Attack of the sawfly

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This morning they were playing Michael Jackson’s Thriller on the radio. It came back into my head as I inspected my plants: ‘no-one’s gonna save you from the beast about to strike’… in this case, gooseberry sawfly (that’s two species of Nematus and one of Pristiphora to you).

Over-egging the pudding? Probably, but as the RHS Pest and Disease book (Halstead and Greenwood) succinctly puts it: “Gooseberry bushes become rapidly and severely defoliated”. Last year, distracted as I was trying to look after a baby, recover from appendicitis and write Grow Your Own Cake, I failed to pick off the sawfly when I saw them. Next time I looked (I think it was perhaps 48 hours later), my poor gooseberry was naked.

Of course, there are upsides – the plant having no leaves means it’s easier to see the thorns when you’re picking the fruit – but in general sawfly are not good news for gooseberries. Losing their leaves means they have to divert energy into producing new ones (which may well also get eaten, the sawfly has several generations in a season and can be active from April to September), so it puts on less growth. This means less fruiting wood for you next year, and potentially also a crop of smaller berries this year. A weaker plant is also more prone to further infection from diseases.

So when I spotted the tell-tale signs of eaten leaves and black droppings on the leaves further down the stem, I grabbed a pot and a cuttings knife straight away and started squishing. Picking them off saves having to use any sprays (I try to keep organic) – I’m not sure if there are any birds that would eat the sawfly larvae, but they’re not doing a good enough job if there are. However, I know that although I spent some time carefully checking the whole plant, I will have missed some, so I’ll go back in a few days and keep an eye on it for the rest of the summer. Hopefully I will then break the cycle and avoid infestation next year: I don’t want it to spread to my redcurrants as well.

Wisdom from Wisley

WP_20160503_11_22_23_ProOne of the things I love about RHS Gardens Wisley is that no matter how many buggies you have to fight through, no matter what is going on within the RHS’s management, the plants just keep performing and the gardeners just keep gardening. Although I worked there for two years, these days I don’t get to visit very often, and so I was looking for inspiration when we broke the long journey from Kent to Shropshire there yesterday.

Model Veg now has an area devoted to the plant suggestions of James Wong, presumably as a result of his work with the RHS on Grow for Flavour. It was good to see some edible flowers in there – violas – including a lovely deep crimson one (sorry, I couldn’t find a label!). At the opposite end of the garden is a little potager area, which is a brilliant example of how even a small veg-growing bed can be made to look interesting and attractive.


WP_20160503_11_24_13_ProI’ve never subscribed to the idea of growing edibles in amongst ornamentals, it offends my organising sensibilities. However, there’s no reason why veg-growing has to look boring. Even straight rows have their own beauty, especially if you put some thought in to the height, colour, shape and textures of the plants that will be next to each other. In this bed, perhaps 4m by 2m, a single wigwam was in the middle, with diagonal lines then dividing the bed into triangles.

Mario, the gardener responsible for Model Veg, had used broad beans (‘Robin Hood’) and a deep red lettuce (‘Pigale’ – definitely one I’ll be making a note of) to mark the lines. Obviously it’s early in the season still, but the labels show that the triangles will be filled with beetroot (‘Cardeal’ and ‘Moulin Rouge’) and potatoes (‘Arran Pilot’), with marigolds as well – both edible and good for attracting beneficial insects. I’m not sure what will go up the wigwam – sweet peas perhaps, climbing beans, or even climbing courgettes and cucumbers are all possibilities! Overall the effect was very good, and will hopefully inspire visitors to be imaginative with their veg plantings.

Grow your own Cake

Well, it’s out! The new book – link to the amazon site opposite, though I would encourage you of course to support your local bookshop if you have one – is finally here. Grow your own Cake – no, not the wheat before you ask, just lots of lovely fruit, veg, herbs and flowers with which you can bake some delicious treats – is a book of 50 recipes and lots of growing information, so even if you’ve never baked or grown before, you should be able to rustle up something pretty good in the garden and the kitchen with the book at your side. I’ve been thrilled with the response on the blogs and reviews in magazines, and would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for their kind words.


Grow it. Bake it. Eat it!