Saturday, 23 April 2011

Foxgloves (23 APR 2011)

Yesterday was Earth Day.   Stacy@Microcosm invited me to join a blog meme proposed by Sage Butterfly : Earth Day Reading Project.   In turn, I invited DD@The Sundial Garden.

I was beginning to wonder why I had accepted this invitation because I’m neither well-read nor am I intentionally going green … but then Stacy reminded me of words written about 7 months ago when I started blogging, then forgotten, about how I double-planted : half for the slugs & snails and half for myself, rather than dispense slug control pellets.

Therefore, I'm writing this post to explore myself in search of greenness. It extends beyond the comfort zone of my garden, but I did promise I would venture outside at the beginning of the year ....

So why this aversion to using slug pellets? I would like to say it’s because I’m concerned about the long-lasting effects of releasing chemicals into the atmosphere or because the slug pellets may appear appetising to other creatures seeking habitats in my garden, not just the slugs.
The truth is I don’t know if slug pellets contain harmful chemicals (Mrs F informed me it is possible to get bird-friendly products) and due to my town up-bringing, I can’t even look a slug in the tentacles without releasing a shriek quietly to myself. The only answer I have is that it seems unnecessary at the moment, the slugs are not doing a great deal of damage and I have a theory that when slugs eat leaves, plants are prompted to flower prolifically for survival.

My first book choice for Earth Day is "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" by Eric Carle. This is the first book I owned and now I like to buy it for small children. I think everybody knows, but in case you don’t … it’s the story of a caterpillar that eats its way through a leaf and then gorges on various foods (not usually for caterpillar consumption) before turning into a butterfly.
It is made of thick cardboard pages including holes chewed out. As a child, I remember poking my finger through the holes and wiggling it about. It’s such a simple idea, yet the book is still on sale over forty years after it was first published.

Psychologists claim that the human beings personality is formed by the age of two, and it sounds a bit far-fetched but I feel that subconsciously the reason why I accept slug & snail damage in my garden is partly because of this book.
I am not expecting that I’ll be so laid back forever. There may be a day when the pests in my garden are totally out of control or my plants get sick and then I’ll have a difficult decision to make, or maybe it wont be so difficult, but until that day my garden will survive without artificial pesticides or fertilisers.
My second book choice for Earth Day is "The Ornamental Kitchen Garden" by Geoff Hamilton. He gives practical guidance on setting up, planting and tending organically, a small back garden where flowers, fruit and vegetables are all grown together resulting in a natural balance between pests and their predators. This is the type of garden I aspire to create. However, I wouldn't call myself green based on this, because in contradiction I wear cotton clothing and I've read that vast amounts of pesticides are required to grow cotton commercially.


My third book choice for Earth Day is "The Private Life of Plants" by David Attenborough.
Until I saw the accompanying TV series, with revolutionary time-lapse photography, I never thought of plants as living lives comparable to animals, with the same value. In a manner typical of his usual wildlife commentaries, he travelled around the world introducing us to plants that I had never seen or heard of, describing their life-cycles and the challenges they have to overcome to survive in their native landscapes.

I understand that native planting is believed to be important for Earth’s sustainability, to compensate for all the species that have been culled as man progresses with world domination. 
My contribution so far is ten foxgloves excelsior which, as you can see, are just coming into bud now, but apart from these, the plants in my garden are quite cosmopolitan. I do question what native actually means though, because even before homo sapiens evolved, there were changes in climate, and land masses were shifting, which would have caused plants to move around and find new homes.

What does Sustainability mean in the context of Earth Day?
According to this short video … http://youtu.be/B5NiTN0chj0
 .... there are four aspects to going green, or bearing in mind Earth’s sustainability in daily life, taking care not to ...

exhaust fossil fuels – I’m guilty of driving a car to work and to buy groceries but I also use public transport because in London we are fortunate to have reliable services. My local council helps me recycle paper, plastic, tins and garden waste weekly.

release harmful chemicals into the atmosphere – I’m guilty of using cleaning products which contain bleaches etc. I admit that I should try harder to find some environmentally-friendly products.

cut down trees and vegetation – I like to think I am doing good work for the planet in my garden.

distribute the world’s food resources unfairly – I have heard that large areas of the Amazonian rainforest are cut down to rear beef cattle and that there is enough land to grow food crops for everyone in the world but it is not shared equally. I used to be a vegetarian, because I didn't think it was right to eat meat that I was not prepared to slaughter myself, but I have lapsed since and now eat a small portion of fish, chicken or meat, about three times a week.

In summary, I believe there is a hint of green in me, especially considering the small piece of land that I manage. Maybe this is just the beginning ….

Finally, just a note about the foxglove experiments. The photos are arranged in the same order as January's post for comparison, a final set of measurements has been recorded before they flower. I'm not sure how I'm going to factor in the effects of the heatwave during the past week, I was hoping to leave them to their own devices, barely watered. Then while I was wondering how I am going to quantify flowering performance, I noticed that a couple of plants have more than one flower spike. It's going to be complicated.

©Copyright 2011 b-a-g. All rights reserved.

21 comments:

DD said...

Lovely books! I too read the hungry caterpillar when I was younger and loved watching David Attenborough's Private Life of Plants. Great choices. Happy Earth Day.

Carolyn @ Carolyn's Shade Gardens said...

What a great post showing all your uncertainties but giving some valuable information on what it might mean to go green. I love Eric Carle's book but I must admit it was as a parent reading it to my children (you must be younger than I imagined). I also loved The Private Life of Plants--absolutely fascinating--didn't see the TV series.

gardenwalkgardentalk.com said...

I admire you for 'feeding' the slugs. I try to relocate them as strange as that sounds. Each morning and evening, I patrol the yard and collect them, to send them over my fence to the vacant yard behind me. I am sending them far enough that they do not seem to return. I found picking them off the plants the best defense. A lot of work, but my slug problem is usually under control. And I have foxglove too.

Stacy said...

b_a_g, I'm so glad you were willing to go along with this--I love how you set it up as an exploration of your own perspective, even down to where slug pellets are concerned. Fortunately for all of us, "greenness" isn't an all-or-nothing proposition... I'll have to look for the Hamilton & Attenborough books--the Hamilton sounds like a similar perspective to one of my favorites, and the Attenborough sounds absolutely fascinating. I suspect The Very Hungry Caterpillar is still on a bookshelf somewhere... (Why were those holes in the book so much fun???)

One said...

When I was young, I read Wishing Chair by Enid Blyton, then proceeded with Famous Five. There wasn't any green info. But I didn't like killing...which indirectly leads to green living.

Since you are afraid of snails, I'll post some one of these days. Hopefully, you don't freak out. Perhaps you might look at them differently.

b-a-g said...

Thanks DD & Carolyn – Here’s a clip from the Private Life of Plants that I found on Youtube http://youtu.be/igkjcuw_n_U. It looks a bit dated now, but David Attenborough is still one of my heroes.

GWGT - The vision of you patrolling your garden & lobbing slugs over the fence, makes me chuckle.

Stacy - Thanks for inviting me. I have vivid memories of my childhood, I don't think I've changed much over the years. I'm still fascinated by things that many people wouldn't waste much thought on.

One - The Faraway Tree was my favourite Enid Blyton book. Your posts have already started to make me view critters in a different light. I enjoyed your latest post on Paper Wasps : http://onenezz.blogspot.com/2011/04/paper-wasp.html

Esther Montgomery said...

Everything does get complicated.

I don't kill slugs or snails but relocate them on open ground, away from the house. It would be different if I needed the plants for food but,as I don't, I don't feel I have the right to kill other creatures just for the sake of making my garden look nice. On the other hand BIG CONTRADICTION - I've just squidged a load of greenfly on the honeysuckle. Greenfly are too small to handle and where would I take them to even if I were able to pick them up? Perhaps I should stop trying to grow honeysuckle; they are as much alive as slugs are - I'll have to think about that.

Esther

Donna said...

what a wonderful, honest post ....we are all finding our way and trying to do our part whatever that may be for each of us...your post resonates so strongly because of your journey into the unknown...I love the books and absolutely love Eric Carle..Happy Earth Day and Happy Easter..

PS-I absolutely love foxgloves...

b-a-g said...

Esther - Jain monks have similar thoughts, sweeping the ground before them as they walk so that they don't tread on insects.

I saw a collection of black dots on one of my foxglove buds. I tried watering them off casually but they didn't budge so I brushed them away more deliberately with a tissue - not sure if this is better or worse than squidging though.

Thanks Donna - My journey into the unknown is the most pleasurable I've ever been on and all I have to do is open my back door and step into my garden. I don't take this for granted.

Karin / Southern Meadows said...

Wonderful choices! The Very Hungry Caterpillar is classic...I loved it as a child and my children did too. I enjoyed reading about your journey of being more green. For me, it started with one act of green and then I adopted more and more over the years. I don't think it has to be all or nothing. Every act no matter how small counts. Is there a natural predator of slugs?

b-a-g said...

Thanks Karin - Frogs are a natural predator of slugs. Geoff Hamilton advises included a pond in the garden for this reason. However, I once saw a nature program with a pond bubbling up vigourously, full of mating frogs. I'm not quite ready for that kind of activity in my garden. (I know - I should grow up!)

Alistair said...

Hi b-a-g I have struggled with green issues for years. We have so many Hostas which get completely devoured by slugs. I now put down pellets once per year as the Hostas are about to open, seems to help greatly. Back in the early days of the going green thing, Geoff Hamilton had no sympathy with those who instructed us that we should not be using compost which had peat added.I suspect he received quite a backlash as his attitude changed completely and he did indeed become renowned for his environmental ways.I like to think I have a balance which allows me to care for the environment and also have a garden that gives us pleasure. Always enjoy your update on the Foxgloves.

b-a-g said...

Alistair - I like your balanced approach. The first bag of compost I bought was peat-free by accident. I couldn't understand why it was so dry and it didn't feel rich like compost I'd felt before. Then I found out why people were going peat-free and stuck with it. I now add sieved soil improver (it's dark and retains water like peat but doesn't contain any) to peat-free compost to get a medium which seedlings seem to thrive in.

debsgarden said...

I still own the copy of The Very Hungry Caterpillar I bought for my boys when they were small children over twenty-five years ago. It is a delightful book! I think one reason I am tinted green myself is because I was able to see the world through the eyes of my boys, who were totally fascinated with bugs, lizards, turtles, fishes, snakes, frogs, and every other little creature they could find - and, believe me, they found plenty!

b-a-g said...

Deb - It sounds like your sons live up to the nursery rhyme : "What are little boys made of? Frogs, snails and puppy dogs tails!"

leavesnbloom said...

My slugs die intoxicated with liquor and die happy slugs.

Beer traps or yeast or milk traps work a treat in my garden and the remains can go straight unto the compost heap. If you ever use milk don't forget to change it. Once I wondered what the dreadful odour was coming from a part of my garden and the local moggie got the blame........ well it was infact stale milk full of slugs which wasn't too pleasant to empty.

I did reply to your question about hardy prims yesterday - though not sure if you subscribed to my email comments. It is hard to figure out which is which - normally the internet is the best place to look and if it is a named variety in the garden centre then it's more likely to survive. Generic labels probably means it has travelled from Holland and mightn't be that hardy but since you are so much further south than me you've got more choice of borderline plants than me as my garden gets down to -18 in the winter.

b-a-g said...

Rosie - Intoxication sounds like a good compromise between doing nothing and using slug pellets. Emptying the dregs could be a problem for me, but if the slug problem gets out of control, I think I could suffer it. Thanks for introducing me to Primula Greensleeves ... http://leavesnbloom.blogspot.com/2011/04/primula-flowers-primrose-greensleeves.html

The Sage Butterfly said...

I am so glad you decided to participate for your book selections are tremendously inspiring. David Attenborough is amazing in whatever he does--always educating and inspiring. You obviously consider the plants and the animals when you garden which definitely makes you green. Thank you for participating in The Earth Day Reading Project.

b-a-g said...

Michelle - Well done for hosting the Earth Day meme, it seems to have gathered a lot of interest.

PatioPatch said...

Belated reply b-a-g but I thought of you when I was in the garden yesterday. My foxgloves this year are last year's spontaneous seedings which are embarrasingly small. Yet still they have flower spikes - miniature foxgloves are a novelty no doubt.
Even as a scientist you no doubt appreciate the lack of conformity in your plants - they defy predictability and measurability!
Laura

b-a-g said...

Laura - I love the idea of your spontanoeus, miniature foxgloves. Indeed, I am beginning to enjoy the unpredictability of gardening, but I'll still continue with my analyses, even if I only discover what gardeners have already known for years.

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