Anne Wareham, Blackberry 'Waldo', Gardeners' World, Highgrove, hostas, Monty Don, Outwitting Squirrels
I’m not sure why I have persevered with certain plants but this is the year I devote my energies elsewhere. I’m currently reading the wittily written book Outwitting Squirrels by Anne Wareham (review to follow in the next few weeks). Two of Anne’s tips which I have taken to heart are ‘to be ruthless enough to throw out miserable plants’ and ‘to be brave enough to change course if something is turning into far too much trouble’. It seems simple advice but one many gardeners find hard to follow, including myself. For years I have admired the tightly rolled, spear-like leaves of hostas emerge in spring. For a short time their new leaves unfurl, pristine and beautiful, but this stage is fleeting. As spring merges into summer they become increasingly studded with holes, looking increasingly like lace doilies, devoured by the mouths of slugs and snails. My hostas have been grown in pots, hostas in the border would be like treating them as sacrificial lambs. I tried copper tape last year around the pots. It didn’t work. As it was sold specifically for that purpose perhaps I should have made a complaint under the Trade Descriptions Act. I noted with interest that Monty Don on last week’s Gardeners’ World suggested hostas which are attacked by slugs are stressed plants. There’s certainly something in a slug’s homing instinct for the runt of the litter and the weakest plant in the row, and perhaps my pot-grown hostas didn’t have enough food and water. I did look on with envy at his pristine, hole-free hostas just as I did when I visited Prince Charles’ garden at Highgrove and saw his immaculate hostas.
I have used organic slug pellets and they work to some degree, but I have seen slugs climbing onto hosta leaves from a nearby fence or from another plant, and it’s hard when my attention is on the more pressing needs of my young flower and vegetable plants to devote time to hand-picking slugs and snails off my hostas. So this year the hostas are going … well, they’ve already gone. No longer will I wince at doily-like leaves or feel the need to hide them when a garden photographer comes to the house. Oh the shame! The gooseberry has gone the same way. Not because it is beloved by pests but because it was the pest. I inherited it when I took on the plot along with at least four other gooseberry bushes. Doing the maths and coming to the conclusion there were only so many gooseberries the two of us could eat I decided to keep just one, and it was one too many. It’s the thorniest plant I’ve had the dubious pleasure of gardening around and this is someone who just removed a pyracantha from her parents’ garden. Every year I would curse as I tried to harvest the berries and weeding underneath it was impossible. There was such a heavy crop a few years ago coupled with a deluge of rain that the branches all sagged and the plant hugged the floor like an octopus spreading out its tentacles. Underneath it a carpet of wild strawberries had established itself which I could neither weed out nor eat because of the vicious thorns that were in the way. I could be tending another bed and bend down absent-mindedly forgetting what was behind me only to be spiked in the bum. I’d been mulling over getting rid of the damn thing for a year or so but after the latest encounter with a thorn in the finger its days were numbered. I made the most of a dry spell last week and out it came. It was odd though. As I made the first few cuts with the loppers I wondered if I’d done the right thing. Seems it’s hard for a gardener to kill a plant. Well, until it spiked me again…
Its neighbour the blackcurrant has gone too. There were two blackcurrant bushes but it’s too much for us. We don’t make jams and blackcurrants need so much sugar to make them palatable that they tend to languish in our freezer rather than being eaten. Instead a blackberry bush will fit nicely into the space now created by the absence of the gooseberry and blackcurrant. I prefer fruit I can eat without the need for extra sugar – anything that I can scatter on my porridge is ideal. The tayberry, blueberries and strawberries are perfect for this and I think a cultivated form of blackberry will make an excellent accompaniment. Why grow a blackberry when there tend to be plenty to pick from the hedgerows? Foraged blackberries are often quite small and their quality is very dependent on the weather we have. A dry summer tends to produce small fruits with very little juice and a wet summer often results in watery fruits with little flavour. The benefits of growing a cultivar are bigger, juicier fruits and a stronger blackberry flavour. Hedgerow brambles are incredibly vigorous plants, as anyone who has tried to get rid of a patch of them will know. Many of the cultivated versions though are much better-behaved, and some can be grown in a relatively small space, especially if they are trained up against a fence or wall. We’ve chosen the variety ‘Waldo’. Choosing a thornless variety was essential after the problem with the gooseberry and the online reviews all suggest this is a heavy yielding cultivar with great flavoured berries. It takes a certain leap of faith to buy a pot with one unpromising looking stick planted in it and it’ll be next year before we get any fruit as a blackberry fruits on two-year-old canes. We managed one tayberry fruit in the first year of planting. The excitement at this one fruit was enormous and it was halved for us to both try. Perhaps we’ll get a tantalising taste this year too, if not this impatient gardener will have to wait until next summer for the taste of home-grown blackberries. I’d love to know if there are any plants you’ve decided aren’t worth the trouble or you’ve persisted in growing even though you don’t really eat them.
My potted hostas provide a lovely display for months. I put some big bushy sacrificial ones at the back of the group nearest the border and ensure plenty of snail killer on the soil which is hidden from view (and cats) by the leaves. these take the hit from the snails saving the prettier ones at the front. If the leaves get eaten I cut them off and eventually the whole potted display is moved out of sight when its looking tired and lacey towards end of summer. They are a bit of work but worth it for me.
I’ve angsted over removing stuff in the past but being brutal is the way. After a year I will forget I’ve ever had the discarded plant… Sometimes I’ve even forgotten and made the same mistake by buying another!
I do love hostas but the balance of slugs to predators in our garden is out of kilter – way too many molluscs and not enough frogs. A few years ago the hostas looked beautiful after a dry spring. Then after a week of rain there was more hole than leaf. 😉 I’ve done that too.
Anne Wareham said:
Well done (and thanks for the book plug!) – throw them away!
I didn’t see the Monty Don programme but that sounds horribly complacent about the hostas. Wonderfully unprovable? Even one eaten hosta next to an identical uneaten hosta my have something unknown and unseen upsetting it. I must cultivate unusual and unprovable theories like that.
Thank you! It’s quite liberating actually, especially when space is limited. No point devoting ground to sickly looking plants or ones that cause me injury. Looking forward to some of those theories. Maybe there’s a book in it…. 😉 Really enjoying the book by the way. Hoping to finish it over Easter.
Sophie Cussen said:
Well done for being brave and ditching the brambles, they can be quite a nightmare to grow. With so many new varieties of ‘old style’ fruit it’s always worth trying again.
I kept an agave for years and every other summer Id repot it to get the baby plants off it. It would cut and slice me all over, as it got bigger and bigger. In the end I thought, why am I doing this?! Plus it stuck out like a sore thumb against the softer flower scheme. So one day I just pulled it out the container and dumped it. My garden became safe to walk in again!
Funny isn’t it how we persevere? I’m rather relieved I won’t be threatened with injury this year from the gooseberry. 😉
Very wise decisions, I think I may need to be this brave one day too. As you say, hostas are wonderful for the first three weeks, then mine, which are also in pots, just look hideous for the whole of the rest of the summer. I have two enormous gooseberry bushes, and when it’s picking time I’m permanently covered in scratches, and they’re not even hugely popular here. And there are three huge blackcurrant bushes, and I’ve had massive harvests from them as well. And then there’s the Japanese wineberry that has a tiny fiddly harvest of odd sticky berries. Well, we’ll see, but you make a very good case for getting rid of some of them.
Hi CJ, I quite liked the taste of the gooseberries but I was covered in scratches too and just got fed up of the painful harvest process. I have resisted the urge to grow a Japanese wineberry. I saw one at a kitchen garden and it looked such an unpromising plant and I had a sneaky try of a berry and just wasn’t impressed. I can certainly recommend the ruthless process, it’s liberating freeing up the soil to grow something else. 😉
Hostas: beloved by every mollusc in my garden. But I do love my two in pots, so they get a stay of execution. And Solomon’s Seal. Every year it comes up. I really like it for about 2 weeks, then the Solomon’s Seal Sawfly larvae appear FROM NOWHERE and buzz-cut it all into a fringe of lacy doilies. *sigh*
I had a Solomon’s Seal plant. They are beautiful. One day I thought ‘I wonder what happened to the Solomon’s Seal, I haven’t noticed it for a while’. When I inspected more closely there were 2 long stems with the remnants of what were the leaves. It was dreadful. Where do these creatures come from? How long can they sit waiting for some unsuspecting gardener to come along and grow their plant of choice?
Didn’t Monty’s hostas look fantastic?! But he does have all those frogs to guard them! My hostas – in a galvanised bath – also start looking lovely and descend quickly into disaster. I bought copper tape this year especially, but it sounds like that’s not going to work! Oh well, one more year and I’ll try not to stress them out.
Your revelation that blackberries take TWO YEARS to fruit has shocked me. I put a tiny cutting of a cultivated variety in the ground in the autumn and had just come to terms with the fact it wouldn’t fruit this year – but does that mean it won’t next year either???
I’m giving sweetcorn one last chance this year too…
Yes, I was envious of his hostas and his frogs and the enormous pond. 😉 Don’t give up on the copper tape, you never know it might work for you. Your blackberry will fruit next year. The canes it sends out this year are the ones it will fruit on next year so don’t prune them out. 😉
I gave up on sweetcorn a few years ago….
…and his sheds, and his greenhouses, and his jewel garden, and his seed cabinet … Sigh
Judy @ newenglandgardenandthread said:
I love to divide perennials and then suddenly I have way too many. 🙂 So, I give some to our annual Master Gardener plant sale, donate to church projects, ask others if they want some, and then park them on the border to the wetlands. We grow raspberries and blueberries. We love them both. Good luck with your new plants.
Thanks Judy. Yes, I try to give away plants when I can. What to do with all of those divisions? 😉
David Marsden said:
I heard Monty’s comment as well and had heard it before. It does seem to be the case. I’m sorry to say that my hostas don’t seem to be worried by slugs – both those in pots and in the ground. Though now that I have said that of course, I’ve thrown down a gauntlet to every mollusc in the garden. I’m much better now at getting rid of plants I no longer need or want – and I find it liberating to do so. Still a shame that so many go to the bonfire or compost bins rather than to new homes though – despite my asking around. Dave
Ours is a tiny back garden where the natural balance has been upset. We’ve got a pond and are trying to encourage frogs into it. Otherwise slugs and snails are rampant.
Hopefully the molluscs didn’t hear that. ;0
I never know what to do with all my divisions and I’ve run out of people who want alchemilla, achillea and various grasses. It is sad to see them go on the compost heap.
Hmmm, I have been eyeing my gooseberry bush and realising it was a mistake to plant it so close to the path. Viscous beast. I love gooseberries, but unless I find another spot for it, I will be giving up on it.
I’m actually quite a ruthless gardener, if something doesn’t work its out on its ear, in fact my EOMV post is about just that! Your thornless blackberry sounds ideal, I have a Japanese Wineberry that I am hoping will provide me with fruit for my morning yogurt this year, but I need to move it further from my burgeoning rhubarb. I too got rid of my currants…
I have heard there are thornless gooseberries but I’m not a huge fan of the fruit anyway so blackberries it is for us. I’m not to bad at being ruthless but then Wellyman is a sucker for a forlorn, unloved plant. We spent a weekend dividing the herbaceous perennials. I went to the loo and came back to spy a helenium had snuck into another border in my absence. 😉 It didn’t last long. I’ll be interested to hear what you think of the Japanese wineberry.
The only Hosta that gets shredded in the garden here is the one by the front door. In the rest of the garden the blackbirds and thrushes are always working their way through the leaf litter, tossing it to one side and eating all the slugs and snails that they uncover. We also have a hedgehog which wanders through the garden from time to time and frogs from the pond, with my army of helpers slugs and snails don’t stand a chance!
Hi Pauline, We’re doing our best to attract some frogs to the garden but our garden is hard for wildlife to get into – surrounded by fences and a gate. I often see blackbirds but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a thrush in the garden. We have a few at the allotment and they do seem to keep the slugs at bay there. Hopefully some frogs will make our pond their home this summer.
It’s raspberries for me. I inherited a whole patch of canes when I took on this new plot but they just don’t do it for me, I much prefer strawberries. I’m still going with them at the moment as Mick likes them but I shall see how I get on, especially with the yellow variety which seem rather mushy to me, I think you have to catch them at just the right time. I saw Monty’s hostas on Gardener’s World, they were beauties.
I love raspberries but some varieties are much better than others. We have ‘Polka’ which is a really firm berry with lovely flavour. It’s an autumn fruiting one too so easier to look after. They do take up a lot of space though so if you’re not that keen maybe their space could be put to better use. 🙂
The Chatsworth Lady said:
I was curious about the ‘Outwitting Squirrels’ book because there’s one with the exact same title that was published in the USA by Bill Adler Jr. in 1988 – and it too is very witty. 🙂 Its full title is “Outwitting Squirrels: 101 Cunning Stratagems to Reduce Dramatically the Egregious Misappropriation of Seed from Your Birdfeeder by Squirrels” ! So I checked Amazon.uk and it seems that Mr. Adler’s 1988 book has been reprinted under Ms. Wareham’s name but with a slightly different title. Very odd, LOL
The Chatsworth Lady said:
p.s. Just read Ms. Wareham’s comment on Amazon: ” ‘Outwitting Squirrels’ is my second book – and it has nothing to do with the totally different American book with similar title by Bill Adler.” But my goodness… why even copy the format if it is a “totally different” book? I see lawsuits looming on the horizon, LOL
My gooseberries are gone now. I tried pruning them into goblet shapes so that I could put my hand in from the top without being scratched, but it just didn’t work. The dog used to eat most of them anyway!
I Had thought about the goblet training as they do look very pretty but in the end i didn’t have the patience. To be honest I think my gooseberry was a bit of a lost cause anyway. 😉
And now I wonder what the lady thinks who inherited my previous garden – complete with scraggly gooseberry 😉 Sadly, the plant I had to remove was wisteria; it was too vigourous, spreading runners all over the garden. I couldn’t keep up with them! Besides that, it was the one plant which, in magnificent bloom, made the bumblebees drunk and quarrelsome… They were perfectly good-tempered the rest of the year, but I could hardly walk through the garden while the wisteria was in bloom. Out it went. Your blackberry sounds wonderful – and much more versatile than a gooseberry…!
I have a wisteria that was planted in the wrong place when we bought this house. It’s in an odd location though which means I can’t dig in out fully, so every year it puts out a few forlorn and straggly stems. I admire it’s determination but it’s behind my greenhouse so it’s awkward to get to. 😉 I do love wisteria but in the right spot. I’ve never heard it have that affect on bees before, how fascinating. Probably best it has gone. 😉 Yes, I can’t wait for our first crop next year.
An enjoyable, and interesting post. I would agree with both of those tips and would like to think that I could do either, or both, if need be.
I’m trying to grow less but better this year which is working well so far. xx
Hi Flighty, Thank you! Growing too much this year might well be my downfall. I hope not. 😉 xx
Spade & Dagger said:
Good for you – life is too busy to waste time on nurturing plants we don’t want, it’s just difficult because it’s against a gardener’s instincts to kill a plant.
A while back a well known gardening columnist in the Guardian caused a comments storm by suggesting only stressed seedlings were consumed by slugs. Personally, I don’t know how to relax mine any more than I do already on the allotment!
I know, it’s so difficult. I’m just pricking out seedlings at the moment and trying not to hang on to plants I don’t need just for the sake of it. Perhaps my hostas needed reflexology or a holistic massage. 😉 Some scientific studies into why slugs prefer some plants and not others would be useful and fascinating.
I’d add to those two very good tips with one I picked up many years ago … no matter how much I’d like to grow a particular plant if, at first, it doesn’t survive in the garden don’t keep trying to grow it, there are plenty of others that will do very well instead. Like you, I have given up on hostas! The one I planted last year has disappeared and, as I have a slug infested garden … where are the birds when you want them? … I don’t think I’m up for the battle. There’s a berberis, inherited with the garden, that may get the chop … I’d prefer to grow a lilac in it’s place. We also have blackberries (we call them brambles in Scotland), they’ve sneaked through from our neighbour’s plot. As they are growing through the shrub border all I can do is keep lopping each shoot in the hope that they will eventually weaken and die off … as they are so tenacious that’s nothing but a feint hope! I was a tad envious of Monty’s hostas too – if only!
Fingers crossed my cultivated bramble will be a bit less rampant. I’m already doing battle with my raspberries which are springing up all over the place. I’d love a lilac and they seem to do well where I live so I might have a look for one. 🙂
I hear you on hostas – I love the look of them and they make an interesting contrast in my ‘Spring Garden’ to the feathery foliage of dicentra, spotty foliage of pulmonaria, etc BUT I get sick of them being eaten into sad looking lacy leaves. I try to avoid using slug pellets especially now because the dachshund puppy loves to hoover up anything and everything in the garden.
I can’t see myself ripping them out but I have deliberately bought more hellebores to take attention away from the awful looking hostas.
Some of the plants that I stupidly persist in growing are some of the dark pink/red David Austin roses – they suffer badly from black spot, are thorny as all hell and end up with no leaves when the black spot really sets in. And yet I allow them to stay. To be honest I am sorely tempted to rip them out and put a few good tea roses in their place, despite tea roses being considered really unfashionable (I think I prefer them to David Austins).
I also persist in growing brassicas like broccoli and cauliflower. Since putting in my vegetable beds 3 years ago I have grown them every year but have never had a decent crop yet. So what did I do yesterday? I put in 4 rows of purple cauliflower and Romanesco broccoli..
And as for the 6 blueberry bushes that look absolutely terrible that I really need to start watering regularly, maybe that can be in my 2015 Winter Plan of things to work on/improve.
I’d rather not use slugs pellets at all – even the safer organic ones. If I do I’d rather ration them for young plants at the allotment where I can’t manage the slugs so well. I’m with you on roses. Black spot seems to be inevitable here with mild, wet summers. Pruning them is a bit of a nightmare too (the air turns blue with every thorn!!) Brassicas are tricky on the allotment as the soil is riddled with club root. I’ve found cavolo nero and red Russian kale grow well though and don’t seem to be afflicted in the same way sprouts and cabbage are, so I’m sticking with them.
The belief that slugs attack/eat sickly plants seems to be very widespread. I’m not sure I believe it. Slugs here eat anything, sickly or not. They will attack one hosta, but leave the one next to it more or less alone, and to my eye they look equally healthy. I’m quite keen on trying new plants, well veg mostly, in the flower patch I know what I like and stick to that. Two years ago I tried the much touted asparagus pea, yuck, am never gonna waste space and energy on that one again.
I’m not sure either. I found a snail chomping on a daffodil trumpet yesterday. It had climbed the whole way up the stem (it’s a tall daffodil) and was quite brazenly eating the flower. I despair sometimes. I tried some much touted purple podded peas a few years ago and they were a complete waste of space – stringy, low yield and not that tasty. Oh well!! 😉
I really enjoyed reading your post and all the comments, Louise. Well done on being ruthless, something I am much better at these days – but there are probably still some things that should go! I replaced some ancient fruit bushes this year (but not the whitecurrant) but did manage to give away the old ones to friends with allotments. I can’t believe what Monty said about hostas could be true, but I will nevertheless give mine more attention this year! 🙂
This is a really interesting post, and it’s forced me to think properly about what I do and don’t want in my small garden. I’m afraid I’ve got caught up in not wanting to ‘waste’ healthy plants by digging them out, even when I don’t like them. I’ve also been given a few plants for presents that, truth be told, I don’t really like. Your post has given me the licence to finally face facts and get rid of them!
Like you, our gooseberry bushes went the journey! Our garden used to be a small holding at one time so there were lots of gooseberry bushes as the gooseberries were sold at the door. We carried on the tradition for a few years but I have never had so many scratches and thorns buried deep in my flesh. We ripped out the bushes with great relish! I don’t think you will miss yours !!
I’m in a whole different world than you (Texas), so my experience may not be useful. I put my 70+ potted hosta on “pot feet” which leaves an air space between the ground and the pot. I rarely have slug damage.
I have grasshopper damage in the heat of the summer, I’ve enjoyed them for months by then, though.
Hi Barbara, Wow! That’s a lot of potted hostas. Makes my 6 or so seem paltry. 😉 Perhaps that’s what I need to do, although we have do seem to have acrobatic slugs here. But, at least we don’t have to contend with grasshopper damage. 😉