In the twenty first century, many see gardening as a salve to the stresses and pressures of modern life. Unfortunately, like all ointments, it is host to many flies. In part two of our Bank Holiday Gardening guide we take a look at some of the nasty little beasties that seek to inculcate themselves between you and back-garden pleasure…
• Ants: occupy a place at the very apex of social living – a single ant has no value to the colony other than that of an (ultimately dispensable) part of one giant entity that functions as a unitary being and always pops up in the middle of your lawn just the day after you’ve mowed it; once a year spewing out a million winged beasties that infiltrate every nook and cranny in your house before dying in your knicker drawer. In my experience ant nests can spread for several kilometres and the vast majority of ants within them are immortal: they cannot be killed by any means known to man or woman, so don’t drive yourself mad, just put up with them, but don’t sit on them. They hunt in packs. Whilst a single ant nip will cause you little in the way of discomfort, a thousand of the little buggers practising synchronised munching on your scrotum may be slightly more uncomfortable. You will not need to make note of where they nest: they considerately leave huge bare patches in the lawn for your guidance.
• Caterpillars: will strip your most treasured garden plants and vegetable crops of all greenery within seconds. They are nothing more than a peripatetic bowel with a mouth at one end and an anus at the other and yet… they turn into beautiful butterflies – which of course lay eggs that turn into more caterpillars. It is an inexcusable sin to deliberately kill a butterfly – try it, even the dog will hate you – so you’ve got to try and get them whilst they’re still eggs. They are microscopic and laid in their thousands – so good luck with that. They hatch in their thousands too and even if you were able to remove them all from your treasured brassicas, what would you do with them, short of employing a flock of genetically engineered tits to feed them to their horribly mutated chicks? Remember, each little leaf-shredder is a potential butterfly. It does not do to be caught popping them. Anyway, by the time you have spotted and removed the advance party, it is too late, the battle is already lost – there will be far too many to drop over next door’s fence. My best advice is to fill your garden with plant varieties that they will not eat: plastic should do.
• Earwigs: not exactly certain how much of a problem these shiny-shelled, weaponised little fellows are, but thanks to my grandma, they scare the bejaysus out of me. Do they really crawl into your ear whilst you sleep? Can you really only get them out by offering them apple? Just exactly where do they lay their eggs?
• Greenfly: these little buggers suck the very life out of your plants. They appear from nowhere and in their millions; they breed with a rapidity that rabbits can only dream of and they’re farmed by ants! A simple spray of washing-up liquid and water will do for them – I’m not sure how. Perhaps it makes the plants slippy. Also, ladybirds eat greenfly. Encourage ladybirds in any way you can (I don’t know – you’ll have to work that one out for yourself). I understand that native ladybirds are themselves being eaten by marauding hordes of foreign ladybirds, but, since I’ve no idea how to tell them apart, there doesn’t appear to be much I can do about it. They will just have to take their chances and wait for Brexit.
• Slugs and Snails: ok, if pushed I would have to say that I dislike slugs more than snails if only because snails are at least a little more aesthetically pleasing: they do not, so much, resemble something that has been eaten and subsequently regurgitated by a liverish barn owl. Snail shells are quite pleasing in the rain – until you step on a full one and the sound leaves you also feeling like a liverish barn owl. Like the caterpillar these little eating tubes (both armoured and slimy) have voracious appetites. They will strip anything green as soon as you turn your back on it. Finding ways to combat slugs and snails is the gardener’s number one preoccupation. Some swear by copper strips to keep them at bay; crushed eggshells; salt; barbed wire; watchtowers; tiny, but heavily armed nematodes. The sole of a sturdy gardening boot works particularly well I find. Simply venturing out into the garden on a damp and drizzly evening and collecting them all in a plastic bag can be remarkably rewarding – especially if you have a bonfire going. It is not considered ecologically sound to poison the little buggers with slug pellets, as this will also poison the hedgehogs and birds that feed upon them – although I would question, ‘where were you before I put the pellets down? If you’d been doing your job properly, I wouldn’t have needed the pellets in the first place…’ French people eat snails, although they call them escargot, so that they don’t retch. Snail’s eggs are also considered a delicacy – although you do have to cut the toast ‘soldiers’ very small indeed…
• Wasps: not to be confused with bees which, whilst also capable of delivering a healthy sting, are not nearly so vindictive. Bees make honey and pollinate flowers. Wasps get pissed on rotting damsons and sting you repeatedly for the sheer bloody hell of it.
• Weeds: The only green things in your garden that are not killed by weedkiller.
• Woodlice: piggy beetles we called them when we were children. Tiny little armadillos that pass their time away chomping on rotten wood and trekking across your mushroom carpet the first time you invite the posh in-laws to dinner.