Slugs and snails and saving-the-world tales

It is time to face facts. I can no longer deny this fundamental truth about myself. I have become, to my horror and despair, one of Those People. I have entered into an eternal, doomed fight to the finish with a breed of monster which consumes all within its path, killing the things that keep it alive with no sense of self-preservation or restraint, and I am forever lost. I have become a Slug Hunter.

I’ve never been much of a gardener, choosing instead to enjoy the finished results with no real understanding of how they were achieved. Indeed, in one church-owned home in my past, a wonderfully green-fingered parishioner came for a garden party and was cast into such a mire of despair at my gardening handiwork that she was pruning back the roses within ten minutes of arriving. But this year, I felt differently. I invested more. I took the time to clear the ground; I picked stones out of waterlogged earth and used them to wall off different sections of my soon-to-be-planted herb garden; I dug in fresh compost to enrich and break up the clay-heavy soil; I lingered in garden centres to choose the best options to plant, not just the cheapest. I invested, emotionally and financially, in putting down roots. And so, when slugs arrived in their hundreds to lay claim to my labours, I took it personally. And I took it hard.

In my reaction, arbitrary and extreme though I admit it may seem to those around me (weeping over a parsley plant because the speed of its consumption took it from healthy plant to three bare stalks in just one night, anyone?), there are lessons I need to learn. And, like all lessons that are worth investing in, these do not relate only to this topic, or this fight. Thinking small and modestly, as ever, it seems to me that these are lessons that can be magnified, rippling on and on until they end up, quietly and accidentally, making all the difference in the world.

  1. Let go of how you thought things would be. Before I started anything, I had a vision of where I wanted it to end. There would be a herb garden, full of mint, some strawberries, and a glass of Pimms other herbs I use regularly scattered neatly within their rockery borders. Elsewhere would be flowers that staggered their blooming naturally throughout the year without needing too much support, and maybe, if they couldn’t be killed off with too much rain or not enough tenderness, a few sprouts stalks that I detest and The Paleontologist adores. I started with what I wanted the end result to look like, not what was appropriate for this space, what was possible in this timescale, what would be supported by this ecosystem or this soil or this weather. I tried to cram my surroundings into a mould of my own choosing, and it Did Not Work. Living a simpler life, linked more to our surroundings and the natural flow of the seasons and less to getting exactly what we want the instant we want it, we must aim to be a part of the whole, not expect to impose our will and desires over everything, and feel personally affronted when the slugs fail to read the memo to cease and desist in living off a certain herb patch just because it makes me feel like summer is finally here.
  2. Do your research. Then do it again. When you don’t know very much about a topic, it’s pretty important, it turns out, to do some research before you leap in headfirst. When the slugs first appeared, I realised I needed to know more. I started to investigate. I tried things out. They Did Not Work. (I’m looking at you, eggshells…) I did some more research. I tried some more things. They Did Not Work Either. So I did some more research. I’m trying more things. They haven’t worked yet, but there is still time, and that means there is still hope. Because sometimes, we have a great idea, and a couple of other people think it’s a good idea too, so that confirms that it’s worth trying. And sometimes it works. And sometimes it doesn’t. That doesn’t mean it was wrong to try. It doesn’t mean it won’t work for other people. It just means it didn’t work for us, in this moment, and so we can either accept defeat, or find another plan. Covid-19 has taught us all that when things really matter to us, we have to be able to be flexible. We need to take that lesson and run with it in the years to come; because giving up and accepting catastrophic climate change after the first hurdle or two just isn’t an option.
  3. Ask for help. Honestly speaking, I didn’t start by asking for help. I started more by having a whinge and a cry and hoping that The Vicar would do something magical and just make the slugs disappear. (Did I secretly want him to break all my principles and buy the most industrial-strength slug repellent out there, on Next Day Delivery, leaving me with both a solution and plausible deniability in its execution? Maaaybeee…)* Very few of us have all the answers, and none of us have the constant energy or the consistent willpower or the sheer, unwavering bloody-mindedness to keep going perpetually. So find someone who is good at being up when you’re down, or who gets their second wind when it’s already gone midnight and you have to do the school run tomorrow (hypothetically speaking, of course), or will just help you to think of other ideas that you haven’t yet tried, and help you to work out which of the ideas you have researched are practical, and which might accidentally set off a catastrophic chain reaction that will destroy the space-time continuum, or, at the very least, kill the hedgehogs as well as the slugs.
  4. Enjoy the unexpected successes. Seeing everything as hopeless is the quickest way I know to give up entirely. You won’t be able to change the world in the blink of an eye. You may not even live to see the world changed at all. So celebrate the small successes when they come. Celebrate the planting of an apple seed that actually starts to grow. Celebrate the mint plant that is still standing in the morning when, on slug patrol at 11:30pm, you were convinced all hope was lost. Celebrate the completed eco-bricks and the cycled school-runs and the conversations about how important this is to you that don’t end in arguments. Celebrate the legislation changing people’s hearts and minds one country, one company, one town at a time. And then keep working to do more. Let those successes spur you on, not make you complacent; because if one thing can change, so can many more.

*He didn’t do this. He did do something with salt that I didn’t ask too many questions about, but he didn’t do this.

A selection of the plants in my garden that have not (yet) been consumed by the local wildlife. In the interests of full disclosure, I should probably mention that the trees, as the most successful plants out there, were not planted by me. In fact, the most successful of all is probably more a weed than anything else, despite being as tall as the shed it is right next to…
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