While I don’t tolerate moths inside my house, I welcome them in the garden. Along with all the other wild creatures who choose to live part of their brief lives in my garden, moths deserve to be respected for somehow having found everything needed to produce another generation. As human beings we value and respect the creation of a new generation of children. The other species who cohabit our time and place on earth should be admired, not misunderstoon and persecuted.
If your garden foliage is looking slightly moth-eaten, before you reach for a noxious insecticide spray, consider the complex life cycle of moths and butterflies. Acomparison of costs and benefits suggests that gardeners have real alternatives. Imperfect plant foliage would be accompanied by chance sightings of delicate creatures, whereas the kind of insecticide-induced plant perfection which is readily available in supermarkets may be accompanied by not much insect life at all. The obvious prey-predator links between caterpillars, moths, birds and bats should encourage us to reconsider how our gardening habits are affecting local wildlife.
The complex relationships between all the plant and animal life-forms with which we share our planet and our gardens depend upon balance. Without any human intervention, domestic gardens would gradually ‘revert to nature’. Over a period of many years, they would evolve towards a condition of equilibrium defined by soil type and climate. In this part of Scotland, such ‘neglected’ gardens would eventuallybecome mixed woodlands. The intervention of a gardener arrests this natural development, encouraging a different balance among the garden’s plants and animals. Wider local eco-systems are also affected by these individual garden interventions. The gardener makes life-or-death decisions every day by killing ‘weeds’ and insect ‘pests’.
‘Weeds’ are simply plants growing where they are considered undesirable, a functional definition based on perceived usefulness, rather than species. Thus the same plant species, growing in two different situations, can be either a weed or a
highly valued garden specimen. Among garden-dwelling animals, including insect ‘pests’, a similar dependency on gardeners’ perceptions exists. Undervalued insects are routinely destroyed by gardeners who choose not to fully appreciate these tiny creatures.
The slithery mucous which enables snails and slugs to safely glide across sharp surfaces also helps bind soil particles together, while the sticky honeydew dropped by greenfly delivers plant nutrients originally sourced deep underground by tree roots.
Contrary to common perceptions, wasps are generally helpful carnivorous creatures, preying on smaller insects for most of the summer, only developing a liking for sweet substances later in their working lives as their energy levels decline. Fortunately the pollinating role of bees is widely appreciated, so the humble ground-nesting bumble-bee is generally seen as a gardener’s friend. They need holes in the ground in which to set up home, so the abandoned burrows of wood-mice can serve as safe
homes for these helpful pollinators.
Hedgehogs are are known to eat molluscs, but they are too easily killed by the application of a match to an old pile of garden waste, so care is needed when tidying up the garden. When I discovered one of these prickly carnivores over-wintering in my shed, I quietly cut a hole in the shed wall to let it move on again after hibernation. The customary year-end practice of tidying away the garden’s browning stems,
withered flowers and seed heads deprives visiting birds of a valuable winter food source, while garden insects lose protective hiding places.
Many wild creatures, finding that modern agricultural practices deprive them of homes and habitat, are following the human population into an urban or suburbanway of life. To help these animals survive as city dwellers, we owe them a duty of care. They need our gardens just as much as we do. So live and let live.
© Douglas Dalgleish Garden Design 2010