Friday, January 20, 2006

What I forgot, Grandma, Shrubs, & Slugs

What I forgot:

Yesterday when I was telling you about my “worm hole garden” I knew I was forgetting something. Here’s the list: Mallow Zabrina, Egyptian onions, chives – a new from seed clump and a much older clump, and Greek oregano, as well as a few ornamentals and bulbs. The slugs aren’t bothering any of these edibles. Whew. At least a few things are safe.

Grandma, Shrubs, & Slugs:

Yesterday I got to thinking about my dang slugs and future possibilities. What if I never feel better enough to pick those slugs everyday? I don’t want to get into a habit of using a purchased product, especially a poison, even if it is supposed to be safe and beneficial. I just don’t believe that a substance that is poison to one creature is entirely harmless to the rest of us. With all this stirring around in my mind, I remembered one of the precepts of the organic gardening movement. All things in balance.

The goal is not to eliminate the pest species, but rather to encourage their natural predators. When the pest and its predators exist within a good balance the predators always have enough to eat, and so do we. It is kind of like the deer in the woods. Without some predatory pressure they would over populate, eat all our acorns and herbs, and actually become unhealthy and weak. But what the heck is going to eat my slugs? They are just dang gross.

The predatory slugs I have observed in my yard, hunting other slugs came to mind. But I all ready have these creatures and they are just not doing the trick. Stymied, I asked myself, “What did Grandma do?” Oh yes, Grandma had toads. Toads controlled her slugs. Hmmm . . . I wondered, why don’t I have toads. I have even caught them and turned them loose in my yard. But there is really no evidence of toads making their home here.

I remembered being a small child in Grandma’s yard. The edges of her yard were bordered with shrubs of various kinds. Some of them were medicine plants, some bore fragrant flowers, other produced edible fruit. Together they formed a thick permanent border. Most of grandma’s shrubs were evergreen, however there were a few deciduous shrubs, and even some vines. As a little child, on my belly, I would peer under these bushes, which began branching within a few inches of the ground. “Don’t you hurt my toads, Child,” Grandma would say.

There was a magical world of fairies and toads under Grandma’s shrubs. She kept the ground mulched with grass clippings and leaves. And she arranged cracked bowls and broken crockery under there to form both homes and wading pools for the toads. If you didn’t get down on your belly, you would never know that secret world was there. Once I discovered the toad’s pools it became my job to make sure they had plenty of water. Before they gained my attention, rain, dew, and the sprinkler filled them.

I have kept toads in most of the yards I have lived in ever since. Why don’t I have toads now? It is a simple answer. I have no safe toad habitat. The hedgerows of England and the boxwood hedges of formal European gardens are brought to mind. These features offer many benefits to the gardens and landscapes they occupy. Not only do they provide beneficial toad habitat, when hedgerows include native and fruiting plants they provide food and safe harbor for birds and butterflies.

Most important to me, is the knowledge that Grandma’s shrubs were not just frivolous, eccentric, or even a nod to mainstream landscape ideas. Not only did they provide beauty, food, and medicine, they were toad habitat. They fostered a balance between pest and predator for her yard and gardens.

Grandma left me a long time ago. But I still find much wisdom in the way she lived and in the stories she taught me. While I may not remember all the exact shrubs Grandma grew, I do have some ideas about what I might try here in this oh so wet landscape.
One of the first “shrubs” I am going to try to get established is the illustrious Olive. I have been doing some research on the production of olive oil. Many of the new olive orchards are being trained as shrubs. They come into production faster and are easier to care for. I am not sure that the Olive will thrive here, but I am set to give it a try.

I have found a couple of sources for information on shrubs that provide edible fruit. One is a catalog to drool over. “One Green World” makes its home in Molalla Oregon and on the web at: They carry many intriguing and unusual fruit varieties from around the world. The other is a great web site “Plants for a Future.” I love this webs site and visit it often. They have an interesting approach to permaculture, and many interesting articles are posted. They also have a great database you can use to look up information and many useful plants. Check them out: They have specific information on hedges:
And shrubs: We will probably all find lots of items to add to our plant want lists!

Until next time,


Copyright 2005 Harvest McCampbell

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