Strawberries in the Desert

Story telling from Australia

Pest Alert

Pest alert! With precious little garden and hardly any plants established here in Sydney, the first sign of attack from pests had me reaching for a bottle of eco-friendly pest oil. I should have checked the forecast. Sydney hit thirty-six degrees that day (ninety-six Fahrenheit) so whatever damage the bugs did was minor compared to the effect of drenching tender leaves in oil then letting them sizzle in hot sun all day.

The Papa Meilland rose lost all its leaves and the single red bloom, perfumed like an Arabian night, burnt to a crisp. The mint fried, the fig tree withered and the parsley turned white with shock. Other plants survived simply because most of the garden, it turns out, doesn’t get that much sun.

A quick google search (which I should have done before springing into action with the oil) revealed the culprit – a leaf cutter bee. The bee nibbles on tender leaves, cutting distinctive shapes out of the soft tissue, which it then uses to make a shelter. The bees are nesting, much like we are, and once I learnt that I left the plants and the bees alone. The leaves will grow back and I assume the bees will give up when they’ve finished making a nest.


It looks unsightly but where would we be without bees? The honeybee population in many areas is in decline – witness the honeybee shortage threatening crop pollination in Europe right now – and the lives of other bees and small pollinating insects are imperilled by the overuse of chemicals and pesticides.

So the bees are welcome to nest in whatever crevice they’ve found, and make use of whatever plant they care to munch on. Thankfully they seem to be concentrating on the native Hardenbergia ‘Happy Wanderer’, which grows quickly and can withstand the attack.

I cut back the scorched plants and in time (hopefully) they should recover. The disaster reminded me to slow down and concentrate on watering, feeding, nurturing and encouraging, instead of blitzing at speed in a race for results. You can’t hurry a garden, just like I can’t instantly turn a new house into a home.

In slowing down enough to see what’s happening in this concrete jungle I was rewarded with the sight of tiny new buds on the lemon tree…


and the promise of a bloom on the peace rose.


So we should have something for the bees to feed on, and if the melons ever flower I won’t have to creep out in the morning to hand pollinate.

It’s just a shame leaf cutting bees don’t like eating weeds.

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This entry was posted on January 9, 2014 by and tagged , , , , , , , .

I'm a writer based in Australia with a passion for gardening, remote places and people with a story to tell.

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