The hosta, a North American native as I recall, thrives in our garden and I love them. Love them for the shapely, cup-handed leaves which gather the water, hold it and let it glisten in the light. Love them for the fecundity: the garden centre’s worse nightmare, a plant that doubles in volume each year, just split them and replant. Love them for their tolerance: light or shade, up they come, arms open to the world. I don’t know the varieties, but in our back door pots, we have a particularly lime green one, with variegated darker edges and a bright yellow hit of colour at the base on the inside. The hosta seems a perfect foil for us; on odd dark and gloomy Spring days, with broodingly malignant skies full of the potential of rain, they still shine as if powered by an inner luminescence.
In slug and snail world things are different. Whilst I may admire the architectural form, the stately leaves of the hosta, they look at them with a gourmand’s eye, only with out the critical faculties and food appreciation skills. Their cerebral cortex (I picture it as smaller and somewhat runnier than ours) lights up with synaptic chaos, like London viewed at night from the International Space Station “FOODFOODFOODFOOOOOODYUMYUMLETMEATIT” they yell, the blighters causing pandemonium. At first a scalloped edge; then a leaf chomped hungrily and before you know you weep into the curving dried brown stains of cold tea at the bottom of your cup as you survey the chewed stumps of your once prize blooms. Credit, it must be said, to the hostas for returning year after year.
But this would not do. It was time to take it to the mattresses. If need be, using a wretched mattress to camp out by the plants to catch the critters. To crush them. Destroy them. Smear them off the face of the earth. Without hurting them obviously. So the war starts in a phoney way. “We cannot harm the slugs. Let’s find a natural way of…moving them on”.
Thus it was that I entered the world of slug removal research*: scouring the internet; raking up the wisdom of nearby horticulturalists; divining for family folklore. The creatively chemical ways that Homo Sapiens has developed to wreak Limaxocide on slugs and snails are devilishly endless, and will not be transcribed here – although some I’m sure will soon be banned by the EU. More ‘natural’ ways included scattering shells or fine gravel around the plant base; putting a small saucer of vinegar or beer nearby; crumble up a brillo pad or sneakily concealing small snips of copper wire in the vicinity (that’s why the trains have been delayed, I knew it).
I tried a few. None worked. The slugs are simply too numerous and the snails remarkably persistent for a creature devoid of speed. Instead, I am switching tactics; moving the slugs on (into the brown recycling bin – let them help the local council’s composting effort) and the snails, well – they don’t know it yet, but I am considering a farm, and to let the food cycle complete a full rotation.
* Sung to the words of The Cult’s ‘Love Removal Machine’