the recent lockdown has been slug pellets, not that it's been a particular problem because it's been very dry, but you never know when we're going to have a damp spell, and slugs are devious.

"Why don't you try using beer?" I suggested. "We've got some old cans of Carling that someone brought to a party and nobody will touch. I'm sure the slugs won't turn their noses up at it."

"Isn't it cruel though?" Chris was more concerned about them having to drink shit lager than them shrivelling up and dying a painful death at the hands of the blue poison.

"There's two cans under the stairs somewhere. I think Mark and Darren brought them and we've not spoken to them for nearly five years so they might be out of date."

Chris declined and went out later that day to track down what I suspect to be black market slug pellets. The beer is still there.

While the garden has become Chris's hobby rather than mine in recent years, I've taken over houseplant duties. Only this morning he pointed out that my two avocado plants were in dire need of water.

"Again!" I whinged, "I'm having to water them two or three times a week at the moment."

"It's like a furnace in that window."

"They should be used to it! They're from Mexico!"

I have no idea if avocados are from Mexico or not, these ones are from Tesco in Stretford, I know because that's where I bought the fruit that I ate before spending months trying to get the bastards to sprout.

The fact of the matter was that the avocado plants were thirsty, their leaves were drooping, and after all the effort I put into getting them to be a foot high I wasn't about to let the buggers die, so I grabbed a watering can.

Much like Chris's slippers, we have a wide variety of watering cans, each with a different design and function, and each at a different stage of its lifecycle.

In addition to the hosepipe, which itself has a range of attachments from sprinkler, to handgun, to four foot wand, each with an assortment of watering options including jet, shower, cone and mist (for those early evening garden moments when you're feeling whimsical and pretty), there's the standard watering can with rose end for sprinkling, the small watering can, with its delicate nozzle and body the size of a cat's head for tricky to get to roots, and the comedy duck which was a gift but turned out to be most useful for small pots and planters.

My weapon of choice this morning was the small cat head sized watering can. I grabbed the Baby Bio, read the instructions thoroughly, and carefully squeezed precisely ten drops of plant food into the water before doing a circuit of the house and making sure every plant inside was both fed and watered.

Feeding plants is an area where Chris and I have different schools of thought. I will spend time measuring the exact amount recommended per litre of cold water whereas Chris will give it a big squirt and hope for the best.

As the garden begins to flower, alongside his weekly slug pellet purchases he will begin buying Miracle Grow. He generally opts for the bright blue powder that you dissolve in a watering can as opposed to liquid feed or the slow release stuff you mix in the compost, and as with the Baby Bio indoors, measurements go out of the window.

"One more scoop for luck." he'll say as an extra terrestrial, cobalt foam spews from the top of the watering can.

I'd never heard of Miracle Gro before I met Chris, why would I? I was twenty and more concerned with taking drugs and dancing than growing the best begonias on the street. How things change.

He's been a fan for as long as I've known him and every year it's astonishing just how well this stuff works. The bedding plants are monstrous, the hanging baskets gargantuan. Potted geraniums lean into you with a flick knife threatening to kill your dog if you don't do what they say; sweet peas hiss "I know where you live mother fucker!" as you squeeze by apologetically.

The lilies were a gift from me to Chris a couple of St Valentine's Days ago. Our friend Nathan, who we met on holiday in Thailand in 2000 with his then girlfriend Sophie, ran a company that imported bulbs from the Netherlands and sold them in the UK and he would always look after us when we placed an order, popping in something unusual like the pineapple plant he sent which looked beautiful but had a habit of attracting big brown flies.

Sophie turned out to be a horror. She lodged with us for a few months when we lived in London and I had to ask her to leave after she became insufferable. She once installed a phone line without asking so she could work from (our) home and invite clients back to our house when we were out at work. The final straw was when she secretly added herself and Chris to the electoral register and not me meaning that I was denied a vote in the Enfield local elections. I wouldn't have voted anyway but that's not the point.

I wasn't surprised to hear many years later that Sophie had been embroiled in some dodgy dealings with drug dealers while living in Bali and luckily, for her and her kids, had managed to divert attention and slip her way out of big trouble with police. Her husband, known affectionately as Gobby, was not so lucky and was held in police custody after they allegedly found 78 grams of ecstasy in their house.

This was reported in Telegraph in 2012 and if you're interested you can read about that here.

Nathan on the other hand was a lovely guy. Generous, genuine and charming, a gentle soul, so I was incredibly upset to learn, when I got in touch with him about getting some bulbs for Chris, that he was suffering from lung cancer. The cancer, he told me, had metastasised and was now present as brain tumours. It was, he said, just a matter of time before he died and all the medics could do for him now was lengthen the time he had left with his wife and children by a few weeks.

Nathan arranged for the box of bulbs to be sent and refused to accept payment. I wrote to him at the end of February to tell him they were all planted and asked how he was getting on.

He replied, "Good work. I'm doing okay thank you. Had Gamma Knife surgery on my brain on Friday. That was fun."

He sent me a picture of himself with a clunky metal head brace on. It had what looked like two thin metal tubes going into his forehead on either side.

He joked, "If I sneeze the holes in my head whistle!"

We chatted on and off though Facebook messenger for a few weeks. In March he developed pneumonia and one of his lungs collapsed. "Never a dull moment!" he wrote.

He went on to say that he could really do without it as he had some other treatment due to start and he had tickets to see The Doves at the Royal Albert Hall which he really didn't want to miss.

The last time we had contact was at the beginning of April. He'd managed to get to the concert which he said was superb. Roger Daltry had made a surprise appearance. He sounded relieved and said, "It was just good to get out again, it's been a long time!"

Nathan died on 28th May 2019, a year ago this week, leaving three daughters, his wife, parents and brothers behind. He was 43 years old.

His bulbs flowered last summer and both Chris and I sent messages to Nathan's wife with pictures of the lilies and other flowers saying they were a reminder of him that we hoped would come back every year and keep him in our thoughts.

As you can imagine it's lovely to see them back again this summer and we're not going to let those bloody beetles ruin them.

I looked over at the lilies yesterday and saw two of the red horrors, riding piggy back.

"Chris! They're shagging!" I yelled over to him.

"They're like that, the dirty little bastards!" said Chris as he stomped over, finger and thumb held aloft, to save Nathan's lilies.

Nathan Teeuw

Richard Douglas
Richard Douglas
Read next: 'Chocolate Kisses'
Richard Douglas

I'm a writer based in Manchester, UK. I write plays, I blog, I'm writing my first novel (and looking for representation), I'm the written voice of a chatbot that helps kids understand their cancer treatment and I'll turn my hand to anything

See all posts by Richard Douglas

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