From a fragile beauty to ravaged vegetables

By Richard Wright

Friday, July 1, 2011


From a fragile beauty to ravaged vegetables

A bee orchid growing in a fir cone.

GARDENINGNATURE is such a great paradox — immensely fragile on the one hand and tough as old boots on the other.

Take the bee orchid as an example.

Almost impossible to culture, the little beauty crops up in unexpected places — and none more so than the diminutive little specimen handed to veteran gardener and author Bill Shepard.

He and I had seen nothing quite like it.

"I walk through Newport Cemetery in Fairlee Road regularly and I was handed a fir cone by the man who looks after it," said Bill.

"And there, growing out of the side of the cone, was a beautiful little bee orchid.

"It must have been there for a couple of years to be flowering in this most unlikely of places.

"I have never seen or heard of this before."

It was a lovely early birthday present for Bill, who will be 90 later this month.

Not so resilient is the produce being ravaged by pests after the recent rain, which seems to have brought every creepy crawly out of the woodwork to join the mice and rabbits.

This year, in addition to having a good diet of broad beans, they have tucked in to my beetroot with gusto, chewing the tops off each globe until hardly anything usable remains.

Beetroot is not normally a 'starter’ to the year but a desert, consumed when other crops become scarce.

I would be most grateful to receive any tips about what can be done to curb these marauding little monsters.

A few plots down from me, Gordon employs the old-fashioned method. He has so far, in a matter of just a few days, squished 16 of the little pests but so far fresh waves of the army band of little brothers and sisters keeps coming back for more.

Snails, too, have been able to cross the lines of preventive seaweed, made soft by the rain which has diminished the salt content.

Paul Patchett, from The Glade, Wroxall, e-mailed me about the tip he, and I, have used in an attempt to stop the exploding blackfly and greenly population that has been a particular problem on later-sown runner and broad beans.

"I’ve had great success with a tip I read in a magazine," said Paul.

"It was for controlling greenfly and it also worked on pests on  hostas.

"The tip was to crush a clove of garlic and put it in water overnight and then to spray."

Paul is now after an organic measure for woolly aphid.

"I have a pyrocantha hedge, which is infested with them, but the garlic doesn’t work with this pest.

"I am wondering if readers may have a tip I could use on the hedge?"

Joan Hall, from Gurnard, contacted me last year about her ailing ornamental cherry, which has sadly now given up the ghost.

This time, Joan is afflicted by tiny black bugs like beetles that a neighbour described as 'thunder flies’.

She said: "They are everywhere in the garden. I have picked lavender, roses and sweet peas. They are making my life a misery as I like some flowers in the house."

Now if Joan had used the word 'thrip’, I would instantly have known.

These tiny, elongated insects, feed inside developing flower buds and in the newly expanding leaves of plants, sucking the life out of them.

They feed by piercing and then sucking from plant tissue, which can result in silver mottling of affected leaves and petals, and severe infestations prevent normal flowering.

It is quite common for viruses to be transmitted to host plants too.

They can be controlled with insecticide, if sprayed early.

Indoors, it has been found that garlic plants placed strategically around the greenhouse are an effective way to repel them.

Whether garlic spray works or not, I do not know, but it is worth giving the organic alternative a go before bringing out the chemical sprays containing chlordane or dieldrin. Your local garden centre should be able to point you in the direction of proprietary sprays.

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