22 Aug 2008
What on Earth Happened to my Garden?
I am feeling a bit like a Head of State who has gone away from his/her well-ordered country, only to return two weeks later to find complete anarchy, breakdown, looting, gangs in control and the country’s infrastructure in tatters. When I left to go away for two weeks, my garden was a model of neat and tidy vegetable production. On my return a couple of days ago, it was a picture of carnage, laid low by the the Four Horsemen of the Gardening Apocalypse, slugs, caterpillars, torrential rain and bolting.
For those of you outside the UK, the last two weeks have featured pretty much constant rain, the kind of morale-sapping, spirit crushing grey dampness that just feels interminable, and which leaves one scratching around inside one’s memory trying to recall what that round, yellow hot thing in the sky used to be called (apparently, I wasn’t here, although I am getting a taste of it now I am back…).
It is perfect slug breeding weather, offering their ideal conditions. When I left, the slugs were kind of slug sized, now they are the size of puppies. Horrible, revolting things that you have to literally wrestle off whatever they are eating. Not content with eating whatever leaves they could find, they also have started eating my carrots, the roots, wrapping themselves around the top and working their way down! That’s not fair! That’s against the rules!
Then there are the caterpillars. My kale and my broccoli were both doing so well. Staples of the winter garden, great sources of iron, beautiful plants they were when I left. I got back to lacework outlines of what they had once been, covered in caterpillars munching happily. A scene of utter carnage. Although I had netted them before the cabbage white butterflies arrived, somehow they had got in, and once the caterpillars emerge from the eggs, they move fast. I am now on a daily regime of caterpillar removal and egg smushing, but still, I wonder if what remains will actually survive. How the mighty (and I have no difficulty using the word ‘mighty’ in relation to a 3ft purple kale plant) are fallen.
Then there was the wet. Everything sodden. Paths, soil, plants. Great pools of it all over the place. Made me yearn for the nice dry polytunnel I used to have in Ireland. A leisurely walk round the garden has become a skidding, sploshing, perilous venture. And for the bolting, well all my lettuces have gone (those that the 4ft slugs left intact), in fact most of my salads have bolted. Its usually excessive dryness that causes plants to bolt, I guess in this case they must have sensed that they were in imminent danger of drowning, and decided to go to seed while there was still hope. The plant world’s equivalent of gathering animals into the Ark.
So now I’m back I have imposed martial law on the garden. My first strategy is ruthless deslugging (a couple of months ago, to return to our gangs analogy, I had to police them at night as they didn’t come out during the daytime, now they are so huge and it is so wet that newly emboldended, they just graze all day, necessitating 24 hour patrols). Then I am pursuing a vigorous no-caterpillar policy. I also did a lot of clearing away of any diseased or dying vegetation, as it creates an attraction for the slugs. Order is slowly being re-established, but there is a way to go yet.
Serves me right really, for going away at such a critical period. Ridiculous that the time most of us are actually able to go away is the time when our gardens need us most. In more agrarian societies, if everyone buggered off somewhere else at harvest time, it would be disastrous. Yet we do the opposite. It would be funny if it wasn’t so tragic. Perhaps a couple of days of good sunshine would make everything look a bit better…