Cleve West: 'How far are people prepared to go with 'insectocide' in order to keep nuisance at bay?'

Urban Gardener

Despite a general improvement in environmental awareness, insects still get a bum deal. While their pollinating skills are obvious, much of their work as far as predation, decomposing and cleaning goes largely unseen. Things are improving for them in the gardener's world but I still see articles where they're pigeon-holed into the friend-or-foe category, the good being tolerated, the bad stamped, swatted, swiped, skewered or sprayed without any thought or concern that that they might be someone's supper. So engrained is this ignorance that it gives rise to extraordinary behaviour. Crane fly persecution is just one example of perverted perspective. As "daddy-long-legs" they just terrorise the squeamish, but in its early stages as a chafer grub, it is universally vilified by lawn fanatics due to the fact that they cause yellow patches in turf (hardly a big deal in my book). In another example, next door to a garden I was landscaping, I questioned a man as to why he was putting ant-powder on the footpath and road adjacent to his front garden. He said that ants were getting into his kitchen, some 70 feet or so away on the other side of the house. It made me wonder how far people are prepared to go with "insectocide" in order to keep nuisance at bay.

These musings came to mind recently while watching a swarm of ladybirds outside make their way through our kitchen window, up the wall to a small nucleus in the corner that had already staked their claim for winter. It seemed a touch early (mid-October) for such a frantic rush to hibernation but less than two weeks later temperatures plummeted with an early taste of winter so there they will remain (30 or so) in a huddle benefiting from each other's warmth. Quite how they will cope with the fluctuations in temperature and humidity of a kitchen remains to be seen, but intrinsic behaviour such as this should be inspiring enough to engender respect for the insect world.

If I have made anyone feel just a tiny bit guilty then it's not too late to make amends. The best thing you can do is to resist the urge to tidy up your garden too much. Cutting stems of herbaceous perennials back to ground level is customarily undertaken between now and spring but for all the wildlife that depends on hollow stems and debris in which to hole up for the winter, "putting the garden to bed" is nothing less than a rude awakening. Chopping hollow-stemmed plants (think onopordum, macleaya, and agapanthus) half way allows easier access for creatures like ladybirds, lacewings and small beetles. If you are time-poor in spring or really need to see clean beds and tidy borders in winter consider keeping bundles of woody debris in a place out of sight behind the compost heap, shed or under a hedge. The only real problem is timing. Clearing everything too early in spring can still damage hibernating insects. Too late and you'll risk damaging the new shoots emerging. But if you work regularly in the garden you will get to know the specific microclimates and idiosyncrasies of your space and will know instinctively when things are on the move.

If this still doesn't appeal then creative debris could be the way forward. We have log-piles resembling termite mounds at the allotment (although the health and safety mania that has gripped the nation has obviously got to me as I haven't got round to building one much more than a metre tall to date) which look reasonably sculptural in a Goldsworthy-esque sort of way. Logs will house myriad insects, not to mention amphibians and small rodents. Even wrens will make nests in them if reasonably sheltered. Their relative permanence makes them a more attractive proposition as the risks creatures take when using gardens to hibernate for winter are enormous and many suffer at the hands of "friendly fire". My personal accidental death tally is thankfully low in terms of more prominent wildlife but, no matter how vigilant, I can't seem to go through a whole winter without accidently disturbing a queen wasp in the allotment shed. Wasps get unreasonably bad press generally but it's actually quite distressing knowing that you've just killed the mother of a new colony. This insect-friendly urban gardener needs to be vigilant and perhaps a touch less sensitive, because right now he doesn't feel like ever setting foot in the garden again.

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
Suggested Topics
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Content and PR

£35000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - Mid / Senior

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing digital agenc...

Recruitment Genius: E-commerce Partnerships Manager

£50000 - £100000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a newly-created partne...

Day In a Page

Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell