June 2014

posted 31 Jul 2014, 04:52 by Bob Brace
‘The snake’s in the strawberries’ announces Mr O G breathlessly, hurtling into the kitchen. ‘Has he eaten them?’ I enquire, thus betraying a sad lack of knowledge about the lifestyle of a snake. ‘Can’t tell’ he replies, ‘he’s thrashing about in such a rage because he’s caught in the net – quick, give me some scissors’ I do so, asking what he is proposing to do. I suppose I envisaged stabbings, or beheadings. ‘Cut him free of course’ he says as he disappears again. I marvel, not for the first time, at his sang-froid in the face of what, to me, is a very real and present danger. We knew there was a snake living with us because we had on several occasions found shed skins, about 30 inches long. These are fascinating in themselves because where you would expect to find holes in the skin for the eyes, there are actually transparent membranes. We believe him to be a grass snake, and therefore harmless, but I really didn’t want to put it to the test. Mr O G returns. ‘Did he bite you?’ I demand to know. ‘No, but it wasn’t easy getting the blade between the net and his skin. After I got him free he shot off into the onion bed and disappeared down a hole. And get this,’ he adds bitterly, ‘beside the hole there was a small ripe STRAWBERRY.’ Circumstantial evidence indeed.

Mr O G broods for a bit and then pronounces ‘Unless he can produce a very good defence, this court finds the snake guilty of strawberry theft’ Meanwhile I have been reading the book, it states that snakes are entirely carnivorous. Mention this to Mr O G, advancing it as the necessary good defence. I show him the book. ‘Ha’ he says triumphantly, ‘it also says that they modify their diet to suit their environment’ I can see the snake is found guilty, but it doesn’t really matter because Mr O G quite likes him really.

What a beautiful spring it has been, the best for many years. It is a pity then, that Mr O G has had to be out of the garden for six weeks. This is because he suddenly had to become Mr Emergency Builder owing to the demise of the dining room chimney and the necessity for new stove, flue liner and repairs to the stack, not to mention
complete redecoration of said dining room. This had far reaching consequences for the garden and for Mrs O G who had to spend many days on her knees trying to plant out all the little plants before it was too late. Mr E B would helpfully call directions from the top of the scaffold (where he knew he was safe from reprisals) and reckoned that he could see every error she was making. While all this was happening, there was a great free for all on the weed front. They went raving mad and the veritable explosion of growth overtook everything and we shall probably not get proper control at all this season. However, we have had some good strawberries and the first helping of new peas this evening. Lettuce supplies continue unabated but so do the ongoing battles against the slugs. We knew it would be a bad year for them after the winter didn’t really happen. The frog army is doing its best. In every damp dark little nook and cranny lurks a huge fat frog, hardly able to move for having eaten so many slugs, but they just can’t eat fast enough.

The delphiniums have been particularly good and prolific this year, shooting up their great spires above all the chaos, with big cascades in all shades of blue. The most striking piece of growth of all, however has been the miracle apple tree. I call it a miracle because it is. The tree had been a wedding present so is now 50 years old. Back in January, after one of the worst gales, we found this tree lying on the grass, blown clean out of the ground, roots waving dramatically in the air. ‘Oh, it has had it’ say I, ‘what can you expect, at that age’. Mr O G was having none of this defeatist talk. ‘Bah’ he said, and set about digging a huge hole. I obediently pruned the top branches hard – this wasn’t a difficult task while the tree was lying down. Mr O G then liberally sprinkled the roots with some mycorrhizal fungi which he had been given as a Christmas present, and replanted the tree, giving it a massive iron stake as well. I still believed he was wasting his time, but sure enough, in the early spring I spotted signs of life in the form of little leaf buds sprouting out. Leaves formed and next came a smattering of blossom. I was truly amazed, but Mr O G took it as a matter of course. There is now a little green apple growing. If it manages to mature, and we get to eat it, it will have to be done in a ceremonial fashion, for it really is miraculous. It just shows what can be done with perseverance and mycorrhizal fungi!

Mr O G, after several evenings of quiet brooding, has come to a conclusion. ‘ We must not have any more loose nets’ he decrees. ‘It is not the first time a creature has become entangled – we shall have to forego them. The only nets to be used will be ones on a rigid frame, I can soon knock up some more.’ I remark that it would be easier to set up a giant fruit cage over everything, but this is not really the answer. If the birds can’t get at the plants at all, who will eat the greenfly, and the blackfly, and the white fly etc etc..........?

Now is the time of the waterlilies. Like everything else, they are abundant this year. In the little pond in the front garden there are no fewer than 7 pink blooms, and in the big pond there are so many huge white flowers that we have lost count. They are surrounded by a myriad marsh marigolds whilst overall the gunnera spreads its great parasols way over our heads. The pond teems with wildlife, from bright blue damsel flies flitting about the flowers, to the army of newts trawling around under the water. The water snails uncurl themselves on the surface and sunbathe, and in among them glide the pond skaters. We just sit and stare for hours. It was in this pond that the snake was first spotted swimming, by a visitor who could hardly believe her eyes. It’s quite true – you don’t have to do anything to attract wildlife to the garden, it’s all there already, just waiting to pounce on anything you may dare to plant!
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