When neighbours invade

I have a thorny problem.

One which requires diplomatic skills. And whilst I do have experience of what to do when a neighbouring country invades (I was interning at the UN when Kuwait was invaded by Iraq), going to war with the neighbours really isn’t an option here.

My invading foe is brambles. And they’re invading vigorously from two out of three of the neighbouring gardens that adjoin my floral borders.

Big snaky triffidy evil prickly nasty brambles. On a quest for territory.  My territory.  Sure, there are other foes encroaching into my patch (nettles, ground elder, bindweed – even a jaunty jasmine) but none of these threaten to poke my eyes out when I’m not paying attention. And for the most part they can be kept at bay easily enough, by remedial actions that take place solely within my territorial borders.

But not brambles. A little chopping back from my side of the fence is the equivalent of a testosterone overload to a drunken thug. “Bring it on” they cry, whilst sending out four more invading arms.

No. It seems to me that this bramble battle can’t simply play out within my own patch.

At this point, I should add that all my neighbours are very nice. (If you’re reading, I really really like you). But it is probably fair to say that with one exception, they are really not gardeners.  One actively hates gardening. And I’m sure they have no idea of the invading power of a hormone crazed bramble on the rampage.

So these brambles really do require a UN Security Council intervention and coalition attack forces.

brambles invade

Brambles coming in from all sides and trying to root themselves in my borders

My conundrum is this:

1. Do I take the mature, correct, morally responsible (but embarrassing, awkward and potentially time consuming) option of discussing this with the brambles’ hosts in the hope we can reach mutual agreement?

If so, is there a win-win that doesn’t involve me doing their weeding?  Forever?

2. Do I take the easier and not-entirely-unprecedented approach of nipping round when they’re out and removing the offending thugs?

This could be the outcome of option one anyway….

But, this approach would involve extensive convincing of myself that my actions would be those of a benevolent helpful fairy, as opposed to a nosey trespassing neighbour from hell.  And I’d have to remove all those brambles myself.

3. Do I take a lesson from the Gulf War and use sneaky chemical warfare?  Is a strong systemic weed killer, applied from my side, enough to take out – or at least set-back – this invading foe, without me having to cross my borders?

This could kill the plant back and I could just prune off the stuff on my side.  But is it morally wrong? And would it even work?  These brambles are tough and I don’t know if anything this side of Jupiter will take them out!

Any advice?

Seriously, the UN are lightweights compared to the moral dilemmas we gardeners face!  Any thoughts, precedents and alternative tactics welcome!  Otherwise I’ll just have to end up doing the right thing 😉


Godetia all gobbled by mystery monster

Some vile pest has systematically sought out every single one of my Godetia seedlings and bitten their heads off.  Every last one!

And this was not just a case of a single seed tray being flattened – I potted them all up  last Sunday.  The despicable creature in question picked its way through maybe 60 -70 pots of various young plants, zoned in on the Godetia and ate the tops of every single one.  A few other things got nibbled, with assorted losses here and there – but I have never seen such targeting of a specific plant.

It’s really maddening as I love Godetia.  This hardy annual always provides welcome colour in pots and because last year’s show was so nice, I bought two different types this year – dwarf and azalea flowered.  They germinated and grew really well.  And – sob – now they’re all gone.

Last year's Godetia put on a show for months

They were planted in trays outside back in March and April and this was their last potting up before going into their final places.  I spent ages on Sunday planting them up – and in the rain, too.  Damn, I’m hopping mad!

In theory it is probably too late to plant more, but I shall try anyway as I still have some seed left.  I have put some seed straight into the ground, some into pots with the remnants of the eaten plants and some into seed trays.

What pest could have done this dastardly deed?  I have four suspects:

1) Baby rabbit.  This deceptively cute monster was spotted Monday morning on the patio/plant nursery.  I chased it away with my best angry dog impression, which scared it for all of 5 minutes before it was back hopping around like it owned the place.  But, it didn’t show much interest in the seedlings, going instead for a patch of weed grass near the back door.  And, I doubt it could have picked its way specifically through the various pots without knocking some over.  I think the culprit was smaller.

2) Wood mouse.  I’ve seen several of these hopping from pot to pot in the last few weeks, plus they are certainly small enough to get away with savaging the pots, without knocking them over.  But – do mice even eat Godetia seedlings?  And would they really prefer them over the beans and peas that were in the adjoining pots?  I doubt it, though I don’t know for sure.

3) Slugs. There are loads of slugs at the moment – I keep finding them under pots and trays and the big ones make me squeal like a baby.  I currently have 3 beer traps out (filled with the dregs from Stephen’s homebrew) and the slugs have been happily drowning themselves in the beer.  They definitely could have done this, but there is no tell tale slime.

4) Snails.  I have only seen one snail around and this soon became bird food, but I know they come out at night, so I may simply have missed them.  Again, there is no slime train, but having read up on their habits (know your enemy and all that) I think they may be my prime suspect.

This very useful pest fact sheet about slugs and snails from the University of Guelph (where I have visited on a couple of occasions for work) makes me realise I have to do some fast acting control.  To quote:

Sanitation can be highly beneficial in controlling populations of slugs and snails. It involves the removal of all materials that could provide daytime hiding places and ideal egg laying sites, such as plant debris, dense plant growth, rocks, boards, and logs. This is especially important in shaded areas near trees and buildings. The use of mulches should be avoided in any of these sites. Tall or densely growing plants may need to be thinned to allow for more air movement and light penetration and therefore, drier environmental conditions.

I think the damp weather, combined with the fact I moved the seedlings to a shady spot near the house so they didn’t bake in the sun created the perfect conditions for a slug and snail “all you can eat” buffet.   Now I’m fretting about what else they might have taken out by morning.  But, the University of Guelph fact sheet gives the following advice:

Slugs and snails avoid crawling over any dry abrasive material such as gravel, sharp sand, wood ashes, diatomaceous earth, or lime. The increased production of mucus required to free themselves of these materials exhausts them and soon causes death.

I shall have to find myself some dry abrasive material – probably in the form of wood ash, I have a hearth full – and bring on some large scale mollusc discomfort.  And ideally death.

Sorry, but after losing all my Godetia I am not about to start taking prisoners…

An abundance of wildlife – most of it unruly

If only the many creatures that are rampaging through the garden right now could follow the example of bees.  Bees are the perfect guests.  In exchange for being welcomed with food and shelter, they show the best of manners by pollinating, gently humming me to a state of relaxation and never doing the slightest bit of harm.  The only brief moments of friction come when one of us surprises the other – usually over a bag of compost, which they love.

If only the rabbits, sparrows and blackbirds would take note and mend their marauding ways.

One rabbit is a pest, but two are trouble


William the rabbit in his favourite spot

Usually it is the rabbits who are the king of the large pests in this garden. (Vine weevils & slugs are chief evil mini-monsters).   When just one rabbit is present, the focus is entirely on eating.  Grass is the main casualty (fine with me) but crocuses and other new foliage also hold munch-appeal.

As with rowdies of the human species, the trouble really kicks off when two or more of the beasts get together.  Two rabbits in the garden generally involves random running round in circles.  I have no idea (do they?) if this is romantic, aggressive or a combination of both – but when this ritual begins, my beloved plants get squashed as well as nibbled.

Should a third rabbit enter the equation, madness ensues.  Add random leaps into the air, karate kicks & Olympic standard gymnastics to the nibbling, running in circles and general scrabbling.  My poor plants get caught in the battle royale.

Fortunately the rabbits haven’t picked the garden as a community toilet yet, but last year they tried to nest in a flower bed.  (I didn’t see any kittens, so I don’t think they succeeded).

Happily for them I have a live and let live policy.  But if the squashing and nibbling gets out of hand – or if they start tunnelling into the hillside –  I shall have to dig down and lay chicken wire below the fence where they dig their way under.

I have already learned that repellent – even foul smelling home brews of egg and chilli – have no effect whatsoever. Bizarrely, the only thing that does keep them away is not clearing up after I have cut bushes down.  If I leave the garden completely covered in rubbish and twigs, they stay away.  Clearly, like me, they prefer my garden to look pretty before they eat it.

Birds challenging rabbits in the destructiveness league

I don’t have a sentimental BBC Springwatch view of birds, I have seen them fight to the death in the garden.  But I do find them entertaining & clownish.  So I indulge them with seed heads, fruit, shelter, nesting sites and native trees that attract insects.

The garden has attracted a vast amount of birds – from pheasants, buzzards, red kites and sparrowhawks at the large end, to goldfinch, bullfinch, goldcrests, black caps, coal tits, long tailed tits, willow warblers and wrens at the small end.  There are at least two large gangs of sparrows, constantly warring robins and blackbirds (both species would rather fight over food than eat it) and a healthy thrush and fieldfare population.  Jackdaws and crows clown around by day, owls at night and I have even had oystercatchers in the greenhouse tents.

Mostly they give me more pleasure than pain.  But right now their hormones are driving them mad and even the usually endearing blue tits have turned into major thugs.  They’re all busy nest building and anything goes.

I helpfully left out lavender and other soft prunings for them at the weekend – were they interested? Not at all.  Instead as I sit here I am watching them strip random chunks of leaf from the remaining bushes.  Yesterday I watched a sparrow fixate on a specific bit of clematis.  It was too big a task for the lone sparrow, but eventually he was joined by three colleagues and the demolition job was completed.

My hanging basket liners are being systematically stripped, young plants being rooted up along with moss and mulch, and twine plant ties are being shredded.  I’m starting to regret my hospitality policy!