Country Matters with the Hodge: July 2019

By The Hodge

‘More grows in the garden than the gardener has sown.’


June has been largely a washout making it hard for the farmer, the gardener and the cricketer, (and the staycation holidaymaker…). That February and March were exceptionally dry meant that nature had to rebalance itself, but a wet June doesn’t make life very easy.

If you’re a gardener – with either just a window box or an acre of lawn and an allotment – you will have noticed how everything’s been growing in abundance, especially the weeds. The weeds being the local plants that thrive in our climate and soil make a much better fist of things than the exotic and expensive plant from the nursery that’s much more at home in its native Atacama Desert or wherever which is why the weeds thrive in warm damp conditions and your expensive purchase looks a bit sick around the gills.

I have noticed on social media a campaign to leave dandelions in situ in order to feed the bees. Come April, when my scruffy plot was well decorated with yellow flowers of the dandelion ilk, I took special notice when outside to study the bees alighting thereon, since I had never noticed same before. Sure enough, despite strenuous efforts, I didn’t see a single pollinator alight on the yellow peril once. They buzzed around the wallflowers, they flitted to the hardy geraniums, the absolutely blitzed the cotoneaster and the rosemary but the dandelions were persona non grata as far as bumbles and the honeys were concerned – not a flicker of interest. I was obviously spoiling them for choice. (I have a tendency to do this – slugs and snails dine al fresco all night long and I’ve recently planted out some brassica plants to ensure that the pigeons maintain a suitable level of serene plumpness).

The dandelions were dug up before they could again spread their seeds far and wide. The Society for the Fulfilment of Dandelion Power, who are presumably behind the campaign that I witnessed, have failed in this small corner of the Cotswolds. Bees seem happy, at least when the rain stops. However, I have no illusions that the dandelions will not be back in abundance next spring.

There are other weeds, not necessarily in gardens that need to be destroyed. Soon the yellow ragwort will be out. Strictly, it is illegal to allow this weed to remain on your land but there seems to be no will to enforce the rule and it prospers around here in neglected fields, verges, around the Water Park and in many other places. The weed when alive isn’t especially palatable to horses and livestock but when it’s chopped down and dies back it becomes more appealing but a chemical within the plant can affect the nervous system of animals and kill them. If it gets into the hay or silage cops it can be especially lethal. If it is on your land or if you feel publicly minded and wish to rid the local verges, wear rubber gloves and pull it carefully to extract the plant and its root and place them in a plastic waste bag. Take the bag home and leave the plants to die. Once dead, burn them.

The other invasive plant that’s getting out of control around here is the Himalayan Balsam or Policeman’s Helmet. This is a tall fleshy plant with attractive pink flowers. It is an annual, but it projects its seeds some distance and soon colonises whole areas to the detriment of other plants which are smothered by it. Before the seeds set and spread, cut the plant down and again place it in a bin liner until you can burn them. It’s just the sort of thing to do as a group activity to help the local neighbourhood. Much better than clogging the streets protesting – a practical way to help the environment.

One brief reminder this month that birds are still nesting and that a nice shaggy hedge will mark you out as a nature lover. Please – no hedge trimming until August.

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