IT IS everyone’s dream to retire to France, buy a little house in the country with enough land to grow fruit and vegetables. But what if you find your little ‘pied à terre’ is infested with the worst kind of pests imaginable?

It has happened to me. It was my niece that first said, “You’ve got vine-weevils”. She pointed out the leaves on a fuchsia that should have had smooth edges but had little indents eaten evenly along the sides.

Before you can defeat your enemy you have to know your enemy and what its tactics are. Some research on the Internet revealed that ‘otiorhynchus sulcatus’ are nocturnal creatures that live in leaf mould and lay eggs around the stems of the plant, which hatch into white grubs with orangey heads in the spring. The grubs feed off the roots, weakening the plant, and emerge a year later as adult vine-weevils.

I had just planted raspberry canes and discovered that vine-weevils are particularly partial to asters, cyclamens, geraniums, honeysuckle, roses, primroses…….   (the list continued) and raspberries. The French name is generally ‘Charançon’ but 

another is “poinconneur des lilas” which translated is ‘hole-puncher of lilacs’- not very good news at all!

More research on the Internet was required!  I learned that it’s very difficult to see or catch an adult weevil as when they are disturbed they fall to the ground and scurry away. OK, dirty tactics need cunning responses. I placed flowerpot bases all around the stems of the plants. When I got up in the night to go to the toilet (I’m that sort of age!) I would also wage war! 

When I woke up, I boiled the kettle, carried it out to the garden, gently filled up the flowerpot bases and then gave the raspberry bushes a shake. Hey presto, several of my enemies jumped off and fell into my dishes of very hot water and scalded themselves to death!! The moment was one of pure, triumphant bliss, regardless of the fact that my neighbours might see me and wonder what I was doing in the garden with a kettle, in my dressing gown at 3 o’clock in the morning! The English are very strange! 

The enemy had indeed been the, yet unseen, vine-weevil – black apple pip sized body, elongated head ending in long feelers

and 3 pairs of legs. Triumph eventually dimmed to despair when I realized that my only method of defeating the marauders was to continue to get up in the early hours of the morning! But God is good and inspiration comes to those who pray! Suppose the vine weevils didn’t just jump off plants when disturbed, but they are lazy by nature and fall off instead of climbing down?

My theory was proved right by the presence of several drowned vine-weevils in the dishes of water I had left under the plants. With the aid of lengths of guttering strategically placed I managed to drown quite a few. One day I found that one humble 3 foot length of guttering had caught 11 vine weevils overnight! This may not sound much but they can lay between 500-1600 eggs a piece.

My joy turned to further despair when I noticed that my neighbour’s huge privet hedge that ran down one side of my garden was infested with vine-weevils and also the lilac that belonged to the other neighbour! With horror I realized that although I could possibly win the war in my own garden, I couldn’t defeat the enemies of the entire neighbourhood.

I found a charming little story on the Internet that showed that even in the 1587 French villagers were having the same problems as me. The residents of Saint-Julien-de-Maurienne were having their vines ravaged by a horde of ‘amblevins’ as they are called in the Savoyard dialect. The local judge ordered a court case against them. But to represent the weevils fairly an advocate was appointed on their behalf. The local people offered the vine-weevils a patch of pasture away from the vineyards where they could munch away to their hearts content. Their lawyer argued that the area was infertile and didn’t at all suit his clients. We don’t know the end of the story, but perhaps the villagers were trying out the new legal process of allowing a Devil’s advocate, a new system that was established in the same year as the story took place.

When the Norman’s invaded England the first thing they did was to build motte and bailey castles. The bailey or palisade was probably to keep the English out, but I am sure that the water ditch was there to protect their small parcels of land from the possibility of invading vine-weevils. Even if my theory is not true, the next house I look for will have a moat!

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