We’re a group of all sorts of people from about the town who are seeking to make it a bit more wildlife friendly, and learning and sharing as we go. So below, you’ll find a little story about one of our hedges which I wrote for the group’s newsletter. We’re beginning to do more of this – passing on our often falterning steps towards a different way of thinking about our gardens. Here, our hedge had a beetle problem, and we tried a gentler and more natural approach to the plague of viburnum beetles than we might have done in the past. We’re delighted that the hedgeline is gradually becoming much more beautiful, diverse, and better for a wider range of creatures than simply the dreaded viburnum beetle!
After the account, you will find a poem drawing on this same hedge, and its story of renewal.
A hedge story – from pest control to native beauty.
It was a thin strip of dark green, between drives and walls. Our viburnum hedge joins what’s left of the original roadside hedgerow with holm oak and wild cherry plums to the network of gardens and trees behind. A narrow corridor of life, but with precious winter flowers for the bees, and just occasionally, a wren or a bluetit nested there. It was part of the planting we inherited.
A few years ago, it began to sicken dramatically. Viburnum beetle. It looked devastated, and I had my doubts if it would recover. We consulted the RHS website, cut away the worst of it, and scraped out some of the soil underneath where the grubs overwinter. As I did so, I felt the poverty of the soil – it was grey, had no structure, with no visible worms or other minibeasts. So we piled on the homemade compost and autumn leaves. We also decided to enrich it more permanently with native plants – for as it was, it could not renew itself, and the long strip of monoculture was an easy target for the dreaded beetle.
I bought some bare rooted spindle from Botanica and interspersed these with hazel that the squirrels had kindly planted around the garden. In the autumns to come, I’m hoping for a blaze of butter yellow hazel, with bright red leaves and pink/orange berries from the spindle. All to fall to the ground and feed it.
It’s limped through this year’s drought, but we’re getting there. It’s drawn in so many more creatures already. The insects are returning. The soil has worms, and frogs and mice make their way along it. At night bats hunt over it, and by day, the dragonflies. Many plants are finding their way there, each making their own contribution. At first, it was mustard garlic. Now, there’s purple toadflax, birdsfoot trefoil, various bedstraws and all manner of other plants. Butterflies and caterpillars, bees and hoverflies, and a healthy range of beetles are making a home here.
There’s a trellis separating our neighbour’s drive from this hedge and, in consultation with them, we’ve planted garden seeds and cuttings – vetch and perpetual sweet peas to improve the soil, honeysuckle, roses and jasmine. Again, I hope that next year it will be truly beautiful.
And as for the beetle attack… there have been a few nibbled leaves in the last two years, but nothing more than that. And, if some of the original plants die, there is plenty of life to take advantage of the light and air they leave. We have moved from a dark monoculture to a diverse and increasingly native abundance, with so much more food for all life. The viburnum still gives flower at a time of year when the natives are quiet, and deep cover too for plants and animals and birds. But the natives are making their presence felt now, and bringing so much beauty, diversity and abundance. It’s becoming a joy, and an example of how gentle care can slowly move a garden to something far more alive. I’m watching what it’s doing with real delight. What will be next?
And now the poem…..
Green ink 1
And the garden now is my poem.
So this hedge, this long line of joy
and work, rhymes its meanings
back and forth, carries them through
seasons, through drought and cold
by bird and frog and bee. Carries
deep memory of the land, of wood
and hedgerow, orchard and field, and deep
hope too, for what may be, and
what is becoming. And growing.
For joy and work wrought it,
and renewed it, planted these
saplings of spindle and hazel
that will be red and gold as
leaves fade in late sun, fade
to such an illuminated brightness.
And I see what may be, what are,
sweet rose cuttings unfolding, and
growing, as honeysuckle twines,
and jasmine – tiny, with tiny leaves –
grows now in warmth, and sweet peas
begin their work of rising up
from hard coiled seeds.
All this abundance given freely
by the garden and gathered,
and tended, and shared,
as she freely gives more –
wind-blown seeds and bird-
carried berries filling the earth
to overflowing, as together we make
a line of such richness and beauty,
thought and imagining, sibilant
as the wind whips through it,
sounding like words spilling
on the page.
These words. This page.
I would write in green, I have
written in green, working
with all this life. Patient, resting
in its waiting, and growing, and fading,
ending, and beginning again.
And again. This long line of green.