Daphne – a joy and sorrow

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Daphne has been my joy and sorrow this winter. She was a water Niaid supposedly, a great beauty sought by Apollo, a water spirit. December is transformed by Daphne in my garden as the six year old, evergreen, D. bholua ‘Sir Peter Smithers’ beside my swing seat once again comes into flower as the rain and snow falls. But as a water nymph she has failed. It’s now clear I have lost all the fish in my pond bar three to the heron. Clear in every way. The unfiltered pond is now crystal clear from the freezing temperatures. I can see every leaf or piece of gravel on the bottom as well as the pump, waterlily tuber, and each fish as it “hibernates” as low down as it can.

I came back from a few days in the South of France over New Year and the whole garden was heavy with the luscious, intoxicating scent of Daphne. I was stopped in my tracks by a wall of fragrance. The dogs scampered excitedly round my feet and the garden, seemingly oblivious to the influence, focussed only on finding scent left by visiting foxes and cats. Pickle ran hither and thither barking at anything as small as a moving leaf to re-establish his male presence in his territory. Lottie busied herself doing I know not what but just being very girlie.

So we were all back home which felt good. But my first check was the pond. Though not a pet, Big Yellow has been with me for eight years. He’s a golden yellow coy carp who is now about 45 cms long. He’s big, luckily too big now I think for the visiting heron from the River Wandle and the ponds on Clapham, Wandsworth and Tooting Commons. He’s also wily and spends weeks deep underwater if there has been a heron attack.

He is a great character. He knows my step on the gravel and will come up to ask for food. He has enthralled nieces, nephews, godchildren and friends for years and infuriated Shih Poo Pickle for the three years of his life – and I would hate to lose him. But he is (or was) not alone. Silver Rocket is his smaller Coy compratriot who is still by his side but the seven or eight carp, goldfish and shubudkins who survived the October heron attack, seem to have gone. They didn’t walk away, or die and float, they are simply missing – so I suppose they were eaten by a passing heron. It’s very sad. They were so beautiful and many had been born in the pond - including the one carp remaining which is black going golden, a great mistake in my opinion given the heron attacks.

Heron attacks are very subtle too. They step into the water in the shallows (on my perfectly placed planting shelves!) and do nothing. An oil exudes from their legs which is massively attractive to fish so the fish swim up to their feet and all the heron has to do is bend down leisurely and pluck them out of the water. You can tell if the heron has been visiting by the oil residue left on the water.

I have lost so many fish to them but I don’t like netting the pond so I have tried all the other deterrents such as fake herons - but the real ones are not stupid. Unless you move the fake ones round every day they realise something’s wrong. I came down one morning, looked down the garden and thought “I am sure I didn’t put the heron there yesterday” only to realise that there were two around the pond – and one had just enjoyed a fabulous breakfast! Apart from that they looked exactly the same.

The most effective deterrent I have found so far is a water spurter which is triggered by anything that walks across its path. A great, noisy jet of water gets sprayed from side to side and the heron is disturbed as it tries to land and so takes off again. However, you have to be very careful around it yourself. I have been drenched countless times and the dogs often come back into the kitchen dripping wet. It also has its limitations when it is freezing – which is often when the heron come visiting.

So I shall just have to wait for the thaw, put the jet on again and keep these three safe. The frogs and toads (also rich pickings for a hungry heron) will soon be back to lay their spawn and sing me lullabies. And when Spring has really sprung I shall enjoy going to to buy some more lovelies for the pond – and one of them will be called Daphne!

Read 79789 times Last modified on Wednesday, 01 October 2014 09:24