Some gardening books are bland expositions, others vibrate with the voice of their author. Outwitting Squirrels is definitely one of the latter. To those who know Anne only by her reputation as the Bad-Tempered Gardener, this might sound alarming, but have no fear. This is great fun.
Encompassing (as its subtitle explains)
101 Cunning Stratagems to Reduce Dramatically the Egregious Effects of Garden Pests and Honest Advice Concerning your Chances of Success
its cover depicts a villainous squirrel in Victorian-melodrama top hat and moustache. The tone is set.This is no dry rundown of potions and protective materials.
Anne begins by turning her attention to numerous varmints, not just the eponymous squirrel, but rabbits, moles, slugs and snails and others, then moves on to a wide range of insects and infestations, such as honey fungus, box blight, algae and weeds.
Pest or infestations are dealt with by chapter and each problem is approached with a pragmatism that might find you re-evaluating your attitude. Plants that are Trouble are not weeds (those have two chapters to themselves), they are those irritating entities that languish in plain sight, taunting you with your inability. "If you find yourself writing in desperate entreaty to a plant expert," writes Anne, "about what to do with a sick rose, try contemplating for a moment how much happier your life might be without that rose."
The information in some cases was revelatory. I had no idea that the French use explosives to blow up moles. Anne tells you what hasn't worked for her (sadly she's never stocked up on dynamite but some of her experiences with failure will definitely raise a giggle), but, as she says, it may work for you, so the What Not to Do section at the end of each chapter will give you as many ideas for available strategems as the What to Do sections.
It's full of wry humour. For dealing with irritating plants that flop over path-edges Anne recommends cropping. They come back "contrite". And if this approach worries you, think that plants are frequently cropped by cows. "Imagine that you are a cow," advises Anne. A bonus to the reading enjoyment is the generous sprinkling of whimsical and amusing cartoons.
Bracken has a chapter to itself, which is unsurprising as Anne has to contend with its advances into Veddw, her garden in Monmouthshire, but even a chapter on a pest or infestation that I'm never going to face kept me reading. I am now aware that bracken carries sheep ticks (and therefore dangers of Lyme disease) and know that it's been used as the rural answer to grit to prevent slippage on muddy roads.
You're sure to find yourself nodding in agreement with descriptions of standard recommendations. Mealy bugs? You know the suggestion for hosing them off? Don't, says Anne. "If you try that with a pot plant outside, the plant will fall over and you will also be squirting potting compost all over the garden." I can vouch for that.
I'm also sure that, unless you have enormous wealth of knowledge, you'll find numerous suggestions, born of Anne's 25 years' experience, that you'll want to try. Regulars know that codling moth is rather fond of my apples. Anne's suggestion of hanging cardboard in the branches in winter and in spring burning the larvae that have snuggled into it is something I'm storing up for next year.
The final section is, for anyone used to the usual pests and diseases books, unexpected. Dealing with Outwitting Humans, including yourself, Anne's put in chapters ranging from Edges and Spraying, to Plastics, Rain, People and Water. If you're wondering what these can possibly have to to with waging war on pests, you'll just have to read the book. They'll have you thinking.
Outwitting Squirrels is a book that has definitely come tostay. My one bugbear is that, like most books nowadays, it's been deprived of an index, but that's a minor point. It's just the thing to cheer you up if you find yourself defeated by some dastardly garden afflication, but it's not just light-hearted. It's a thoroughly practical and pragmatic book that will give you ideas and help you re-evaluate your approach, leavened with a dry humour that makes it a pleasure to read. We need more humour in gardening!
Outwitting Squirrels will be published 23rd April by Michael O'Mara Books. Priced at £7.99, Hive has it on offer at £6.75 (click through on the link above).