I was asked to review Anne Wareham’s latest book – ‘Outwitting Squirrels, and other garden pests and nuisances’. The book’s strap line intrigued me “101 cunning stratagems to reduce dramatically the egregious effects of garden pests and honest advice concerning your changes of success“. Knowing Anne I knew she would not hold back with her views and although I may not agree with her at least they would be well argued.
I hadn’t expected the book to be so amusing. Anne has a way of presenting herself as quite a serious person, intent on debate and improving the way people write about and criticise gardens but there is real humour between the covers of this book right from the introduction. And I was surprised to discover myself laughing out loud and agreeing with her from the get go.
The book looks at a range of pests and diseases but also nuisances which the gardener has to endure in their bid to achieve their idea of paradise. She has only written about those that she has personally encountered so sadly for me there is no reference to the dreaded badger. In the introduction she states that many gardeners bring problems upon themselves in one of three ways either by growing vegetables and fruit, growing things in a greenhouse and/or by being a perfectionist or gardening with one. I have to admit my gardening life is a lot less stressful since I gave up growing edibles, a bit of slug damage doesn’t send me over the edge in the same way as caterpillar damage on the cabbages did.
We then have short chapters on various pests from deer down to slugs and snails and red spider mite. Each chapter is a chatty amusing narrative full of anecdotes of situations Anne has encountered or heard about but at the same time you learn all sorts of interesting information such as your garden has on average 200 slugs per cubic metre (yuk!) She presents various solutions to the pest and her take on whether indeed they work and at the end of each chapter there is a quick reference dos and don’t of dealing with that pest.
Now what you need to realise is that this book is not a reference book with colour photographs of the pest or disease and step by step instructions of what to do. Instead it reminds me of conversations I have had at local gardening clubs where people share their horror stories and you quickly learn that really there is no solution to whatever it is that is plaguing your garden so the best approach is to learn to live with whatever and to try to control it through observation and good gardening. There are no quick solutions in gardening, what might work for one will not work for someone else and this is really Anne’s message. Yes you can try all sorts of things to keep the deer/rabbits/cats out of our garden but at the end the day the only solution is to install a fence (over 6ft for deer!) or to learn to live with the problem.
I was particularly pleased to read the chapter on slug and snails where Anne points out that the real problems are the tiny earth dwelling slugs and that the only real solution is a small application of slug pellets early in the season which is followed up every couple of weeks – hooray at last common sense prevails! All this collecting slugs at night, beer traps, copper bands etc is a waste of time. What you need is to keep your border tidy, encourage birds etc and to stop fussing about the danger of slug pellets as if you use them very sparingly they won’t harm the wildlife.
The book goes on to look at other problems such as box blight, clematis wilt and algae. Having battled with algae for many years Anne has learned to accept it and to take a relaxed approach to fishing it out on a regular basis or alternatively adding black dye to the water. The final section is on human related problems – people, experts, noise, legal problems, garden machinery etc. The what to do conclusion under experts really sums up the ethos of the advice Anne is giving “Value your own opinion and experience; there are people who experiment and thereby save you having to do it – but it’s not a bad approach for you either. Talk to your neighbours. They may know some useful things about gardening conditions , but do add a pinch of salt, as they may know less than you do”.
I think the benefit of this book is it makes you laugh at the problems which can drive some gardeners insane. It puts things into perspective and almost gives you permission to trust your own instincts and not to care quite so much. After all gardening is meant to be relaxing and enjoyable not a daily challenge. It is a good read not to heavy in content, light-hearted but with a serious message.