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  • clairerenniepalfre

What's bugging me?

Two weeks' ago I planted some artemesia 'coca cola' in the gravel garden. Flanked by some well behaved nepeta 'Walkers Low' it was doing fine, until I noticed the blackfly up practically every stalk, covering the fernlike branches like evil commas.

So what did I do? Nothing. I walked away, letting nature take control of my little problem.

Up until a few years ago I would happily have reached for the pesticide spray, dousing each branch until it was dripping. Since moving to France full time last year I've fully embraced the biological way of gardening and haven't had many losses.

Across France pesticides have been banned for private use back since 2019, following a report from the French Agency for Biodiversity published at the end of December 2015, stating that both habitats and species are under threat in the country.

The report outlines the ways that pesticides impact nature, not to mention their impact on human health.

“The widespread use of [pesticides] puts huge pressure on biodiversity: intoxication of organisms, effects on their reproduction or their behaviour, reduction of the food supply… ”

Without using pesticides we can still have gardens that look good, but are biodiverse and healthier places to be, for us and for the insects. Now I'm aware there are some really annoying plant predators out there; aphids, such as black fly, suck the sap from new growth on a range of plants and are prevalent in May.

Last year they were all over one of my viburnum opulus hedging plants, but again, within a week or so of 'walking away' the plant was aphid free, and still remains healthy. This year, I've seen no sign of attack by aphids on it.

Cetonia aurata rose chafer beetle on viburnum
The viburnum in June 2021 with no aphids, just a very happy rose chafer beetle, or Cetonia aurata to give it it's proper name.

By not using any chemical pesticides in the garden we have a much wider range of beetles, butterflies, moths and insects generally. Ok, so some plants get shredded, like this verbascum (a self seeder) that was covered in mullein moth caterpillars creating their own lacework. I left them to it, as they were only on this one verbascum and had left all the others in the garden alone... I went back to photograph them tonight but the caterpillars have now flown.

This evening the artemesia is full with new growth, a few tiny dots of blackfly on one branch, but these are being slowly stalked by some unknown leggy predator... ( albeit a rather miniature one that is difficult to capture on my iphone 7).

aphid-free artemesia
The artemesia one week later, once the aphid-eaters had been at work. Almost aphid-free.

Some natural ways to remove pests from your garden

  • For caterpillars you can just pick them off when you see them and dispose of them as you see fit. I have a neighbour who picks the feeding caterpillars off her plants in May/June then carries them up the road and leaves them by the verbascum growing wild by the recycling bins.

  • For aphids, a good solution is either spray them with a weak solution of soap in water, or rub your fingers up the stems and they fall off/get squashed... you choose.

Now my preferred solution, as you know, is to do nothing, sit back and let Nature take control. So far, it's going ok. I'll let you know if more action is needed...

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