Decisions, Decisions

It’s been a while since I last wrote and that’s because we’ve been very busy getting lots done in the garden and even meeting a far flung garden blogger too, but I don’t want to write about that now, I’ll save that for later. I want to write about something that’s been in my head for a while, but finally crystallised into sharp focus earlier today.

It’s been a lovely – if somewhat cloudy – early October day. There is still heat in the sun – if the clouds would ever let it shine through – but the night time temperatures are dropping and I know there’s not long until I hang up the tools and gardening gloves for the winter. Today though was a good day to be outside and pottering around, cleaning up here, weeding there, catching up with the seasonal changes and generally getting the countless little garden jobs done.

The main theme at the moment is winter preparation and I’ve started clearing the patio of all the pots and paraphernalia that decorated it over the summer, in preparation for a good clean. Hauling the smaller patio pots out of the way onto some make-shift staging, I gave each pot a general, “is it dead?” check and cleaned up self-sown weeds and brown bits.

It was when I was doing this for a pot of lupins that I saw this well-camouflaged little critter:

Caterpillar on Lupin

I immediately thought “Oh no! It’s eating my plants!” and was about to do something unpleasant to it and that’s when it suddenly occurred to me.

Gardeners make daily decisions that affect the environment around them – their garden – and affect the lives of countless critters, big and small in turn. It’s not just wildlife, it’s the plants too.

It can all start with a packet of seed. I have a packet of foxglove seed whose contents contain approx 3,000 seeds. There’s no way I can handle 3,000 plants, or even 300, I might be OK with 30, but that’s quite a lot too. This numbers game is more to do with chance really; out of that packet of seed, only 1% may find a place in the garden, the rest – no matter how difficult I find to throw away seed, seedlings and plants – will never make it. It’s not always numbers though. Imagine the horror of running out of planting space; which seedlings are given the gift of life and the chance to thrive in the border and which ones must be discarded; decisions.

Of course it’s different when nature does this itself, but when a gardener is involved making decisions on how many seed trays to sow, how much to throw away, which plants to thin out and discard, which ones to pot up and keep and which ones to plant out in the garden and which ones go on the compost heap, well, then it feels very personal.

The knock-on effect of this of course, is that the wildlife is affected too. Foxgloves are great of bees, a stand of them might help single solitary bees or an entire hive survive the winter. Plants are food too; the lupin – which was a choice – is being munched on by a caterpillar and at this time of year, it will be starting to prepare a place to overwinter; as plants are homes too.

Next season, if the caterpillar becomes a moth, it will return to feed on the Evening Primrose (another decision) on the patio. It if returns as a butterfly, it will feed on the Buddleia (yet another decision), planted out just this season and due to flower next. The decision to buy this shrub or that bush, sow this seed or spray that plant has consequences for many little lives. Like dropping a pebble onto the surface of a still pond, the ripples of effect radiate outwards from every decision made, no matter how small or trivial that decision was.

This kind of thing is happening all the time, many times over. The only difference here is that I took the opportunity to stop and notice and that’s when I discovered how profound it was.

The lupin is a herbaceous perennial and will return again next spring so it doesn’t matter to me whether its leaves are eaten now or not, they’re going to go brown and die shortly anyway. It was a small decision on my part that had big consequences for the caterpillar.

14 Comments


  1. Sunil, it was such a treat to visit you and your garden! I will be interested to see what that caterpillar will become in time. There are websites that show these critters and tell you what they are. Perhaps you can take a peek and see what creature you saved. It is just one of the mysteries of gardens that make them special to us. Take care my friend!

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    1. Hello Lynn, it was lovely to see you and I’m so glad we managed to get together. I think the caterpillar in the picture is just a common moth as opposed to anything rare or special but I still wouldn’t have changed my mind. We’re going to enjoy the bottle of wine on our anniversary, in about a week or so!

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  2. My garden is designed around pollinators so I’m always hoping there’s something eating my plants. 🙂 That means I have future butterflies in the making. So happy you didn’t squish the caterpillar.

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    1. Hello Tammy, I used to be very against anything that tried to eat my plants but as I garden more, I’m developing a much more relaxed attitude. It may be due to the fact that I don’t have time to micro-manage everything and so I’m not too bothered when things get munched. I can be precious about some of my favourite plants though. 🙂

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  3. I’m glad you didn’t either! I get cross at them sometimes, but always think of the butterfly or moth next year. Decisions are always difficult in a garden for me – shall I move it? shall I leave it? I just removed a clematis of 4 years standing. never ever saw a leaf once planted, but it was not necessary to fill the space because there were other things around. But then I got a lovely jasmine in a sale and the post that the clematis should have clung to was just the spot. And then, when dug up, the roots were healthy as anything! Too late, the jasmine is in and the clematis root gone. NowI have about 50 tulips to go in in November, and that will be another decision….. groups of 3? or just a scatter? As you say, Sunil, decisions decisions. Looking forward to your post about lynngator visiting!

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    1. Hello Mrs Mac, all these decisions means that gardens are always changing and evolving. Some decisions don’t last long, others set the stage for a long time in the future. I’m not sure there’ll be a special post about Lynn visiting as I was so disorganised that I didn’t have any “interview” questions ready nor did I take any pictures but we did spend a very pleasant, warm and sunny afternoon in the garden talking about all sorts.

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  4. Sunil, Have you read Doug Tallamy’s Bringing Nature Home, which is mostly about the role of insects in the food chain and in our gardens? That book totally changed the way I thought about insects on my plants.

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    1. Hello Jean, no I haven’t come across this book. I’d like to have more time to sit and read books. At the moment, if I’m not reading technical documentation (for work) then I’m reading gardening sites on “how to grow this” and “how to plant that”. It would be nice to read for reading’s sake and not just as a means to an end.

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    1. Hello Alistair, I know how immaculate your garden is so you’re going to have to be prepared to face hostas with holes in, roses with segments cut out and other imperfect plants. It could be quite an adjustment!

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  5. A wise choice, Sunil. I think it is better to tolerate a little munching on the plants than to try and make the garden perfect. The greater variety of insects, the more the garden stays in balance and the less likely is a serious outbreak of pests. We need to have some pests around to keep the predators who eat the pests.

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    1. Hello Jason, as I’m creating the garden I’m wary of the ecosystem that is emerging. As the garden was essentially just a large expanse of grass before, the introduction of borders and plants that provide food and shelter all year round means that it’s not just the garden that is starting from scratch, but also the diverse ecosystem that will “inhabit” it.

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  6. Yay! This post does me good! The more gardeners there are like you, Sunil, the better our planet will be. Perhaps you might think of linking this post to Wildlife Wednesday today at http://mygardenersays.com/ I’m sure other wildlife gardeners would be interested to read it.

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    1. Hello Sarah, I’ll take a look. I’ve seen various recurring themes like this but I’m so disorganised that I tend to completely miss or forget about them!

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