That Elusive Scarlet Pimpernel

Actually, 'Scarlet Pimpernel' isn't exactly accurate.

In the novel and play written by Baroness Orczy, the Scarlet Pimpernel is a mysterious and hard to catch hero. My personal Pimpernel is no hero. I don't even know if it is scarlet. What I do know is it's eating my aubergines. It has to be a slug or a snail.

Outside in the garden, there are many ways to control slugs and snails. Pellets, both chemical and those approved for organic use, are effective. As are biological controls and physical methods of deterrent. But in the greenhouse things get trickier. There are so many ways to get onto the plant and, let’s face it, the conditions are snug for slugs or snails. I say 'or' because, I'll be honest, I haven't found the culprit yet. I do, however, see the results of its (or their) nocturnal work every morning. Munched leaves, no visible slime trails on plants and no trace of the beast. Or beasts. Most importantly I see plants suffering, initially standing still but now on the decline. Poor show all round.

So, I could put copper tape around the pots but things are so crowded in the greenhouse I know it (or 'they' perhaps?) will find another route onto the plants. It is only a minor detour from ground level, up a nearby staging leg and across onto a leaf. I could sprinkle pellets about but if it is already on the plant or tucked under benching why would they bother eating them? Biological controls only work if the pest is in the soil. Egg shells, coffee grindings and anything irritating to the undersides of the marauding molluscs will be ineffective. This thing is in amongst the leaves I'm sure. But in the cramped environ of a greenhouse in full summer swing I cannot see it.

I could be radical and take all the pots out of the greenhouse, thoroughly inspect them, allow the local wild bird population to have a check and peck whilst I get a magnifying glass out and unearth the culprit. I could, but the summer has been so poor there really hasn't been a day where I can do it without running the risk of drowning the aubergines in a thunderstorm or getting them blasted by unseasonably high winds. Thinking about it, I couldn't clear the whole lot as the cucumbers are now strung up using an elaborate network of strings, canes and nails. There's no moving them until the end of the growing season.

It's infuriating that this non-heroic Scarlet Pimpernel is at large. If something can be at large in a confined space. The tomatoes are untouched, the cucumbers romp ahead unmolested and the peppers unscathed. As for the cacti – simply unconcerned. I will however track it or them down. They will not beat me and my aubergines.

'they seek him here, they seek him there' gardeners will seek him everywhere. And won't rest until he is found.

Stop press: another rainy day after an unusually hot Sunday and, low and behold, slug or snail slime highlighted in the condensation on the inside of the greenhouse glass. One step closer to discovering the culprit.