Monty Don published an interesting article in a recent issue of the BBC Gardener’s World magazine. His point was that in order to have desirable predators in your garden – thrushes, ladybirds, frogs and toads – there has to be a constant food source available to them. This means not eliminating all the snails, slugs, greenfly and other creatures generally regarded by gardeners as undesirable. He also took the view that if your plants are strong and healthy they can withstand the odd patch of greenfly or nibbled leaf and that if you feed your soil with organic matter and thus your plants, you are well on the way to achieving that necessary balance where nature and horticulture work successfully together.
Those of us who garden sustainably are used to having a certain ragged margin and regard it as the price we have to pay for the pleasure of sharing our spaces with wildlife. However, those whose passion is hostas, or some other tender species high on the menu for snails, have a conscience-tearing decision to take and those of a weak will may find themselves reaching guiltily for the lethal blue pellets. It’s not for me to judge, though as a garden designer, I do try to marry my clients’ plant desires with species which can withstand predation, whatever their approach to control.
The central path of ecologically sound garden management is not cheap and takes some time to become effective but is by far and away the best solution. Treating the ground with nematodes of different types will reduce the slug, vine weevil and leatherjacket population to manageable proportions and still leave enough for your hedgehog. Actually, if you are fortunate enough to have a resident hedgehog you won’t need nematodes anyway, and should be doing your utmost to providing him with a regular supply of his favourite food.
In my own garden, the biggest pest of all is the badger who uproots plants, snouts out bulbs from pots and troughs, and digs holes in lawn and border alike. Given that if Mr Brock turned left instead of right on leaving his sett he would have acres of Kent and East Sussex in which to rootle, I do feel rather aggrieved as I replant his victims and encourage them to try again. I accept that what is a pest to us is a source to delight to others, but the saddest fact is that the badger is the biggest predator of the hedgehog, and I would much rather have hedgehogs in my garden, beneficially feasting on slugs and snails, than a stripey faced hooligan.
We continue to put copper tape around the hosta pots, copper rings around new dahlias, water in the nematodes and put out mealworms to encourage the thrushes. Slugs and snails are picked up and left by the bird table and there are beer traps in the coldframes and greenhouse, log piles for wrens and woodpeckers and insect lodges in corners, Our latest success story is a Little Owl who has started to use one of the ash trees as a roost and startles us with his unearthly shrieks. We have ordered him a house from The Owl Box (www.owlbox.co.uk) in the hope that he will stay and bring our garden further into balance. I’ll let you know.