In the gar­den

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Charles Quest-rit­son is au­thor of the RHS En­cy­clo­pe­dia of Roses

EV­ERY year, the RHS pub­lishes a re­port on the in­ci­dence of pests in our gar­dens. These are listed from one to 10 ac­cord­ing to the num­ber of en­quiries and com­plaints that the so­ci­ety re­ceives. Slugs, snails, vine weevils, lily bee­tles, woolly aphids: they’re all there, year af­ter year, up­set­ting our plans for care­free gar­den­ing.

All too of­ten, the RHS has to con­fess that there is no preven­tion or cure avail­able to am­a­teurs— you can thank the Greens for this un­help­ful de­vel­op­ment—and we get the same de­press­ing mes­sage from gar­den­ing mag­a­zines and news­pa­pers. Pro­fes­sion­als can poi­son us, but we may not poi­son our­selves. It’s the same with plant dis­eases.

Any­way, an­i­mals are much more of a pest than in­ver­te­brates and mi­cro­fungi and the big­ger they are, the more dam­age they can do. Mice eat my crocus corms and pea seeds (whether gar­den or sweet). I say ‘eat’, but I mean ‘ate’, be­cause I can’t be both­ered to grow them from seed any­more. Rab­bits and hares strop on the stems of trees and shrubs, squir­rels will kill the trees out­right by ring­ing their bark and badgers eat my rasp­ber­ries, leave holes in the grass and chew my daf­fodils and tulips. You are at least al­lowed to shoot grey squir­rels and rab­bits, but there’s no open sea­son for badgers.

Deer are worse still. I have never gar­dened with­out them. We used to open our gar­den in the rose sea­son for the NGS and I could be cer­tain that a week be­fore our once-a-year day, deer would gorge them­selves on all the fat flower buds and juicy leaves that promised a good dis­play for our visitors.

They were in league, of course, with the moles, which would throw up a se­ries of mini-tu­muli all over our cos­seted lawns and have me won­der­ing what my li­a­bil­ity would be if some­one tripped over one and broke their neck.

Gar­den­ing with deer is a night­mare and you must stay one step ahead of them al­ways. There are two main prob­lems: their ap­petites and their sex­ual shenani­gans. It’s not just roses that dis­ap­pear into their quadri­par­tite ru­mi­nant stom­achs: my co­toneast­ers, aza­leas and rasp­ber­ries have all been munched to within an inch of their lives, as have my straw­ber­ries, hostas and lilies.

There’s an ex­cel­lent spray that pro­tects them called Graz­ers— it cov­ers the sur­face of plants with some­thing that makes them un­palat­able. It works against rab­bits, too, but you do have to choose the right mo­ment to do the spray­ing and it doesn’t last for­ever.

The big­ger prob­lem with deer is the way they rub against the woody stems of trees and shrubs. The po­lite word for it is ‘fray­ing’. The bucks do it to re­move the skin from their new antlers and to mark their ter­ri­tory in the rut­ting sea­son. Some­times—far too of­ten—the stem is worn away all round and the plant dies. Proper pro­tec­tion is the only an­swer, with plas­tic spi­rals, tubes, chicken wire and, in fact, any­thing to keep the stems and trunks from con­tact with the an­i­mal’s head. I’ve for­got­ten how many mag­no­lias we lost be­cause I un­der­es­ti­mated a deer’s abil­ity to break through my de­fences.

The worst gar­den pests, by far, are chil­dren. (I ex­clude cats and dogs, which are do­mes­ti­cated an­i­mals; chil­dren, by con­trast, are feral.) My bog gar­den, care­fully made for the cul­ti­va­tion of can­de­labra prim­u­las, is ideal for quad­bike prac­tice. I planted a large col­lec­tion of ex­pen­sive cy­cla­men just where my grand­chil­dren jump down af­ter tree-climb­ing.

They grab the stakes I use to sup­port my del­phini­ums and use them as swords or lances. They bor­row my se­ca­teurs for some vil­lain­ous pur­pose, then put them down, but can’t re­mem­ber where. They guz­zle all the rasp­ber­ries left to us by the deer. They ban me from cor­ners where I wish to work be­cause they’ve de­cided to turn them into dens.

There is no an­swer to the prob­lem of chil­dren and gar­dens. Yes, I know that the RHS has a vast ed­u­ca­tion de­part­ment and is com­mit­ted to turn­ing ev­ery­one else’s chil­dren into per­fect lit­tle hor­ti­cul­tur­ists, but, if the so­ci­ety were hon­est about such things, it would put chil­dren at the top of next year’s list of gar­den pests.

Next week: Pop­u­lar Bam­boos

‘The worst gar­den pests, by far, are chil­dren

Deer will con­sume any­thing from roses and co­toneast­ers to aza­leas, hostas and straw­ber­ries

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