Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Wildlife and a Propensity to Wound

Innocuous. It's one of those words I like. It well describes too the vegetation in your average British garden. We had a few gardens in our homes in the UK and, generally, the plants within them were lush, verdant and quite soft. Yea, OK, one would afford the average tea rose bush a degree of respect owing to the thorns, and perhaps there were a few shrubs like pyracantha that could pack a scratch, but by far the majority of your UK garden growth could be waded amongst and hacked back with near impunity.

Many's the time back in the UK when I was up to my chest in plant life while wielding my secateurs and yet would emerge completely unscathed when her indoors would yell that there was a mug of tea to be had, maybe with a chocolate hobnob to accompany it. Here, though, it's a different story.

Here the vegetation is vicious. Here virtually every plant has an attitude problem (maybe to do with its upbringing) and it's out to wound you. And if the vegetation doesn't get you then the wildlife will. We hadn't been here long when we took a liking to lantana. See, it's so clever that it fools you with its beguiling flower heads, which sport such an array of different colour schemes and patterns. Plus the humming bird moths, the butterflies and the sardinian warblers all love it. We had to have some. We had, in fact, to have a lot. There are so many colour ways that we ended up with lantana in every bed. There's no getting away from it, it puts on a tremendous show of colour for most of the year and after the flowers die it sports green berries that the warblers gorge themselves on, allowing us to gaze in fascination from just a few feet away through the glass of the French windows from time to time.

But you try pruning lantana and then raking and gathering up the prunings to chuck into your wheelbarrow. the stalks are all trying really hard to mimic hacksaw blades and you soon end up with forearms liberally sprinkled with bloody spots where the barbs have gashed your skin like miniature fishing hooks. 

Lantana - oh yea, they LOOK innocent enough.
Agave Americana, now there's another plant that has murderous intentions. The spikes at the ends of the - what would you call them, blades? Yea, very appropriate - the spikes at the ends of the blades definitely look like they're dressed to kill or at least seriously maim. We have to go around snipping them off in order to be sure we survive a session in the garden when we're working near any of the Agaves. Not content with sporting the very vicious spikes, they also have barbs all the way along the edges of each blade and these take great delight in puncturing the skin of your arm when you're trying to pick one up and throw it away. Soft they are not.

Agaves, spikes snipped off the ends, but look at those barbs. Get one of them stuck in your arm. It's not dissimilar to a dog bite!
 We thought that a bunch of yukkas dotted about the place would be good, would be "architectural", and indeed they are. But a six foot tall yukka plant has leaves that resemble swords and daggers and I've lost count of the number of "paper-cuts" I've sustained from working in the near vicinity of one of them. Boy do those cuts sting as you're dabbing one with some tissue in a vain attempt to retain some of your body's blood stocks.

Choose your weapon, dagger, sword, or carving knife. They'll all slit your arm in similar fashion. Not to mention poke yer eye out if you're not careful.

Don't even get me started on these palm prunings. They go so hard that your chainsaw blade needs sharpening for every one you try and cut. Don't, whatever you do, brush against this as you amble past. Not if you want to keep your t-shirt from resembling one of those that grungy youths wear nowadays, complete with blood spots.

And there's a particular kind of weed too that, when it dies, scatters little seed "burrs" about the size of a small garden pea just about everywhere where you're likely to be walking. These malicious little devils are veritable balls of spikes that are cunningly camouflaged in exactly the same colour as the dust on which they lay in wait. Unless you pay attention to the crunching sound that your shoes make as you tread along, you'll be blissfully unaware of their presence. Not for long though.

Woe betide you if you go gardening in a pair of those soft rubbery "crocs" that are so ubiquitous these days. They afford you absolutely no protection whatsoever. These little belligerent burrs will happily spike right through the sole and soon have you hopping around in agony. You flip your foot up to catch a glimpse of the underside of your shoe and you see it covered with a dozen of these nasty little sods. What do you do then? You try and stand on one leg as you're usually just too far away from anything that can be leaned on for support. You whip one foot up, the one that hurts the most, slip off the croc and try to extract the little balls of misery and then what? Yup, you lose your balance momentarily, then involuntarily your shoe-less foot heads toward the ground out of an automatic desire to stop you falling over, only to make contact when it gets there with four or five more of the ever-present murderous little burrs and you're soon hopping all over the place cursing all and sundry and wishing you were wearing hobnail boots, despite the heat.

The act of trying to extract the tenacious little tyrants from your shoe will also see you instantly whipping your hand away and shoving your fingers in your mouth owing to the pain inflicted by the spikes on those feisty foes.

Walking in the countryside is even more dangerous. There is an abundance of spikey gorse all over the hillsides, the thorns on which are all at least and inch and a half long and stronger than your average sewing needle. This stuff grows along both sides of the lane leading from our house down to the road, a whole kilometer of it. If we allow it, the gorse is soon sending new growth out across the lane and, if not checked, will happily wreck the paintwork on your car door if you happen to run it along a sprig of this stuff. So, every now and then we set off with gardening gloves, a wheelbarrow, some secateurs and some loppers and attempt to show the stabbing shrub who's boss in a campaign to force it back away from the lane. We've never yet gone and done this without returning home with trickles of blood running down both forearms. And if you don't gather up every clipping from the ground where your tyres will be passing, it'll sure as hell puncture your tyre as easily as you slice a piece of cheese. Easier in fact. Since moving out here we've had on average two punctures per year. In the UK in several decades of owing cars I don't think I ever had more than two or three punctures - ever.

Don't even think of wearing a pair of crocks to do this job. You'll end up in hospital.

Talking of ending up in hospital, we know at least two UK ex-pats who've done just that from sustaining scorpion stings. Once again, the wildlife in a UK garden is cute and cuddly and largely benevolent. Here? Well, you soon learn never to attempt to move a stone with your bare hands or even a sunlounger that's been leaning agains the house wall without first giving it a kick with your foot. Scorpions, it seems just love to tuck themselves under things. You know what they say about the kind of life that crawls under a stone.

One of our friends a few years back found a towel that had fallen off of her washing line on to the ground in the garden. So she scooped it up without thinking. After all, in the UK the worst you'd find sheltering under it might be an earwig or a woodlouse. Without knowing what had hit her she threw the towel away instantly because s searing pain had sent shockwaves up her arm. A scorpion had been idling away the time under the towel and was not best pleased to be disturbed, a fact it made plain by shoving its sting into our friend's forearm. Off to the hospital with her it was.

I went out just the other morning to don my dusty pair of crocs (yes, we do use them for some things!) and as I shoved my left foot into the left croc (no flies on me, eh?) I soon whipped it out again because my tippy toes detected something alien living in the front end of the shoe. Giving the relevant piece of economy footwear a hefty slap on the ceramic tiles of the terrace, I wasn't surprised when a cricket or grasshopper (I don't flaming know which is which, do you?) about the size of my thumb, with a set of back legs that were significantly larger flopped out and assumed an air of disgust.

That came as a huge relief to me after some of the experiences I've had with the spiders we get out here. If you want to know more about them (have you taken leave of your senses?) check out chapter 2, "Livestock" of "Tzatziki For You to Say". Maybe take a sedative first, though.

Now, probably after reading all this, you're thinking, "why on earth would I want to live out there amongst all that botanical and biological enemy territory?"

Well, to be honest, it's not all bad. We do get European bee eaters, hoopoes, scops and barn owls all around the place at certain times of the year.In the cooler months we often spot a golden eagle. Right now, in fact, the wheatears are back and in evidence every time we go along our lane. They're a handsome bird in my view. I feel a bit sorry for them too owing to the way they got their name. poor souls []. There are bird of paradise plants and delicious citrus fruit trees here, there and everywhere. Our fig tree produces arguably the most delicious fresh figs one could ever imagine for several weeks every high summer.

Mind you, those leaves on the fig tree are very abrasive. Got a few pieces of wood I'm going to be fashioning into something some time soon. Think I'll use a couple of fig leaves as sandpaper.
Just off to sand down a nice piece of timber... Hmm, why are my thighs chafing? (See below...)

Now doesn't that make your eyes water. Remember Adam and Eve and what they did with a couple of fig leaves?

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