October 2018 | Mellow fruitfulness | Top Tips

October 2018 | Mellow fruitfulness | Top Tips

Autumn in Crystal Palace Park
Autumn in Crystal Palace Park

Hello again gardeners – life is a little more relaxed for us during the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. There is, of course, all the preparation for next growing season but then there are months ahead of us to do it before the bad weather sets in. As September drew to a close I finished most of my preserving – another kilo of Piccalilli and a similar amount of pickled cucumbers. I am now waiting for the first frost to hit, and soften, my medlars and I will turn these into medlar jelly and medlar cheese.

Last month I gave a talk and picked up from the audience some interesting gardening questions (one of which see later in the entry about Cherry trees). I have started to get comments on my blog and different voices are refreshing for both the blog readers and for me. If you feel moved to comment, or ask a gardening question, please do. Comments don’t appear immediately so don’t be surprised if you type something in and it disappears into the ether, this is because comments are moderated first which is a good idea nowadays. In any event you will certainly be answered and I look forward to hearing from you.

Badger garden damage

Notts Wildlife Trust badger group at work
Notts Wildlife Trust badger group at work

It seemed surprising that a gardener in the suburbs could have a problem in common with someone in the middle of the countryside in the midlands (comments on my post, September 2018) even if from a totally different viewpoint. Maggie from the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust Badger project left a comment about involvement with badgers you may have seen. The team spend several hours a week attracting badgers with peanuts, catching them and vaccinating them against TB, and then freeing them again having first daubed them with a splodge of purple paint so that they aren’t accidentally vaccinated twice.

Mine is more of a gardener’s problem. I have been researching the problem of badger garden damage for the best part of this year to try to decide what to do in a garden I care for with just such a problem. Other gardeners operating closer to inner London seem to have more of a problem with fox damage but my garden in question is on the edge of suburbia and countryside – according to the RSPCA – precisely the type of area where this will happen with the damage seemingly worsening as suburbia encroaches more and more on previously open land. The garden owner and I are clear that we are dealing with badger damage as he and his family have spotted them before now.

<i>I arrived to start work one morning recently to find a very unhappy client trying to deal with this damage – something he has to do several times a year.</i>
I arrived to start work one morning recently to find a very unhappy client trying to deal with this damage – something he has to do several times a year.

The nub of the problem is that the entire lawn can disappear overnight – not an exaggeration as you can see from the extent of the damage in the above picture – from a creature with a powerful set of claws digging for the worms and grubs that are the mainstay of their diet. I am constantly amazed that such a large and muscular animal exists on what seems such a paltry diet. To get up in the morning and find a ploughed field where the lawn once was is extremely frustrating for a garden owner who has spent forty years creating a beautiful garden and has been through the same experience many times during those years.

This year a new additional experience, plants dug up and found at the other end of the garden. The RSPCA says that damage to gardens is often the result of food shortages when badgers may have great difficulty in finding enough food. This will be most marked in hot, dry summers which certainly describes summer 2018. The jury is out as to whether feeding badgers helps or makes the problem worse and an individual must decide for themself. Maybe feed them for as long as the hot and dry spell continues?

Licences from the authorities to take or kill badgers are not granted for garden damage. They are only available for cases of serious economic damage e.g. to crops, poultry, embankments etc.

Top Tips

 

What remedies then are open to the garden owner with this problem? Electrified fencing of specific construction is one possible solution. This is not easily installed in a mature garden filled with shrubs, trees and hedges and so has not proved an answer in the case I am concerned with.

The garden owner uses companies offering regular lawn care treatments which kill the bugs that attract the digging animals and this has produced a magnificent lawn. Even so digging does still occur and probably would have been worse without the treatments.

We tried spreading huge rolls of a fine-mesh green plastic over the lawn at certain times of year – any piece of lawn not covered was dug up – so it seemed to work. When travelling by train in the area I noted that several large gardens had adopted the same idea. When the grass grew through the mesh and it proved impossible to remove it we covered it over with soil and grew the lawn again on top of the mesh. For some time we hoped that we might have found a permanent deterrent. This worked for a while but recently the garden owner discovered that the mesh had been torn up. Back to the drawing board.

We have noted that there are particularly sensitive spots in the garden that constantly get “attacked”. Apparently the badger is a creature of habit that sticks to the same routes so maybe we are on to something here. We hit on the idea of installing a metal strip into a flower bed edge that is continuously being broken down, working on the premise that the badger does not like solid metal against it’s claws. This was put in late last month. We are considering inserting some kind of deterrent just under the surface of the lawn – with the input of Wildlife Trust information we understand that to deter badgers this will need to rigid, not flexible in any way or they will just rip it up and out. We may well be getting closer to a solution. Watch this space.

Unable to find a resolution to these garden damage problems we are now experimenting – so in reality this is more of a trial than a top tip. Do leave a comment if you have suggestions you find have worked.

Boating lake
Boating lake

Crystal Palace Park

 

Banner heading picture this month is of Crystal Palace Park as is the picture above, both in their autumn garb. This park is much beloved by children for the prehistoric animal statues, look closely and you can see them in the foreground in the banner heading image.

Crysral Palace park lake
Crystal Palace park lake

This is one of those parks large enough and with enough going on to pass a whole day; enjoy a walk, walk around the lake or sail on it, look at the dinosaurs or visit the Sports Centre and there is also a Crystal Palace Museum (museum Sunday opening only). Worth a family visit.

Crystal Palace Sports Centre
Crystal Palace Sports Centre

Box Tree Moth

 

When at Levens Hall (see my September 2018 post) the box blight attack in the UK was at full strength. There it was a problem that took the form of sections in the topiary pieces that were brown and dead and when the dead matter was removed large holes remained. The Head Gardener noticed that once that point had been reached the disease didn’t appear to spread and when I left they were hoping that these holes might re-grow and fill in. They were also experimenting with other plants but nothing quite does the same job as Buxus (Box).

Chatting to another urban gardener recently I was sorry to hear there is yet another threat to Box now – Box tree moth. As if box blight wasn’t bad enough. Perhaps, as is often the case with disease, a weakened system is extra susceptible to other invasions. In any event Box tree moth is a relative newcomer to the UK and began to be found extensively in private gardens in and around London and surrounding counties in 2011.

What the garden owner will see is some defoliation and a cocoon of webbing. According to the RHS the defoliation damage by the caterpillar has been extensive enough as to indicate that this is likely to be a serious future problem. See the RHS for advice – good news is that it seems to be treatable – if you do see these signs the RHS are monitoring the problem by running a survey and would be pleased to get your input.

As the flowers fade with the departing summer the garden has to rely on the many textures, shapes and shades of foliage for interest. One plant I love and, I am surprised to learn, apparently is not widely grown in the UK is the Loquat (Eriobotrya japonica). I do not like it at all as a tree – I find it dense, dark and oppressive looking. I did however visit an attractive garden in the Richmond area some years ago where the garden owner also liked this plant and grew it as a tree. Her tree was open with plenty of light coming through and without the usual thick congestion of branches and leaves. Then she told us how much she was spending each year on radical pruning. The results were certainly worth it – but not for me.

Eriobotrya japonica - the Loquat
Eriobotrya japonica – the Loquat

My favourite way of displaying Eriobotrya is as a wall shrub – a fence in the case of my garden – I have been training mine into shape for some years after seeing my first example of this way of showing it in the gardens of Hampton Court some years ago. I have been back there many times to take a second look but unfortunately have never found it again. This is a fruiting plant hailing from China but is unlikely to fruit in the UK. It is nevertheless tough and hardy enough to survive here and is pretty trouble-free for the gardener. It is doing extremely well in my garden and the beautiful glossy dark green and robustly healthy-looking large leaves look amazing in the sunshine contrasting nicely with the silvery-white felty undersides. Eriobotrya adapts happily to being wall trained and a plant with this dramatic visual impact that can be coaxed into space-saving mode is a real gift in a small suburban garden. This plant should not be too difficult to get hold of; I used one in a garden design a couple of years ago and had no problem. My own plant came from a cutting from a fellow gardener when I was training.

Cherry trees

 

In mid-September I gave a talk and one of the audience asked about his cherry tree and said he would send a picture. He had bought two – I hope he has an extremely large garden – one was fine but the other was showing folded over leaves.

I had a similar experience with my Cherry. It later produced one fruit this year. Early in the year it too had developed folded over leaves and I put this down to the Peach Leaf Curl (peach is the same family as cherry and so subject to the same pests and diseases) at the allotment site and the people concerned were perhaps unsure what to do about it. I felt it may have spread to my nearby Cherry. On the other hand the particular combination of weather conditions this year, particularly that tropical summer, has given rise to some strange results in crops on site. Peach Leaf Curl is treatable so it is not a terrible issue and my Cherry has plenty of buds for the future so hopefully my audience member will be OK with his.

An alternative and less dramatic reason might be that the folded leaves contained on the inside a nice crop of aphids. These are easily removed by cutting off the affected leaves and spraying with garlic spray. I might know better if I see the picture.

I shall be very busy putting my own garden in order and then doing the same with the allotment. Keep up your preparations for the next growing season and enjoy what seems to be extended pleasant weather. Bye for now.

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