A Demon Cycle of Slugs

Brown slug

In Peter V. Brett’s excellent The Warded Man we have a world where demons rise from the ground at sundown and attack the human population.
The only protection from the demons – known as corelings – is to inscribe magical runes – known as wards – around your home, your village, even yourself.
If you don’t maintain these wards, renewing them nightly and developing them so they become stronger and more complex, the corelings will kill you.
This summer, in my small back garden, I have suffered attacks from my own personal nest of corelings, and am desperately putting out wards every evening to try and drive them away.

Slug. Ugh

Yep, slugs.
The warm, wet winter, spring and summer has caused a slug explosion, and these slugs mean business.
There are hundreds of them, lurking beneath leaves, under stones, inside the hosepipe, sliming their way across the window and even squelching their way under the kitchen door (imagine padding across a dark kitchen in your bare feet to get a drink and standing on what you assume is a cold, half-sucked Haribo. Oh yes).
These aren’t just those tiny black slugs either, but the big shiny ones with ridges and blowholes, in shades of mustard gas yellow and diarrhoea brown.
They come out at night and eat everything, down to the ground. And they, like Peter V. Brett’s corelings, are getting stronger.
a grey slug

A grey one, the colour of old, cold death

I look out of the window in the morning and see them owning the back yard, long after sunrise. Slugs are supposed to be afraid of sun, but now, drawing strength from their vast numbers, they simply shrug it off.
It is impossible to sit outside on an unusually sunny morning, with a croissant and coffee (get me) because of the brown jelly shapes brazenly patrolling the paving stones, like tiny moving turds.
I started doing a regular slug patrol, scraping them up from the concrete and picking them out of the plants. I regularly fill a plastic bag with their soft, oozing bodies, which I tip into the compost bin.
Slugs in a bin

The corelings making a doomed bid to escape the Compost Bin of Damnation

But more and more emerge from the Earth’s core, eating my lily bulbs and leaving mocking trails of glistening slime on the garage doors.
I don’t believe in pesticides, because, y’know, the planet and nature’s natural balance and all that. But when they ate the poppy I bought at the local beekeepers’ plant sale I saw it as a declaration of war.
Poppies are about the only thing I can grow, and this one was multi-coloured beautiful. And it was from the beekeepers, and bees are Good.
I bought some wards, in the form of a tub of blue slug pellets, and laid them out before nightfall.
The Warded Man

If I ask Arlen nicely, do you think he’ll come and vanquish my slugs for me?

It was carnage. The next morning you couldn’t move for melted slugs, motionless in thick bubbles of brown ooze. I scraped them up with a shovel, hosed down the slime and enjoyed my croissant and coffee. The next day it was the same, the day after that – it rained.
This being August, it rained for three days and the slug pellet wards washed away.
At lunchtime today I went out in the drizzle and picked up thirty-five of the demon slugs, brazenly meandering across the yard.
handful of slugs

This is what a handful of 35 slugs looks like. Cosy

But they haven’t won. Because, ultimately, they will succumb to the same weapon that stopped Napoleon and did for Hitler – winter.
Frost is forecast for this week. And, for once, I will be welcoming it in.


The ground elder plan for world domination

Despite the fact that gardening is as pointless as housework, only colder, filthier and you get scratched more, I have always enjoyed an afternoon with the secateurs and a trowel.

I find gardening calming and centring, despite having the very opposite of green fingers. I can’t make anything grow. Anything I plant, be it seed, bulb, rhizome or sapling, either never makes it out of the earth, or does so for one weakling season before fading into a brown mush, never to re-emerge.

Know your enemy…

But I am good at weeds. I can spot them out of the corner of my eye, and know exactly how far down to jabble my fork in order to pull out the tap root. Weeding is therapeutic – unlike dust, once a weed is gone it’s gone. Apart from one weed. The weed I know best of all: Ground elder. Ground elder is EVIL.

Ground elder doesn’t look evil, the way nettles do, or the frankly terrifying giant hogweed. But this is part of its plan. It has little green leaves, quite a nice green colour – quite nice leaves in fact, not spiky like thistles or coarse like dandelions. But that is just its cover story. The evil power of ground elder lies in its labyrinthine root system.

The roots are thin, maggot-coloured, and travel for miles. Miles and miles. At regular intervals they send up shoots with more leaves on, spreading more roots until there is a ghastly intertwined net underpinning your whole rockery.

These roots are sentient. They deliberately choose spots that makes them impossible to dig out; nestled down the sides of immovable stones or crazy-paving cracks, and, more nastily, in the middle of a clump of daffodils or crocuses. That way, when you try to tease them out, you pull up all your lovely innocent flowers as well.

ground elder and root

See that root? Now imagine it creeping round your NECK

And tease them out you must, for ground elder roots have a crafty survival mechanism. They are so brittle they snap when you grab them, so you leave half the roots still in the earth – where they regenerate.

Just the tiniest scrap of root holds enough power to take over your garden in a year. It will re-root itself, push out more evil rootlets and sprout those acid green leaves as soon as you turn your back.

Don’t leave the smallest speck of ground elder anywhere near the earth, and don’t, for the sake of the gods, chuck it in the compost heap. Burning is the only language ground elder understands.

Weedkiller? Ha! **bitter laugh**. Aren’t you paying attention? Ground elder is creeping and insidious – you find it nestled in among your lovely plants like a green cuckoo, starving them of daylight and nutrition. Spray it with poison and you spray them too.

I once spent a whole year getting rid of ground elder. Every time I went into the garden all I did was inch it out of the ground. I became a mite obsessed (you noticed?). I even started dreaming about it, about pulling those great long tangles of white roots out of the earth. I feared waking up one day to find it had reached the windows and was edging under the frames and sending its network of evil into the very framework of the house.

Somewhere there is a giant mother plant – Mother Elder – controlling all these roots, directing them towards each other so they can eventually join up and strangle the earth. One day my trowel and I will find Mother Elder and carefully take apart her roots, inch by strangulating inch. The bonfire will light up the horizon.


Choose your weapons

Until that day I burst forth on the first fine weekend of the year, gauntleted and armed with my favourite weeding fork, ready to hunt down the tiny shoots of ground elder that have re-emerged from the winter frost.

And when I find – and destroy – Mother Elder, all her insidious subsidiaries will wither and die, like Sauron’s army when the One Ring falls into the fires of Doom in Lord of the Rings. And I will have saved the world.