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Wood and Garden: Notes and Thoughts, Practical and Critical, of a Working Amateur

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<SPAN name="Page_256" id="Page_256"></SPAN>[256]</div> <h2>CHAPTER XXII</h2> <h4>WEEDS AND PESTS</h4> <p><br />Weeding is a delightful occupation, especially after summer rain, when the roots come up clear and clean. One gets to know how many and various are the ways of weeds&mdash;as many almost as the moods of human creatures. How easy and pleasant to pull up are the soft annuals like Chickweed and Groundsel, and how one looks with respect at deep-rooted things like Docks, that make one go and fetch a spade. Comfrey is another thing with a terrible root, and every bit must be got out, as it will grow again from the smallest scrap. And hard to get up are the two Bryonies, the green and the black, with such deep-reaching roots, that, if not weeded up within their first year, will have to be seriously dug out later. The white Convolvulus, one of the loveliest of native plants, has a most persistently running root, of which every joint will quickly form a new plant. Some of the worst weeds to get out are Goutweed and Coltsfoot. Though I live on a light soil, comparatively easy to clean, I have done some gardening in clay, and well know what <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_257" id="Page_257"></SPAN>[257]</span>a despairing job it is to get the bits of either of these roots out of the stiff clods.</p> <p>The most persistent weed in my soil is the small running Sheep's Sorrel. First it makes a patch, and then sends out thready running roots all round, a foot or more long; these, if not checked, establish new bases of operation, and so it goes on, always spreading farther and farther. When this happens in soft ground that can be hoed and weeded it matters less, but in the lawn it is a more serious matter. Its presence always denotes a poor, sandy soil of rather a sour quality.</p> <p>Goutweed is a pest in nearly all gardens, and very difficult to get out. When it runs into the root of some patch of hardy plant, if the plant can be spared, I find it best to send it at once to the burn-heap; or if it is too precious, there is nothing for it but to cut it all up and wash it out, to be sure that not the smallest particle of the enemy remains. Some weeds are deceiving&mdash;Sow-thistle, for instance, which has the look of promising firm hand-hold and easy extraction, but has a disappointing way of almost always breaking short off at the collar. But of all the garden weeds that are native plants I know none so persistent or so insidious as the Rampion Bell-flower (<i>Campanula Rapunculus</i>); it grows from the smallest thread of root, and it is almost impossible to see every little bit; for though the main roots are thick, and white, and fleshy, the fine side roots that run far abroad are very small, <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_258" id="Page_258"></SPAN>[258]</span>and of a reddish colour, and easily hidden in the brown earth.</p> <p>But some of the worst garden-weeds are exotics run wild. The common Grape Hyacinth sometimes overruns a garden and cannot be got rid of. <i>Sambucus ebulis</i> is a plant to beware of, its long thong-like roots spreading far and wide, and coming up again far away from the parent stock. For this reason it is valuable for planting in such places as newly-made pond-heads, helping to tie the bank together. <i>Polygonum Sieboldi</i> must also be planted with caution. The winter Heliotrope (<i>Petasites fragrans</i>) is almost impossible to get out when once it has taken hold, growing in the same way as its near relative the native Coltsfoot.</p> <p>But by far the most difficult plant to abolish or even keep in check that I know is <i>Ornithogalum nutans</i>. Beautiful as it is, and valuable as a cut flower, I will not have it in the garden. I think I may venture to say that in this soil, when once established, it cannot be eradicated. Each mature bulb makes a host of offsets, and the seed quickly ripens. When it is once in a garden it will suddenly appear in all sorts of different places. It is no use trying to dig it out. I have dug out the whole space of soil containing the patch, a barrow-load at a time, and sent it to the middle of the burn-heap, and put in fresh soil, and there it is again next year, nearly as thick as ever. I have dug up individual small patches with the greatest care, and got out every bulb and offset, and every bit of the <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_259" id="Page_259"></SPAN>[259]</span>whitish leaf stem, for I have such faith in its power of reproduction that I think every atom of this is capable of making a plant, only to find next year a thriving young tuft of the "grass" in the same place. And yet the bulb and underground stem are white, and the earth is brown, and I passed it all several times through my fingers, but all in vain. I confess that it beats me entirely.</p> <p><i>Coronilla varia</i> is a little plant that appears in catalogues among desirable Alpines, but is a very "rooty" and troublesome thing, and scarcely good enough for garden use, though pretty in a grassy bank where its rambling ways would not be objectionable. I once brought home from Brittany some roots of <i>Linaria repens</i>, that looked charming by a roadside, and planted them in a bit of Alpine garden, a planting that I never afterwards ceased to regret.</p> <p>I learnt from an old farmer a good way of getting rid of a bed of nettles&mdash;to thrash them down with a stick every time they grow up. If this is done about three times during the year, the root becomes so much weakened that it is easily forked out, or if the treatment is gone on with, the second year the nettles die. Thrashing with a stick is better than cutting, as it makes the plant bleed more; any mutilation of bruise or ragged tearing of fibre is more harmful to plant or tree than clean cutting.</p> <p>Of bird, beast, and insect pests we have plenty. First, and worst, are rabbits. They will gnaw and <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_260" id="Page_260"></SPAN>[260]</span>nibble anything and everything that is newly planted, even native things like Juniper, Scotch Fir, and Gorse. The necessity of wiring everything newly planted adds greatly to the labour and expense of the garden, and the unsightly grey wire-netting is an unpleasant eyesore. When plants or bushes are well established the rabbits leave them alone, though some families of plants are always irresistible&mdash;Pinks and Carnations, for instance, and nearly all Crucifer�, such as Wallflowers, Stocks, and Iberis. The only plants I know that they do not touch are Rhododendrons and Azaleas; they leave them for the hare, that is sure to get in every now and then, and who stands up on his long hind-legs, and will eat Rose-bushes quite high up.</p> <p>Plants eaten by a hare look as if they had been cut with a sharp knife; there is no appearance of gnawing or nibbling, no ragged edges of wood or frayed bark, but just a straight clean cut.</p> <p>Field mice are very troublesome. Some years they will nibble off the flower-buds of the Lent Hellebores; when they do this they have a curious way of collecting them and laying them in heaps. I have no idea why they do this, as they neither carry them away nor eat them afterwards; there the heaps of buds lie till they rot or dry up. They once stole all my Auricula seed in the same way. I had marked some good plants for seed, cutting off all the other flowers as soon as they went out of bloom. The seed was ripening, and I watched it daily, awaiting the <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_261" id="Page_261"></SPAN>[261]</span>moment for harvesting. But a few days before it was ready I went round and found the seed was all gone; it had been cut off at the top of the stalk, so that the umbel-shaped heads had been taken away whole. I looked about, and luckily found three slightly hollow places under the bank at the back of the border where the seed-heads had been piled in heaps. In this case it looked as if it had been stored for food; luckily it was near enough to ripeness for me to save my crop.</p> <p>The mice are also troublesome with newly-sown Peas, eating some underground, while sparrows nibble off others when just sprouted; and when outdoor Grapes are ripening mice run up the walls and eat them. Even when the Grapes are tied in oiled canvas bags they will eat through the bags to get at them, though I have never known them to gnaw through the newspaper bags that I now use in preference, and that ripen the Grapes as well. I am not sure whether it is mice or birds that pick off the flowers of the big bunch Primroses, but am inclined to think it is mice, because the stalks are cut low down.</p> <p>Pheasants are very bad gardeners; what they seem to enjoy most are Crocuses&mdash;in fact, it is no use planting them. I had once a nice collection of Crocus species. They were in separate patches, all along the edge of one border, in a sheltered part of the garden, where pheasants did not often come. One day when I came to see my Crocuses, I found where each patch had been a basin-shaped excavation and a few fragments of stalk <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_262" id="Page_262"></SPAN>[262]</span>or some part of the plant. They had begun at one end and worked steadily along, clearing them right out. They also destroyed a long bed of <i>Anemone fulgens</i>. First they took the flowers, and then the leaves, and lastly pecked up and ate the roots.</p> <p>But we have one grand consolation in having no slugs, at least hardly any that are truly indigenous; they do not like our dry, sandy heaths. Friends are very generous in sending them with plants, so that we have a moderate number that hang about frames and pot plants, though nothing much to boast of; but they never trouble seedlings in the open ground, and for this I can never be too thankful.</p> <p>Alas that the beautiful bullfinch should be so dire an enemy to fruit-trees, and also the pretty little tits! but so it is; and it is a sad sight to see a well-grown fruit-tree with all its fruit-buds pecked out and lying under it on the ground in a thin green carpet. We had some fine young cherry-trees in a small orchard that we cut down in despair after they had been growing twelve years. They were too large to net, and their space could not be spared just for the mischievous fun of the birds.</p> <hr style="width: 65%;" /><div class="pagenum">
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