The nuisance factor

Sooner or later every gardener faces this, unless they’re very lucky. No-one is exempt. I refer, of course, to the various pests, diseases and general annoyances which afflict our gardening lives. We’ve tended to encounter the same things over and over, and each new meeting seems to have its own set of challenges.

Weeds, as Alan Titchmarsh has been heard to say, are just plants growing in the wrong place. Which is all well and good, until it’s your beautiful herbaceous border being strangled by bindweed. The variety of weeds we’ve dealt with over the years has been interesting, but the same culprits do reappear time and again. Ground elder, brambles and bindweed are the hardest to get rid of, and sometimes all you can do is try to restrict them. At present we don’t have ground elder but we do have the other two – we knew about the brambles last year, but the bindweed seems to have been dormant and to have been woken up by our clearance efforts. So now we have to keep the two of them at bay by trying to restrict them to the area at the far end of the garden. The other weeds we see here are mainly of the dandelion variety, which just get dug up and thrown away (that far end of the garden is a lifesaver). In previous gardens we’ve had cleavers (or goose-grass), which get everywhere, especially if you don’t manage to pull them up before they set seed. In fact, one garden we took on was practically carpeted with them. On the other hand, we have quite deliberately planted Lythrum here, which I know some people regard as a weed but I regard it as a native plant which happily self-seeds. So I guess that means Alan’s right, after all.

Diseasey-type things have, for us, mainly been restricted to black spot on roses. I have never really got to grips with this – I know there are anti-fungal sprays, but though I do sometimes use chemicals I try to make it last resort only. The other way to attack black spot is to cut off and burn afflicted stems, but we have never had the facility to burn garden waste – most of our gardens have been too overhung by trees. So the black spot sits there. Interestingly, my mum tells me that when she was young and everyone had coal fires in their homes, roses didn’t get black spot – something to do with sulphur compounds in the air. But personally I feel that a bit of black spot is a small price to pay for the Clean Air Act.

Other pests, well, they come in lots of shapes and sizes. We’ve had a few greenfly afflictions – I keep an eye on the lovely little patio rose we have in a pot, as it gets covered fairly quickly, and when I spot them I put my gloves on and gently wipe the little critters away. We had a lot of ladybird larvae this year, and they eat aphids, so I didn’t want to spray. Slugs and snails are a permanent problem, especially as I persist in trying to grow things like hostas and marigolds. We have had frogs in the garden here so I try to persuade them to eat the slugs, but there have been too many this year. A couple of years ago I found a barrier gel which worked beautifully – kept the slimy beasts off my plants, but didn’t kill them. The gel is rain resistant and biodegradable, so unsurprisingly I have not been able to find any of this miracle substance since. It was clearly a good idea so it had to be stopped.

Finally, my biggest bugbear, and I know this is going to be unpopular with many. I do not think I have ever had a garden unpestered by cats. I’ve been told that to stop neighbours’ cats coming in your garden, you need to get a cat yourself. There is, for me, a major flaw in that argument. Please don’t hold it against me, but I.Do.Not.Like.Cats. I can accept that kittens are cute, I can deal with cats on farms whose function is to keep rats and mice in check, but I don’t like them as pets and I don’t want one. There. So that’s not an option.

In our first garden, we solved the cat problem with holly and bramble cuttings, laid over any bare earth to keep it uncomfortable. Make it difficult for them to squat, we reasoned, and they will go elsewhere. This worked. In our next garden, we tried the same tactic and mostly failed. It worked up to a point, mainly in the flowerbeds, but they they started going on the lawn instead. This makes mowing the lawn a far more traumatic experience than is strictly necessary (for any lucky soul who hasn’t encountered it, cat poo is probably the most offensively smelly substance on the planet – though I suppose it depends on what the cat’s been eating). At this point we made an important discovery, and it’s called Silent Roar. Small brown pellets, infused with lion dung – make the neighbourhood cats think a Really Big Cat has moved in, and they’ll stay the hell away. I used to buy it from a garden centre near where we lived. It worked. Then, I stopped being able to find it.

Here, we had the cat problem from the off. Any bare earth, the lawn, it was all fair game to the local moggies. When we started redesigning the garden, we needed to act. Unfortunately, no Silent Roar could be found. We resorted to the powdery stuff that smells of garlic. We’ve had partial success – in that they now only go in one spot in the flowerbed, but really I’d like to stop them all together.

And then I found out what had happened to Silent Roar. It’s an organic product whose composition can vary from one batch to the next, so due to some weird EU ruling they couldn’t sell it as a cat deterrent. But they can sell it as a fertiliser. This morning, I cleared away the cat poo (that wild area at the far end of the garden – what would I do without it?) and scattered the Silent Roar for the first time in nearly 6 years. We’ll see how our visitors react.

In non-pest related news, we have sweet peas flowering away – I cut them regularly and bring the flowers in the house, to keep the plants producing more. Everything has benefitted from all the recent rain and is growing, settling in and in most cases flowering. We have a mystery plant which came in a tray of rudbeckia my mum grew from seed – it looks like some sort of veg but I have no idea what. It’s flowering now so at some point we might see what it produces.

There will be more photos soon! Happy gardening.

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