My Wild Life

A hedgehogIsn’t every garden a ‘wildlife’ garden? Even a carefully tended greenhouse has ‘wildlife’ – whitefly, vine weevils, woodlice, the odd fatally disorientated butterfly and – in the case of my friend Nicola who regularly leaves her swanky glasshouse door open by mistake – rabbits.

‘Wildlife gardening’ is often treated as a bit of a world apart, ideally and idyllically ‘organic’. But what are we supposed to do about wholesale destruction of various garden plants by ‘wildlife’? Butterflies we want to conserve start life as platoons of ghastly creepycrawly caterpillars that can demolish a square yard of nasturtiums in a day. I have a passion for birds, but don’t get me started on the subject of woodpigeons. And has anyone ever discovered an earthly reason for the existence of slugs, snails or wasps?

On an allotment it may be acceptable, but I don’t want my lovely garden to be festooned with glinting CDs, nor have to grow things under mesh or through cut off plastic drinks bottles – or alternatively live with disfigured flowers and maimed plants with mottled or bitten leaves..

I therefore admit freely that I wage a pretty unfair war on quite a lot of wildlife (aka ‘pests’), but not in the way I used to when I started gardening some years ago. Then, along with countless others, I routinely zapped the whole garden with what seemed like the best thing since sliced bread, newly developed, foul-smelling, now-banned Murphy’s Systemic Insecticide.

In those days it was even considered OK to water systemic chemicals in to the soil around the roots of our roses and shrubs to achieve, a day or so later, a total wipe-out and drop-off of just about every flying, buzzing, hopping or leaf-sucking insect known to man. And gardeners used to cast hideously toxic slug pellets containing now-outlawed methiocarb around by the fistful, as I recall. No one suggested for a moment that there was anything untoward about any of it.

In my garden (as opposed to on my allotment – where my Green-ness is a little more refined)  I continue to maintain reasonable control of unwanted ‘wildlife’ with the help of chemicals. I use the newer, more selective, systemic pesticides (such as imidacloprid) with great care and caution, spraying to strive to control specific pests only on individual plants that I know will not perform to my satisfaction if munched, and trying to time my spraying to coincide with a point in each beastie’s lifecycle that it is most likely to be nobbled.

This means doing a bit of homework – and it also means that I may only spray just once, generally before things flower (therefore avoiding a conflict of interest with bees or beneficial hoverflies), with the intention of rendering the plants inhospitable to would-be invaders.

This year I blew it with regard to the mullein moth – one or two of my Verbascums were shredded while my back was turned by gorgeous-looking yellow and black ‘motherpillars’ and it is this that has made me peeved enough to sit down and bare a distinctly un-Green part of my horticultural soul.

Apart from this not-inconsiderable cock-up, by carefully-timed action this year I have managed not to have my solomon seal leaves shredded, nor have my day lily buds become swollen and slimy (full of the grubs of the hemerocallis gall midge); there are virtually no aphids on my roses and absolutely no sign of lily beetles on my lilies, my sages are not disfigures by lurking leafhoppers and my honeysuckles are unblemished by blackfly. In slightly greener mode, I have used slug pellets even more sparingly this year by using sheep wool pellets (Slugbuggers, my latest find) and copper barriers to great effect.

I make no apologies for all this, for despite my lack of Organic Cred, I have obviously barely made even a small dent in the local insect population, and my packed little garden is full of other wildlife – it sometimes feels like Picadilly Circus out there.

The hedges and trees are alive with birds, with resident nesting blackbirds, robins, tits, sparrows and starlings, visiting song thrushes, various finches, and a pair of nuthatches. I have regular nocturnal visits from at least two snuffly hedgehogs, and a young fox slakes his thirst daily before dawn from a pond that is home to frogs and newts and regularly visited by dragon- and damsel-flies.

Evidently, wildlife will and can, figuratively speaking, live cheek by jowl with a pragmatic but distinctly un-organic gardener.

 

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6 Responses to My Wild Life

  1. When I visited Helen’s garden last Saturday, she had robins and blackbirds flying down at her command. I’m now firmly convinced that when she does her housework, she recruits an army of bunnies and squirrels and blue tits to hang out the washing and dry the dishes.
    Helen, my account of your talk is up on my blog now, if you want to have a look. Hope you like it…

  2. Sylvia says:

    Helen, I think this is how a lot of us garden these days, just using the minimum of chemicals. It would be nice to have the time for nightly patrols to collect and kill slugs and snails – or would it, no thank you not for me even if I had the time! But you have made me think that it may be better to use the pesticides earlier, rather than waiting for things to get out of control. I wish there was less embarrassment about using chemicals and better guidance to being a realistic gardener!

    I hope you will let us know more about your “green-ness” on your allotment.

    Best wishes Sylvia

  3. patientgardener says:

    Helen, I have recently posted on a similar topic about the never ending pressure to be environmental. Like you I use the occasional chemical – in my case some ‘organic’ slug pellets. My garden is full of birds, frogs, insects and even a slow worm. I think the green movement is another one of these things that has grown out of control and has become very commercial with any and ever company jumping on the bandwagon. I found alot of gardeners very supportive of my post which made me feel alot better as I thought I was a lone voice. Helen

  4. Kate Hutchinson says:

    I am a green gardener despite having had first a totally over grown snail-fest garden and nowa totally overgrown slug-fest allotment. I just can’t bear the thought that one of the lovely birds I have spent a fortune feeding through babyhood and adolescence might be felled by my need not to have a hole in a hosta. Repeated nighttime collections really do work – and are a good martial competition – and don’t have to be repeated for ever once the population is dented.
    At my allotment slugtraps of yeast and sugar have proved very effective. I have got some organic slug-pellets – if Garden Organic approves of them it’s fine with me!

  5. Louise O'Donoghue says:

    I tried slugtraps once and found dead newts in them – never again, they might be organic but the did more harm than my occassional slug pellets in pots – I’m with you Helem everything in moderation.

  6. Phil Brammer says:

    Speaking of wildlife, Jim Carruthers gave a very funny talk on “How to not Garden” (and improve biodiversity) at Gardening Scotland:

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