Cotswold Gardening: Sir Roddy Llewellyn
PUBLISHED: 11:51 27 May 2011 | UPDATED: 19:28 20 February 2013
At war with slugs: All those deep saucers filled with beer, with their rims at soil level, only succeeded in getting the dog drunk
May is the month all gardeners dream about. Wherever you look there is a bursting bud and the birth of a new shoot. Hostas are particularly spectacular especially when they decide to unfurl their leaves from those tight and sharp-pointed buds. It is difficult to think of any other herbaceous plant suitable to our climate to match the splendour of their foliage. Their flowers are neither here nor there. When they appear I cut them off at the base so that they do not detract from the beauty of the leaves. I have given up growing hostas in the border because I am done with battling the mollusc. All those deep saucers filled with beer, with their rims at soil level, only succeeded in getting the dog drunk and the removal of dead slugs floating in flat beer is not what I call fun. When I tried out the odd idea of holly leaves arranged around the base of each plant, as suggested by someone on the television, my punctured fingers dripped with blood at tidying-up time in the autumn. I have also tried salt, very sparingly, but too much of it in the soil proves toxic to plants. Then theres the suggestion of using half-grapefruit skins specially cut with a little door to resemble an igloo. Well, I dont particularly want my garden to look like a refuse tip which is why I do not resort to crushed eggshells either. We all want to adhere to organic principles, but there are limits.
A way of reducing the mollusc population close to your precious hostas is to remove the dead leaves in the autumn as they constitute not only a perfect sheltering place for these slimy uninvited visitors but also an ideal breeding ground for them as well. Unfortunately, the temptation to surround the plants with well-rotted organic matter in order to retain moisture in the soil, because all hostas thrive in damp soils, has the same effect. Accordingly, I always grow hostas in containers as invaluable additions to shaded, north-facing areas where little else as spectacular will grow in any case. I keep the slugs and snails at bay with very few pellets which I sprinkle onto the soil surface in late April. Slug pellets are, in my experience, far safer to use than led to believe, but I would only use them in pots as then hedgehogs cannot access them. Always buy blue pellets as this colour is unattractive to birds and they also contain a substance that domestic animals find unpalatable. In any case if they are sprinkled sparingly on the soil surface, rather than being arranged in shall heaps here and there, they are far less likely to be spotted by birds or domestic animals. The hostas with larger leaves, the sieboldiana species, have puckered, coarser leaves and these prove less palatable to molluscs.
The slug population in our gardens is always reduced if theres a hedgehog around and as they are such likeable little creatures then surely we must all encourage them to set up home. Theres nothing like hearing them start to snuffle and grunt in May as they venture forth for their nocturnal forage. The tidy gardener will not find it easy to give suitable conditions for hedgehogs as they prefer conditions like piles of leaves (especially beech leaves), a gap under the garden shed, under a hedge or a large neglected plant covered in dead leaves within which to hibernate during the winter. If you are planning some sort of water feature in your garden please think about an informal pond with a gentle slope down which hedgehogs can safely walk without drowning. Who knows, if you make your garden attractive to a family of hedgehogs, they may stay put and resist crossing the road.
While it is a joy to watch garden plants spring into action, the emergence of weeds with equal energy does not give the same pleasure. So its out with the hoe on a dry day to cut them back while they remain relatively small. Emerging dahlias can be given a liquid feed towards the end of the month and inspect roses for the first signs of aphid attack they are easily removed with your fingers. Leave a sprig or two of forget-me-nots to allow them to self-seed and delay no further in installing a down pipe and a water butt my last water bill nearly gave me a heart attack (mind you most of my domestic bills do).
However, we do have Chelsea Flower Show to look forward to.