Glasses in the garden

Sunday, 13 September 2015

It can be fun to look closely at flowers and bugs

I have never liked wearing glasses, even when it became obvious I was as blind as a bat. I never was able to adjust to multifocal glasses so I still do only put my glasses on when reading or writing. So I have never worn them when in the garden. However, this week I did have occasion to put them on to help me wage a war against the dreaded flea beetle, and found out lots of positives about wearing glasses in the garden!

Flea beetle on Salvia semiatrata

The flea beetle is a really horrid little garden pest, which every year at this time attacks my many Salvia plants, disfiguring and eventually actually destroying the leaves, making the plants very unsightly. The same beetle also attacks other plants in the same broad plant family (Lamiaceae) as Salvia, including basil, mint, Lepechinia and coleus. The beetle jumps like a flea when disturbed and is seemingly impervious to most insecticidal sprays, which in any case, I am trying to avoid using. My new strategy is to trap them, by creeping up on them and flicking them into a container of water mixed with some washing-up liquid, which appears to kill them instantly. It is a rather tedious process, but by trapping them daily, I am hoping to win the war and disrupt the life cycle of the beetle in my garden. The problem is actually trying to find them, as they are quite cunning, hiding in nooks and crannies of the plant. This is where my glasses came in, and with them on, I was suddenly a lot better at finding my foes. It may appear to be a mad pest-control strategy, but the numbers definitely seem to be decreasing!

New leaves on shrubby Bouganvillea

With my glasses still on after my trapping was finished for the day, I made other wondrous discoveries in the garden. Tiny leaves were appearing on the shrubby Bouganvillea I had moved from one place to another in winter - it had never flowered in its previous too-shady spot so now has been given a much sunnier place. It looked very miserable when I transplanted it, shedding all of its leaves and looking basically stone dead; however, this week I could see its baby leaves along its stems: such a joy to know it was still alive.

Self-sown Amaranthus caudatus seedlings in the garden

I also saw that the first leaves of some of my herbaceous plants were starting to appear, also a source of anxiety in case snails get to them whilst they are still young and vulnerable. Echinacea purpurea, for example, disappears completely in winter and comes up only now. Peering with better vision, I found its pointed foliage emerging, which was very reassuring. I also found the petite self-sown seedlings of Amaranthus caudatus (pictured above) in my borders - though I pull out 99% of these each year, those that remain grow into fabulous 2m specimens with long, cerise, tasselled flowers all summer and autumn, and I always worry that one year they won't come back.

A colourful bug on a Persicaria flower photographed with a macro lens

Whilst I won't be wearing my glasses for normal gardening (as they are reading glasses, I would no doubt end up tripping over my own feet), I will certainly put them on whenever I am doing my walk around the garden to check on things. Being able to see the first signs of insect infestations is key to getting on top of them. Looking closely into the intricate formations of flowers (and insects) that I usually only see while using a macro lens on the camera is also delightful!

Most of the time, however, it IS great to see everything as something of a blur, without one's glasses, so that the weeds and gaps aren't so visible and just the 'big picture' is apparent, with flowers merging into a colourful melange like an Impressionist painting. A final point to make about glasses in the garden is that as with wearing sunscreen and hats, it's advisable to wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from the harmful effects of the sun.