Sandy’s Garden ... The Trials of Autumn

I finally got around to clearing out my summer bedding plants this autumn weekend.

Monday, 21st October 2019, 10:24 am
Sandy Simpson

This might well be the latest that I have ever left this task: but I offer several pleas in mitigation of my guilt. I have been on holiday by the shores of Lake Garda in northern Italy, where some of the local authority’s summer bedding was still in place, allowing me to reassure myself that, although I was late, I wasn’t far too late; I have been enjoying my geraniums, fuchsias and begonias still in happy bloom, blissfully unaware of their impending doom when the first real frosts of the winter strike; the weather over the past ten days … since I returned home … has not been great; I have had other more urgent priorities – or do I mean that there were other things which I preferred to do? Perish the thought that I was lazy! Whatever, the task is now accomplished and I can turn my thoughts to setting the garden for the coming spring.

During the clearing process, I realised that two containers of petunias were not just past their best, or even past their sell-by date, but to all intents and purposes dead. Their roots did not need to be prised out of the growing medium; the foliage simply lifted off the surface of the soil, for there were no roots left. Hah! The culprit was almost certainly vine weevil, that unpleasant beetle that attacks a wide range of plants, both indoors and outdoors, but is especially damaging to plants grown in containers. The adult weevils eat leaves during spring and summer, but it is the grubs that can cause the most damage over autumn and winter when they feed on plant roots. Well, the leaves of these plants had not been noticeably nibbled during the summer months … I would surely have noticed during my regular watering routine … so the adult (or adults) which laid the eggs from which my root-devouring grubs hatched can’t have hung around for too long after performing their dastardly deed. An infestation of vine weevils is something I could well have done without. As the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) puts it: ‘Vine weevil is a widespread insect in Britain. Gardeners with vine weevil should keep up their guard because stopping control measures after the apparent disappearance of the weevil can allow numbers to build up again.’ In other words, I am going to have to keep a more-than-usually-careful eye out for this pest in the future.

Heigh-ho, off to the greenhouse I go to collect my carefully stored container of vine weevil killer and a watering can, for I must drench the infected soil in accordance with the instructions. ‘Peel here for instructions,’ the label instructs me. This proves to be easier said than done: but a few moments picking at the edge of the label with a thumbnail prises the upper layer loose, exposing the instructions printed on the lower layer of the label. Ah! This particular vine weevil killer is intended to be sprayed on infected foliage to kill the adult beetles. Well, it’s too late for that: but I’m sure that I do have vine weevil killing soil drench hiding on the greenhouse shelves; yes, yes, here it is. Praise be!

In common with many potentially-harmful chemicals, the bottle has a child-proof top. What does that pictogram moulded into the plastic lid mean? Do I squeeze the sides of the cap as I unscrew it? Apparently not; then I must press down while I release the top. Apparently not; squeeze and turn, press and turn, do neither but simply try to turn, there’s no way I can release the cap. Child-proof! It’s not only child-proof, it’s adult-proof! This is carrying safety a step too far! “Do you want me to try?” Ailsa asks, noting my rapidly-rising temper. “If you think you can …” I reply gracelessly. “There you are,” she says, returning the now-open bottle to me. “What was the problem?” And the next question is: should I apply the soil drench myself, or must Ailsa apply it if it is to be effective?