Sitting brushing my hair I became very aware of a rasping sound above my head. Not loud but a gentle regular sound. I didn’t need to look far, outside the window was awash with activity with a regular stream of visitors back and forth. Wasps had found a small hole under the eaves and were busy building a nest and this was the rasping sound I could hear as they worked the wood they have been stripping off the garden chairs into their intricate honeycomb nest. Many people at this point would panic, call in pest control and get the wasps removed. But we take a more relaxed view, they are causing no harm where they are and these are just another important part of the insect ecosystem of the garden both as a predator to feed their young as well as a food source for others. Yes they have a sweet tooth and can be found to be happily feasting on the windfall apples but this too helps with the garden ecosystem.
Its very easy to label something as a pest without looking beyond our own opinion of what makes a garden and the role everything has to play. Take slugs and snails now I would be the first to admit that these veracious munchers make light work of fresh young seedlings but I have drawn the conclusion the fault is mine. I know they are in the garden, I know they love baby lettuce so why do I think if I place my nursery pots in the sunny sheltered spot by the wall that they won’t sniff them out. It’s what they are programmed to do. I need to garden smart, not perform ritual mass murder. Now that said outsmarting a slug where lettuce is concerned isn’t easy but a fine mesh covering to allow light and water in and to keep slugs out does the trick. So why so tolerant, well without them some of the regular bird and amphibian visitors would have no food. So its off to the compost heap for my slimy garden residents where they can munch away to their hearts content.
Watching the garden over an extended period of time as we have been able to do this year makes you realise just how many small creatures make the garden home. Bees, butterflies and moths are the obvious residents but it is the plethora of beetles that, when you sit and watch, you start to notice. They come in an array of sizes, shapes and colours. In the UK alone there are over 4000 beetle species belonging to over 100 families. While some cause botanical damage (but again as native beetles typically something else’s food source) many are more conventionally beneficial and play an important role as nutrient recyclers, contributing to soil fertility. By just sitting down, stopping and looking its amazing what can be found.
So who is the garden for, its easy to say ourselves but actually its a chance to provide habitat and home to a host of mini beasts. And in a world where vasts tracks of ecosystem are lost our gardens can be a vital refuge. If we have a healthy beetle population the chances are the rest of the ecosystem will be in a good shape too.
While its easy to miss many of these miniature beauties, occasionally in late spring we get to see some truly magnificent beetles too.