Alys Fowler

My first lesson in pest control

Alys's love for horticulture stems from her mother's enthusiasm for gardening. Here she shares how she learnt to deal with pests from a young age.

I was taught to answer the phone saying ‘my mother is in the garden’. I’d say it even if she wasn’t, which was a rare moment. Mobile phones have changed how you get hold of my mother these days, but there’s often a long pause after she answers where she has to take off her gardening gloves and sit down ‘somewhere nice in the garden’. It should come as no surprise then that I became a gardener. It wasn’t a fait accompli, but it often felt so. 

My happiest memories of childhood are mud pies, climbing trees and my first garden. It was a tiny little spot under a fig tree and my mother would dig up bits of this and that for me to plant under it. Tough things like Ajuga repens, lamb’s ears, Stachys byzantina and mint, Mentha spp, that wouldn’t mind a bit of shade or me jumping out of the fig tree on top of them.  It had a little brick edge to it and I was also given an old kitchen knife to weed out the errant bits of grass. I loved this job. I also liked cutting ants in half when I found them marching out of their home.

Alys Fowler

I remember she found me cutting all the ants in half and asked me why I was doing it. I thought it was satisfying. She left me to it and eventually I gave up. There were just too many ants. This was my first lesson in pest control.  There are always going to be more insects than you can you rid yourself of. The battle will be never ending.

When you think you’ve won, you’ll find out you’re actually losing, tomorrow they will have recovered and be back with what seems like a vengeance. They are not of course out to get you; just that the plant they are attacking is weak.  Pests are not there to irritate or spoil your garden but to keep the ecological balance, and in turn many of those pests turn out to be someone else’s supper.There are many insects that like to dine on molds and fungus, blue tits love aphids, as do wasps, beetles love to eat slug eggs and frogs and toads love to eat tender young slugs. The predator in turn is someone else’s tea. Thus it’s much better to not need to eliminate the pests in the first place. 

In order to find that balance you have to relax a bit. Don’t over tidy up your garden, those dry leaves behind the shed, or under a bush or a stack of wood slowly rotting down are all ideal homes for those good guys, the beetles, the frogs and toads. Don’t over weed either. Don’t let the garden get swamped but many weeds have been proven to be the best source of nectar and protein for pollinators, bees, butterflies and hoverflies that in return will make sure your apples are set and your flowers reseed. 

A good garden is one that is balanced, there may be nibbled leaves or diseased stems, but on the whole the garden will still sing with flowers and fruit and the odd bit that is less than perfect won’t cramp the gardener’s style.