The Army of Secret Helpers – Revisited


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 a few minutes and going back to and fro all day.IMG_0214

To watch a reddish army of ants streaming up and down the tree is an impressive sight. I planted several trees in my garden, many fruit-bearing ones, and they are cleared out of any pests by the birds. Apart from relying on my helpers, the garden is wholly organic. I haven’t used any chemicals for 35 years and everything is flourishing.

Insects are at the bottom of the food chain, and everyone depends on them. Without them, there would be no pollination and no fruits or vegetables or crops. Our gardens are the biggest in the country nature reserve, and it is important that they are friendly to our garden wildlife. ‘Insects are vital for the health of all creatures, including humans.’ says biodiversity expert Dr Sam Cartwright. My 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 seven black dots – ladybirds. The nation’s biggest wildlife winner – ladybird sightings increased by almost a quarter (22%) on our previous survey.

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 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 stung by the wasps. As I am sane, not sentimental and with a passion for sciences, I hope that readers will take note. Please don’t kill wasps. They are very good at pollinating. IMG_0201


Last year I had masses of butterflies, including large whites, small whites, tortoiseshells, and peacocks. Small white butterflies sightings in British gardens last year dropped significantly compared to the previous June, the biggest decline (13%) of any creature. There are many simple and easy actions that will make a real difference to our garden, even more, to be beautiful and enjoyable. The results of the survey show that people with the most different features in their gardens have the most wildlife. Trees, hedges, long grass, wildflowers, ponds, decaying wood, piles of leaves – there are lots of ways to support wildlife but variety is very important.

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 several rubbish bins. We are planning to build more towns in 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.

1 thought on “The Army of Secret Helpers – Revisited

  1. Jacqui Murray 15/03/2020 — 3:13 pm

    I’m sure you’ve read E.O. Wilson. He has the same awe over insects that you do. I so enjoyed his books.


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