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Friday, 16th May 2008

The garden and I are not on speaking terms, haven't been for quite some time. There seems to be a growing fashion to consider the garden another room of the house and great efforts are made to bring it into the rest of the house in some manner (usually large patio windows).

Not blinking likely, its a jungle out there. I have enough trouble keeping the house contents from exploding out into the garden at times.

Recently though I have been reviewing the fauna and flora as depicted on cigarette cards and all mighty nice it looks too. I was being lulled into a false sense of security though. A garden is not just composed of brightly coloured flowers and the like and Wills, Garden Life [1914] has hoved into view just in the nick of time. A quick look through this set of cards and it is obvious my green thumbs are not heading towards the garden.

This is a set focusing on the many-legged things which creep and crawl about the garden eating each other.

I am well aware there are a good many people that find these things fascinating and thank goodness there is because if it was down to me there would not be much insect life left on this planet. It is all fine but just a case of 'Not in my backyard.'

There is something horrible about the whole idea of having a parasite bored into your body

The problem with creepy-crawlies is, they are just that. If they were up-front about it, things would not be so bad but they are not. Crunch into the wrong apple and a maggot will pop out. It could well be a mussel scale insect (card 40) shown infesting an apple. Yuk.

This set of cards is well drawn. Actually it is illustrated well enough to give you the creeps if you let it. Thankfully the card tells you a winter wash of Paraffin or kerosene (for the garden not you) does away with these beasties, and most of your garden I suspect.

Now this nasty trick of living in stuff I like to eat extends further with the Pea Moth and Larvae (card 19). I did not know the beast existed but here it is in all its glory. A maggot thing living in pea pods and munching on them. You would not know it until the moment when the pea went pop and if you were lucky you would see it. If you were unlucky you wouldn't.

Card 32 has got even more terror in store, Apple-Saw fly and Larvae. The maggot lives in the fruit till adult and then it emerges and attacks others. The card suggests hand-picking infested fruit is beneficial, that is what it says, without any more explanation as to whom it could possibly be beneficial too. Like heck, beat the tree with a stick and stamp on anything that falls to the ground, that would be beneficial. I will not tell you about the pear midge, it is not good and the card advises sterilisation of the ground on which the pears are likely to fall. This is the same advise as given on card 17, Plum fruit Saw-Fly.

Plums seeming to get it in the neck all to frequently with card 33 the Plum and Cherry saw fly and larvae.

By now I begin to understand why we invented the supermarket.

Although the larva stage of these things are hair-raising enough the pear midge is something straight out of a horror movie. Thankfully only an eighth of an inch long but it does not stop the artist giving a lurid rendition of the thing in special monster-vision scale.

Card 29 shows one of natures victims, the Crane-fly. Much loved by children who can pull the legs of the things. I suspect that God designed them just for this sport, I cannot think of any other evolutionary reason for such ridiculous legs. The larva stage is called a leather jacket and burrows in the soil eating plants. The card suggests gas-lime, carbon bisulphide or other soil fumigants will see these blighters off.

I don't know the first thing about gardening on this level of warfare. Cutting the grass and watching flowers grow and die is my gardening limit and even that is usually done from the safety of getting someone else to do the job. It all sounds like total devastation of all plant and animal life one way or another though.

If you are foolhardy enough to start eating things which grow in your garden then perhaps you can expect this sort of thing and grow used to it but things living in your food is not the half of it. Turn over a stone and all manner of horrors run from the light of day.

The ant appears on card 39 another good idea, must be billions of them and no matter how many you wipe out with boiling water, burn with magnifying glasses or set to attacking one another there are always more the next day to play with. Fantastic, whole weeks can be spent harmlessly killing them.

I remember one sunny day a most peculiar of instances. I had found a way of cutting an ants head off with a razor blade just behind its neck bit. Both bits would stay alive and when the body bumped into the head the head would latch onto the bodies leg and would be dragged off. I kid you not, have a go. Anyway you can imagine how much experimentation this took and whilst whiling away the hours I wondered if ants looked after their injured when an ant with five legs came into view just at that moment.

The card suggest dilute carbolic acid gets rid of these things (and surely quite a few other things as well).

Card 24 are earwigs, what the card fails to mention is these things have strange bodies which can be stretched and then don't seem to go back to their original shape. More fun for youngsters out there.

By now you are probably beginning to realise why the garden is not the safest place for me to wander about without some form of bodyguard ready to lay down their life for me at the merest hint of insect attack.

Card 14, details below

When I was too young to enjoy burning ants there was a big plant just outside the kitchen window. For some reason it was just perfect for breeding aphides or greenfly (card 13). I spent hours of innocent fun watching these things suck the living daylights out of the plant because there was a whole food chain going on. Amongst the aphides were ants rushing about doing their worst amongst the little green blighters. Then of course there were the ladybirds, brightly coloured mobile stomachs it would seem with impossibly large appetites for all things aphide looking. Great fun.

The most cruel of little boys cannot conjure up some of the hideous things insects seem capable of doing to one another. This is where things get really nasty. The Ichneumon Fly is just such a beastie, not nice at all.

Details from Card 14
Ichneumon Fly and Larvae
This tiny fly is one of the gardener's best friends, for it destroys numbers of caterpillars annually. The female usually bores a hole in the skin of a larva and deposits and egg within the grub (B). The newly-hatched grubs feed upon the tissues of the larva (c), until they arrive at the pupal stage from which the flies emerge. Fig A represents a species parasitic on the marguerite leaf miner.

There is something horrible about the whole idea of having a parasite bored into your body who then uses you as a food store as it grows. Actually if you don't find it disturbing then perhaps you should stop watching whatever it is you do watch on the TV, its not doing you any good.

Anyway not all things in the garden are that sneaky about eating one another card 21 shows the garden spider. Web-spinner and eater of things which fly. For me there is a balancing act when it comes to spidery things. There is not real reason to fear them but boy are they ugly also their movements are rather to unpredictable and random for my liking, however whilst they stay in their webs and eat flies they are all right by me.

It has been said, by people that know these things, that God must have liked Beetles. I am not so sure, more likely he was suffering some sort of creative block at the time and just churned these things out whilst he thought of something better to do. Wills were not quite so keen but they do get a mention in the set which is good news.

The card suggests you do not kill these things as they do a good job eating other things but low and behold card 26 notes centipedes and these should not be harmed as they kill and eat beetles. So perhaps the sage advice of, 'If you don't know what it does, leave it alone.' could be well employed here. Millipedes appear on card 28, the card informs they have between 50 to 160 pairs of legs and can destroyed by a solution of salt.

This brings us neatly onto card 45, Slugs and those hours of fun which can be obtained by putting salt on a slugs tail. This trick is almost to hideous to watch (but not quite).

Slugs might be horrid but snails are not. At least this is the case in my view of the world. Quite why this should be the case is something of a mystery but no more so than a lot of other such confusions. I might like them but gardeners do not obviously and the card details quite some extermination program.

Slugs and snails is one thing but card 27 is just outrageous. It should more properly belong in a book of fabulous creatures. A snail-slug. It is a slug with a small snail shell stuck on its tail, for no apparent reason or purpose what so ever. It is a carnivore and eats earthworms and other slugs. To think I sometimes concern myself as to what constitutes a dogs dinner.

So there you have it, good old Wills, ready to go out on a limb again and give us a set with imagination and flair. Next time you are out in the garden just think of all that death and destruction going on around you. Things being eaten alive amongst the flower beds, thank the good Lord you cannot hear them screaming.