Saturday, August 27, 2016

Slug fest

One of the most delightful happenings in country life is the ‘al fresco’ lunch or - ‘dejeuner sur l’herbe’ normally served and eaten more or less dressed, both people and food.

The whole requires a little planning, make sure there is enough wine and cold cuts plus best garden salads, fresh bread, tomatoes, and that the whole fits on one tray. First caveat, never ever put stemmed wine glasses or wine bottles on same tray as food. This can lead to severe balance problems.

This was in evidence a few days ago at La Chaise main house. The food tray was well garnished, the wine cool and the glasses’ newly rinsed in vinegar to remove hard water deposits. The door to the terrace was ajar.

Angling myself to open same door with elbow (a housewifely talent) I suddenly spotted a slug coming in the opposite direction: that is it wanted to come in whilst I wanted to go out. Treading on slugs is wrong. My foot hovered over slug and the tray wobbled. Recovering my balance I kicked the slug sort of out of my way. Only slugs, aka ‘gastropods’ have sticky undersides and are not easily displaced by kicking. But all ended well, for slug and food.

Yet, where do slugs go when it is hot? We have had temperatures plus plus 30C for the last week or so. Apparently (wikipedia) slugs seek out damp places to lurk until temperatures come back to normal. So, question, was it heading for my bathroom or just trying a short cut across the house to the compost heap? I don’t know, but a second one was caught in the door jamb a few days later.

Few gardeners like slugs. A particular hatred for them is confined to the Dordogne and perhaps other wooded parts of France, because the slugs get to the coveted boletus edulis before two legged beings can, leaving rather sad cèpe specimens which require a lot of cleaning.

Slug got here first
Only partly joking, I have suggested we plant rows of lettuces in front of our cèpe rich woods to distract same slugs. But, of course, this would only accelerate a race between the sheep and any rabbits that are left on our land.

Pre-slug visit

Somewhere I read that someone had suggested geraniums as the ultimate slug deterrent. I am not sure about this – I do know that blue window frames and shutters with geranium plants are largely used in the warmer countries of Eastern and Middle Eastern Europe to deter flies and mosquitoes. But where is the relationship with slugs? Has anyone seen a woodland framed in geranium plants – cultivated ones, not the wild variety? Geranium extract is a fungicide – would it be poisonous for sheep?

Avaunt ye - Slugs!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Fighting greenery

It is not just the wild animals of all sizes that fight for existence in our sheltered glade where humans are the proxies for domesticated animals. Plants fight too. The loser in a plant fight dies of strangulation or suffocation.

Two of the most fearsome fighting wild plants are the ivy and the convolvulus, the former can destroy walls, the latter both stifles and strangles everything in its path. But it does offer a pretty flower as a distraction, rather like a boa constrictor’s smile.

Two of the most vigorous cultivated fighting plants are the vine and the wisteria, with the lesser known bignonia not far behind. The wisteria’s weakness is that in its teenage years it suffers from sudden death syndrome.
Terrace covering seen from underneath

These plants do appreciate human made supports, such as the iron bars over our terrace, or any handy upward stem. At present there is a race on between the vine and the wisteria to reach the palm tree nearest the terrace. It seems as though the vine has won.

Palm tree under attack from native plants

Curiously, the summer after we installed ourselves at La Chaise, wandering round assessing the largest, tallest oaks for felling – we needed both firewood and cash – we saw the oddest sight. Hung on the topmost branches of a slender 40m high oak were ripe grapes. The oak had grown on the edge of a former vineyard.

Some plants, like chickens, are cannibal. We have several oak saplings growing within the dried out stump of their ancestor.
Some are fighting off an invasion of cherry saplings whose pips were probably dropped by cherry greedy birds or martens.

Curiously, one five leaved oak sapling is growing out of the chicken house wall. An acorn cannot have fallen into that space. A bird would not have pushed it into that space. I suspect No 1 grandson who delights in pushing acorns into holes.

Overweening ambition