August flew by in a whirl of picking, podding and freezing as the beans, tomatoes, peppers and others all grew to maturity and beyond. But behind the fecund abundance, the menace of death and destruction lurked in the garden.
I have commented on the battle with interlopers such as moles and caterpillars, and our combined efforts to reduce the numbers of said assailants. But more desirable garden visitors have not always managed to avoid the dangers of the garden environment.
For example, one morning as I was heading out I saw a squab (young pigeon) walking up the yard – lost, and flightless, it seemed to have fallen from a nest somewhere. I did not have time to do anything with it, leaving it to its own – or its parents’ – devices. But later in the day Fudge and Ella (our newest recruit to the Garden Home Guard), were discovered with said squab in mouth. Claire managed to “rescue” the flightless victim, but only in time to give it the last rites. The bird was still breathing, though, and as the Old Man pulled up after his morning shoppping and gossip trip, she asked if he would complete the job for her.
Well, by the time he had decided on how to get out the of car, what to do with his shopping, managed to select which pocket to put his car keys in, walked five paces towards the bird, formed a plan on exactly HOW he might despatch it (wring its neck? Swing it against a brick wall? or perhaps take an air rifle shot at it?), the bird had decided “sod it” and quietly slipped off this mortal coil out of sheer boredom. Death by exasperation was the coroner’s verdict.
We have had a plethora of woodpeckers in the garden this summer – Green and Great Spotted varieties. I could hardly turn a corner without having some noisy fledgling flying up from the grass, yaffling at me for disturbing it. Great Spotteds spend more time in the trees (and the bird feeders) but can get confused by greenhouses, as one found out to its cost. I guess it just flew into the glass and broke its neck. A shame. “Beautiful plumage”, to quote Monty Python.
The garden is not only a dangerous place for wildlife. It is for domestic life too. The hens have a new potential predator in the form of our new, supposedly soft-mouthed, retrieving hound, Ella. She managed to get into the chicken enclosure the other day and had a magically entertaining minute running after the squawking hens before I managed to pull her away from Foghorn Leghorn (our best layer). The hen remained lifeless as I took Ella inside, and still did not move when I returned. She did eventually get back on her feet, and remains fine, though her tail feathers now form a rather tell-tale V shape – as if to give a two fingered salute to any passing labrador puppies.
In terms of deliberate, more calculated exterminations, we have continued with the annual cull of cabbage white caterpillars, which have had a field day (or rather a full summer campaign) on our caulis, cabbages and brussels, not to mention the curly kale. An enthusiastic expert on TV last night was commenting on what a brilliant year it has been for butterflies. He was excited about the Orange Tips and Red Admirals, but I think their numbers are dwarfed by the sheer density of Cabbage Whites in my veg patch. It is a grim and stinky job picking caterpillars and squeezing them like runny toothpaste. But oddly satisfying.
And what of the moles? A chance conversation with a member of the underground arms trade gave me access to a weapon of mole destruction and the means to – literally – blow them up. I thought he was joking at first, but when he explained that this piece of kit, entitled “Le Detaupeur”, (“satisfait ou rembourse”) was imported from France I thought it probably did what he said. And sure enough it does. I set it up with a bucket over the top and some chicken wire around it to prevent the dogs getting too close and after a couple of nights (and a re-set in case I had not got it right) came out one morning to find both bucket and detaupeur blown out of the ground. (The voice of Michael Caine echoed in my head here – “it’s only s’posed to blow the bloody doors off”).
The mole was – I assumed – dead, but I was not prepared to excavate the area to find out. But I need not have worried: five days later, our adorable puppy decided she would do some digging and I only latterly realised where it was that she was working the soil. She successfully uncovered the decapitated mole – which I disposed off beyond her reach. So moles need to look out – we have now tapped into the murky world of the international arms trade.
And no UN mandate or weapons inspector is going to help them.