I have always naturally gardened organically, environmentally call it what you will. Even early on before the whole organic movement got full under steam I only occasionally used the odd bit of weed killer on a particular weed. I have always encouraged wildlife; feeding the birds copious amount of food and planting flowering plants with single flowers for bees and other pollinators. To me it seemed the natural thing to do – instinctive.
However, over the last year I have increasingly fustrated with this approach. If you read any book or article on organic gardening they will all say at some point that it is hard to start with until you build up the biodiversity of the site and thereby have a natural balance of predators and pests. I would dispute this. It isn’t that simple and you have to realise that it is one of those endeavours where you take one step forward and sometimes two back and you really have no control whatsoever over matters no matter what you think.
My disgruntlement started at the allotment where I tried to grow vegetables organically but every insect for miles around honed in on my plot even when it was one of only a few being cultivated. I really think pigeons must have an amazing sense of smell to be able to pinpoint my cabbages in a vast field in the middle of more or less nowhere. It seemed the only answer was to smoother everything in netting or enviromesh but even that backfired when we discovered a dead grass snake tangled up in some netting which was incredibly distressing.
In my current garden, where I have created a garden from nothing over some eight years albeit it more industriously in the last five years, it seems that no matter what flowers I plant there are rarely any butterflies. This really disappoints me as I love butterflies and I presume it is because the surrounding gardens aren’t very floral but I don’t even get any migrating butterflies who might pop in for a refuel en route. I do have lots of bees and other pollinators which is very good.
I threw all my lilies two summers ago having finally had enough of the annoying lily beetle and in particular its disgusting excrement. I used to have gorgeous lilies and I patiently picked off the beetles, squashing them but there comes a point when you really start to wonder if you have lost the battle and there is nothing worse than a pot of lilies with munched and tatty leaves. Today I realised that there is a high possibility that my Viburnum rhytidophyllum has been attacked by viburnum beetle. I am ashamed to say that it is only due to me having more time to garden, having given up the allotment, that I actually noticed it though the leaves are so munched I am surprised I didn’t notice it before. I have always been told there is nothing to tackle lily beetles but reading an article the other day I discovered that this wasn’t so and that there is a chemical I could spray on lilies but of course this isn’t organic and no doubt it would kill beneficial insects too. On researching viburnum beetle it seems that I could use a spray in April but again there would be a question over how organic it was. So I am presented with a dilemma so I carefully treat the plant or do I leave it to nature and watch a significant sized plant become increasingly attacked and damaged. Pests such as the lily beetle and viburnum beetle aren’t preyed upon by predators in our gardens. I assume that this is because they are aliens to this country and therefore there is no predator but how do you square this with organic/wildlife gardening and managing your space.
However, all this pales into insignificance when you consider the trail of destruction left by the badger that has taken a liking to my garden. We were thrilled back in November to discover a badger was visiting and spent some time watching him tidying up the bird food. But like many a toddler he decided to push the boundaries and see what he could get away with and has had a lovely time digging up my tulip bulbs and generally turning the garden into real mess. As if that wasn’t enough he leaves the chewed remains of the bulbs on the lawn for me to tidy up – talk about adding insult to injury. I tried to ignore this but on Boxing Day having not been in the garden for some days and seeing the result of a real rampage I was close to tears. We decided to take control of the situation and blocked up the hole under the fence with some thick plastic from an old cold frame and metal rods. New Years Eve saw me jumping out of my skin as the badger unable to get through its usual route decided to climb over the fence onto the roof of the low bike shed and fall onto the patio. Whilst it was a treat to see such a beautiful animal so close it was also very distressing for both of us. I tried to help by unlocking the side gate but the badger pulled itself up onto the garden and crashed around for a while before disappearing. I think he may have used by epic compost pile to get back over the fence although it seems he has tried to dig under our barrier. The whole event left me with mixed emotions. The last thing I want to do is cause an animal distress but at the same time I have put a lot of time and money into the garden especially in recent months.
I find myself wondering about the pros and cons of wildlife gardening. After all we can’t choose what wildlife we attract; we can’t just have the nice birds, bees and butterflies. If we try to attract one we will attract the less desirable other: the slugs and snails, aphids, mice, deer, squirrels and even badgers. It seems to me that the only way forward is to adopt a laissez faire approach and accept that in reality we are only lodgers on our plot and the wildlife will come and go as it chooses regardless of our wishes and all we can do is manage the consequences – good and bad however frustrating.
As for the badger, we haven’t seen any sign of him since New Years Eve and I am hoping that the incident will have discouraged him but I think that hope is a little optimistic.
Update 7th January – Good news the RHS have advised that the viburnum damage is not viburnum beetle and probably some sort of caterpillar ot slug