The Army of Secret Helpers

There is one very apt Garfield observation: when looking at the garden in his favourite fudgel position, he exclaims: ‘Wow… Look at the grass grow’, then concludes with feeling: ‘I love action.’ How right he is! There is so much to see in a garden by just stopping here or there and looking closely around. This is how I have discovered that the ants living under the top bricks of the low wall that I have constructed like a dry stone wall (that is, without mortar, for a reason I will explain later) are capable of climbing to the top of the 8′ high apple trees to get to aphids to eat/milk them. It is an achievement similar to humans being able to climb Ben Nevis in IMG_0214a few minutes and going back to and fro all day. To watch a reddish army of ants streaming up and down the tree is an impressive sight. Then, the early morning inspection of the rose bushes for aphids tells me that the tenants of the few insect hotels I have installed in the garden are already up and working diligently removing the pests. They are as beautiful as they are hard-working, always elegantly attired in shiny red coats with symmetrical black dots – ladybirds. A few more feet into the garden and the multitude of small birds that I feed all year round are busy high up clearing the fruit trees of any unwelcome visitors. The birds appreciate my help especially during winter and the fledgling season as they save energy by food being ready and waiting. This is crucial if spring is cold and when it rains as fledglings will never die of hunger in my garden. Their gratitude is palpable, and no, I am not hallucinating or ‘humanising’ the little blighters. I can only repeat again that we now only know one thing for sure where animal intelligence is concerned, that we have still a lot to learn.

The abundance of fruits and flowers in my garden is entirely due to another, this time winged, army of bumblebees, solitary bees and wasps. They start with the first pale rays of  an early spring, ecstatic at the abundance of highly scented winter and spring-flowering bushes. The queen bumblebee traditionally hibernates in my kitchen, behind the dresser. The solitary bees like my supply of rose bushes because they cut circles from the rose leaves to make their nests. The wasps are also welcome here, and when necessary – end of summer or bad weather – I put a saucer of sugar in a place known to them. This is greatly appreciated and when the sugar is gone (with the ants’ participation), one wasp will fly into the kitchen through the open door and loudly buzz around me, thus signalling the need for replenishment. It happens every year without fail when the sugar is gone and I have never been bitten by the wasps. As I am sane, not sentimental and with a passion for IMG_0201sciences, I hope that readers will take note: we humans need nature to survive. Please don’t kill wasps. They are very good at pollinating. On a small island we are building everywhere, including at the back of large gardens. We concrete our front gardens, once admired by foreign visitors, now turned into car parking spaces, and ‘decorated’ by the several rubbish bins. We are planing to build more towns on any space between the existing towns. One day we will realise that we cannot eat cement or even money, however good our industry is, and I don’t dare to think what will happen to our wellbeing and our mental health.  Humans need nature to survive.

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