I hesitated for a while before writing the first part of the title because I’m very aware that scripture quotations have a very high cringe factor for many readers; so I’ll summarise and say that rust – or perhaps rot, moths and thieves – play a very real and challenging role in running a garden or allotment. The second part of the title is a traditional saying which reminds us that just being on the allotment, walking around slowly and taking everything in means that invasive weeds get pulled up and pests are identified long before they become a threat. So basically, stuff grows better and stronger when it’s well looked after. Dousing plants with chemicals when the problem’s escalated out of hand is a poor substitute for attention to detail. In gardening terms, “laying up your treasures” often means waiting for seasons – even many seasons – before gaining your reward. A deep understanding of your patch of dirt is both the precondition and the fruit of all that attention to detail. Calling it Green Fingers rather misses the point.
So today Madame found the caterpillars on our apple trees and carefully removed them to stop them from sapping their energy by chomping on the leaves. Later on I’ll be spraying the asparagus plants with a nematode mixture to kill off the asparagus beetle larvae – they’re completely harmless to other pollinating insects and other creatures. As for today I was using the thumb and finger technique which is only about 50% effective because the moment you kill one of them the others all drop to the ground. I wrote on Monday that he asparagus is dining in the last chance saloon, but we’ve decided to leave it for another couple of seasons while we prepare and plant up a new bed with what we hope will be a more productive variety.
All these tough decisions are a reminder that we live on a challenging earth. Our upstairs neighbour texted today asking what to do about a pigeon which had somehow got into his flat, built a nest and even laid eggs in it. How on earth they came not to notice all that home preparation escapes even my imagination, but I could see that there was an ethical dimension to destroying the nest, the eggs and possibly the pair of pigeons as well. All I could think of was to drive out the pigeons, remove the nest and leave the eggs out on the green where the magpies would soon find and eat them. For me it’s always better to do the tough work yourself than to farm it out to others and try to forget it ever happened.
Not everyone agrees of course. Later on we were chatting to a fellow allotmenteer who’s a vegan and Madame mentioned that we were using sheep’s fleece in the fruit cage to deter weeds and to mulch around the stems (very successfully). She was horrified at the very idea of using fleece even though it would otherwise be discarded as valueless. For her it seemed desirable and possible to avoid all these moral difficulties but I’m not so sure. I recall that she was happy to catch and kill slugs when they attacked her vegetables. Somehow it seems to me that a virtuous life is better lived by embracing the hard choices than by avoiding ever having to make them.
Anyway, yesterday was also momentous for rather different reasons. Our neighbour is a distinguished South African botanist who once ran a national botanical garden. He’s also very good company and so we were gossiping in his garden when he brought out a plant which – being unfamiliar with British plants, he couldn’t name; giving me the chance to show off just a bit. I perhaps failed to mention that it was one I’d often looked for unsuccessfully so that was a find– not on a rocky outcrop in a remote place but on a wall next to the dentist in the centre of Bath. Then he brought out a Rock Geranium growing in a pot which explained in a glimpse why it’s called Geranium macrorrhizum – fat root. Another first for me. Finally, at my first Council meeting of the Bath Nats the local recorder mentioned that she’d seen a Sea Spleenwort growing in the city centre . We’d spent hours looking for it along the cliffs when we were last in Cornwall and because I now know where to find it, I can claim three ticks in a day. In return I showed off even more by showing her how to use Google Photos as a searchable database. Cue for a date to give one of the indoor talks to the society this winter. Good day!