My Garden This Weekend – 7th April 2013

Chionodoxa

Chionodoxa

I think it is safe to say, if my aching muscles are anything to go by, that I have had a good gardening weekend at last.  Though to be honest it has taken a lot of determination not to just give up.  Whilst the weather has been demoralising at times the reason for my despair has been the badger.  I have blogged about the badger throughout the last winter and tried to be light-hearted about it calling it the ‘tulip craved badger’ but if I am honest it has driven me to even consider throwing in the towel and moving.  People under-estimate how strong and destructive badgers can be, they are also very determined.  I have tried very hard to live and let live but when you go morning after morning to discover another collection of deep holes with bulbs chewed and scattered, and not just tulips, and other surrounding plants damaged and dug up with their roots nicely frosted it takes a better person than me to shrug their shoulders.  I decided last week that I would dig up the remaining tulips, a dozen left from over 60 planted over the last two years, in order to try to protect the other plants in the border.  Then on Thursday the boys told me there were two badgers in the garden, not one.  This was a badger too far – two would soon lead to three, then four and then, well it doesn’t bear thinking about.  I spent the evening doing more research and found a helpful  document on the Badger Society website.  They advised that it was not the best idea to put food out for badgers in order to detract them from your plants as all you would end up with is more badgers – this was contrary to advice I had received via social media.  They advised removing bird food and wind falls before dark so there is no point in the badgers coming in the garden.  They also advised in using paving slabs along the bottom of fences sunk into the soil to try to prevent the badgers coming under the fence.  Being at the end of my tether I decided it was all or nothing. So, the bird feeders have been removed and the tulips dug up.  My sons have sunk some paving slabs along the fence line (our  neighbour who is next on the badger’s route had done the same last week and thought it was successful).  So far the badgers haven’t been back.  I feel bad about the birds and I miss them but the surrounding gardens are full of bird feeders and the alternative was to just give up on my hobby.  Fingers crossed we might have made progress.  Maybe one day the bird feeder will come back.

Meconopsis reappearing

Meconopsis reappearing

Feeling a little more positive and trying to convince myself that any work in the garden won’t be trashed I have been very busy working my way through the ridiculous list of jobs that need doing.  First I moved an Abelia from the front garden and planted it by the new steps, where it will screen the fence.  I’ve started moving the plants where the workshop is going to go with a large iris being the first to pack its bags.  It wasn’t very happy  in its old home so I am hoping that moving it to the sunny side of the steps will cheer it up, within 24 hours it looked a more perky.

I have also potted up some succulents as I have a notion to enter them into the Open Garden section at the Malvern Spring show, something some gardening friends have been encouraging me to do.  I got enthusiastic about alpines and other potted plants I think as a direct result of my inability to control the damage the badger was doing but it is definitely a good  development and I have met some great people.

Pulmonaria 'Sissinghurst White'

Pulmonaria ‘Sissinghurst White’

The rest of my gardening time I have spent working through the border along the top of the wall (below), removing the debris of the tulips, filling holes, cutting back frosted shoots and planting out delphiniums, evening primrose, verbascum, francoa, forget-me-nots and geraniums.  These plants were all grown last year and have been taking up room on the patio and in the cold frames and they needed to be moved on and planted out.  I have struggled  with this mentally as I will be digging up the lawn soon so the front edge of the border will then be the middle of the border.  However, if I waited until I dug the new border I would never get the plants in the ground and it would all just grind to a halt so I have decided to do all my garden tidying jobs etc and then do the new border.  At least these way I might have some nice borders in early summer – fingers crossed.

2013_04070027There seems to be a lot of bare earth but all those little glimpses of green, grey and red are shoots emerging and pushing through the soil.  The hose is out as the ground is quite dry and given the number of plants I have planted I decided this was an easier approach than watering cans.

Working through the border was the best thing I could have done today as I kept spotting new shoots emerging and old friends reappearing.  My Meconopsis has reappeared which is fabulous as I wasn’t sure if it was a monocarpic variety or not, fingers crossed it will flower for a second year.  Various plants are appearing in the woodland border and I can start to see what I need to move to make the woodland path work but that is for later in the year.

2013_04070028

Plus my tin bath of tulip bulbs is looking good and has escaped the attention of the badger.  I crammed it with reduced bulbs bought at the end of the bulb buying season so it should be garish, bright and jolly.  I have also really tidied the patio and put out the little table and chairs so there is now somewhere nice to sit with a cuppa – its only taken five years.

As I have said before I feel that I neglected the garden for two years while I was playing at growing veg at the allotment.  All I see at the moment is the jobs that need doing to try to bring it back to scratch but as many gardener will tell you we are our own worst critics.  The trouble is I am juggling jobs to bring the garden back to how I want it plus the new projects plus the annual seed sowing etc!!  However the weather forecast is looking promising and I think with slightly warmer temperatures I will be able to do a little bit of gardening in the evenings and to be honest if something doesn’t get done it won’t be the end of the world there is always next year – for that is the beauty of gardening as a hobby.

Squaring gardening for wildlife

Badgers leftover tulip bulb

Badgers leftover tulip bulb

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.

Possible viburnum  beetle damage

Possible viburnum beetle damage

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