Oh no, it’s happened early this year. As soon as the lush leaves of our Ligularias & Hostas emerged they have been turned into intricate doilys by ravenous gastropods. Ligularia dentata ‘Desdemona’, with its gorgeous deep purple-backed leaves, never fares well. But the Hostas usually manage to get to mid summer before being shredded (I think the slugs wait until I go on holiday, then spend the whole week of my absence gorging).
The mild winter and wet spring have provided ideal breeding conditions for slugs. These conditions have also encouraged lots of early, lush plant growth and shady, cool spots to hide, so I think I’m fighting a losing battle. But more frustrating this year are snails! Giant brown ones and tiny, cappuccino-spiralled ones, they are all merrily chomping their way around Turn End. At least slugs have some kind of courtesy, keeping out of my way in the day, whereas the snails boldly teeter around on the points of iris leaves despite my procrastinations. The annuals Nolana ‘Sun Belle Mixed’ & Cleome ‘Helen Campbell’ that I nurtured from seeds were decimated the second I took them from the protection of the greenhouse. Even my usually rampant seed-grown gourds have been decapitated to 3cm high.
What to do? I try to use as few chemicals as possible, but sparingly sprinkle iron-based slug pellets in the hot spots (I don’t like using metaldehyde based pesticides, which can build up as a toxin in the wildlife that eat gastropods). I have tried encircling plants with shredded wool fibre, which creates an itchy carpet over the soil and certainly stops slugs crossing. But it doesn’t stop them climbing from neighbouring plants! I’m now trying beer traps, although I don’t seem to have found the slimy creatures’ favourite tipple as yet. My next step is to apply to be a ‘release site’ for rescued hedgehogs from Tiggywinkles animal hospital here in Haddenham.
But these shredded leaves pale into insignificance when I hear the tap-tap of our gorgeous Song Thrushes as they bash snails on stones to open up their tasty meal. There is a pair, or perhaps adult and young, always in the garden at the moment. They are beautiful, with their downy, speckled chests and curious eyes. I feel a sense of comradery with them, knowing my lack of control is to their benefit.
It’s been a great year for birds at Turn End. Previously there were 2 or 3 regular Red Kites, but now half a dozen seem to circle overhead. Coal Tits nested in a hole in our apple tree again. The teeny wren in our dry garden seems to have been joined by another near my potting shed. And the pretty pied female blackbird that follows me around, herself new to the garden last year, has nested in our shredding heap. Unfortunately I discovered her when I was throwing more stuff on the heap, but the nest was fine and I’ve been on guard watching it ever since! And I’m delighted that three tiny, pink and sparsly feathered babies are coming along well.
Cutest of all were the baby Robins that I accidentally showered in the greenhouse! They had nested in a pot plant on the top shelf and had amazingly managed to avoid my regular waterings, until one day three plopped out of the nest onto the seed trays! They stared at me in some confusion, funny fluffy brown things with wide yellow mouths. To make up for the disturbance, I provided a generous pile of mealworm which the parents delighted in and devoured within hours! I hope my vigil paid off, as all seemed to leave the greenhouse and I saw one being fed by a parent a couple of days later.
So, the holey leaves may be depressing but the pure joy of sharing the garden with all kinds of wondrous creatures more than makes up for it!