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:
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.