The Great Snail Hunt

The Great Snail Hunt is a wonderful story from Carol Bentley that I encourage you to read. It's bound to raise a smile as read how they struggled to conquer snails in their garden.

It was early summer and the weather had not been its kindest. Rain had made the atmosphere humid and the garden was looking slightly saturated and bedraggled. At the moment it was overcast.

We were determined to have a nice area to sit out in this summer and had deliberately bought colourful plants for the garden. Well, you couldn't call it a garden really, more like an extended patio.

The house is built on the old Gasworks site, which means that underneath us are the old gas storage tanks. So we do not have any 'soil' other than what we have imported ourselves.

The house is built from Purbeck Stone. At the back we have an area running alongside the house that is bordered by a 1.5 metre high Purbeck stone wall. At its widest point the wall is ½ metre across, slimming down to about a ¼ of a metre. On the other side is a 5 metre (15 feet) drop to the stream and fields beyond. Our 'garden area' starts at a width of about 2 metres on the right and gradually reduces to a point at the left end where it meets the Purbeck Stone building where the old gasworks were housed.

The wall at the back was originally built to protect the house from the floods that struck if there was heavy rainfall coinciding with high tides at the seafront, only ¼ mile from where we live. The floods very often occurred at night and were the 'flash' variety - receding as soon as the tide turned, so there was no real sign of what had happened by the morning. The last flood was in February 1993, but this time it happened at 10.00 a.m. on the Saturday morning and was so bad that it flooded the town as well for quite a few hours. Because of that the local water authority created and implemented a 'flood relief' system and since then, 'fingers-crossed', we have been OK.

The Great Snail Hunt is about to begin

snails attacking a plant

But getting back to our 'garden'. We had created a few rockery and garden bedding areas using large Purbeck stone blocks by resting them against the wall and positioning others to form a 'box' shape that we filled with soil and compost. In these we planted a variety of flowers, small shrubs, miniature roses and creepers, we don't know the name of most of the plants we chose - they looked nice and appealed to us. Against the wall at the wider end we fixed trellis fencing and sited a couple of Clematis and Jasmine plants so that they could grow to give us some screening. We created miniature gardens in pots scattered around the area and used half-barrels for a small, pink-blossomed cherry tree, a willow-type tree and a bush that sported vibrant red flowers. There was a large Yucca plant, a couple of pampas grasses (still immature and small, but growing well) and we even supplied a rhododendron plant with its own pot.

The Great Snail Hunt Gang

Three snails in a row

We were happy with the different shades of green, the pink on the Clematis, the pink on the wild rose bush (that had been growing 'out of the wall' for years) and the odd splash of blue from other flowers we had acquired from family and friends. We decided to add extra colour by including red and gold French Marigolds. Positioning a small water fountain as a focal point completed the picture. Now we had somewhere pleasant to sit on sunny afternoons and the perfect barbecue area for the summer evenings.

Then disaster struck. Holes appeared in the leaves of the trees and bushes. The marigolds became lollipop heads on sticks - no leaves at all. All the bedding plants we had so carefully and tenderly planted were disappearing before our eyes (well almost!). We are not experienced gardeners - we can hardly tell a weed from a flower! We had no idea what was happening. Something was eating our beautiful flowers and plants, but what? We couldn't see any caterpillars or the other insects / bugs that are generally well known. Of course all you gardeners out there will be shouting "I know what's happening - you've got ##@##s!".

So we pored over gardening books and talked to people we knew who told us "Yes - you've got snails and slugs." Yuk!

That's when the Great Snail Hunt started.

As I said at the beginning - it was a humid day and it was also overcast. We decided to make a closer inspection of our 'paradise lost' and find these dreadful marauders. So we both started looking. Under the spreading plants, where it was dark and damp. At the sides of the 'rockery' area. Under the loose Purbeck stone that we had used to create our wonderful features. In the branches and leaves of the trees. Under the pots - especially those with moulded bottoms. Did we find any? You bet we did! The air resounded with whoops of delight as each snail was plucked and sent on its holidays. Well - we decided they might like to try a 'fly-dive' trip. They were thrown over the wall (that was the flight) and probably landed in the stream below (that was the dive). We lost count of how many we found but it was close to 100. They ranged in size from a few millimetres to 3 centimetres in size. Mark said "They’ve had there own way for too long. I used to think they were quite cute - but I didn't know then how much damage they do!"

So that was our first great snail hunt - it happened at 4 p.m. on the Sunday afternoon and we felt a great sense of achievement. We had got rid of the b****rs. WRONG!

We read up a bit more and found out that they are nocturnal feasters - no wonder we never saw what was happening to our poor plants! We decided that we ought to have another check around when it was a bit darker. Someone did suggest 2 a.m. in the morning - but I think that was going a bit too far.

A Great Snail Hunt victim

A healthy snail

It was 9.30 p.m. I was feeling quite drained having had an early start and a long day at work. I suggested an early night to which Mark agreed. He went out into the garden to collect something he had left out there. "I've found another snail" he called. That was it - suddenly I was awake and out I went. We both spent the next hour, complete with torch because it was starting to get dark, searching through the plants, rocks and pots. This time the snails were going to take the night flight. As I peered under the plant leaves with the small torch I was using I felt like a dentist inspecting cavities. Although I don't suppose a dentist would expect to find what I was looking for. Another 50 were plucked and sent on their way.

A snail unaware the Great Snail Hunt was about to begin

A snail trying to escape from the Great Snail Hunt

By that time - even with the torch - it was too dark to see and my back was aching. But I didn't feel tired; I had 'protected' our plants from attack! Mark 'retired' to start getting ready for bed. "I'll just have a quick look around, I'll be in in a minute." I said. Would you believe it? I found another 20 - in the areas we had already checked! They must have been the late risers! Well they were not going to miss their trip over the wall, they were swiftly despatched to join their comrades.

If they manage to climb that 5 metre (15 feet) of wall up from the stream and down again to the plants, another 1.5 metres, then I suppose you could say they deserve a reward. But NOT in our garden. If they reappear they will get the return flight. Of course we won't know if they have come back or whether they are ones that we missed the first time around.

The great snail hunt will continue - we are waging a war on them now. Eventually we will find a way to prevent them from making an appearance at all - but in the meantime….
Carol Bentley


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