Monday, 4 August 2014

A Prickly Problem

Posted by Rosie

Situated deep in rural Normandy, Eco-Gites of Lenault is lucky to have a very healthy wildlife population around and about.  On the bird front this includes one of my best-loved small birds, goldfinches.  One of the favourite foods of goldfinches are the seeds of thistles and related plants and they seem oblivious to the spikes on the plants as they flit among the plants gathering the downy seeds.  When we first arrived here, the area that is now the play area was full of thistles and we saw many goldfinches.  Now these have been cleared the goldfinches have to look else where for their seeds ... not too far though as there are thistles plenty around ... including this lovely large patch between one of the pig pens and the veg patch.  

A Prickly Problem - our thistle patch

But there is a problem.  

On the plus side, thistles, as well as providing seeds for goldfinches, are much loved by bees, butterflies and other insects.  

But on the minus side they are a really prickly problem in the veg garden growing faster than the veg and being painful to weed out by some-one like me who prefers not to garden in gloves.

A bee feasting on a thistle

We have been watching this patch of thistles grow knowing what a great wildlife resource it is but also knowing what a menace thistles are in the garden.  Should we let it go to seed or should we strim it down?  There is also the issue in France that if you do not keep certain agricultural weeds under control (including thistles and blackberries) you can get a message from the Mayor's Office advising you to clear them or ... actually I don't know what stick they use to get you to clear them but I would rather not receive such a letter.  (In fairness though, I very much doubt our little patch would be on their radar, but you never know!).

Anyway, we have decided - well actually I have and the thistle patch must go.  I am finally getting on top of the thistles in the veg patch and if the seeds the goldfinches don't eat get blown in there it will be put back several years of hard work.

However we are not totally without thistles - there are a good number in the area we call the quarry beyond the play area and this is well away from the veg patch.  There is also our herb garden and whilst there are no thistles there the mint, marjoram and other herbs are an absolute magnate for bees and butterflies.

Butterflies on our herb garden

Hopefully we have found a compromise that keeps both me the gardener and the local wildlife happy.  I would love to have kept these thistles but I know my fingers would tell me otherwise later on.

Would you have kept the thistles for the wildlife or would you have cleared them?  Please to drop us your views in a comment.


  1. Cleared them, definitely. Catnip serves the same purposes and much less painfully.

  2. It's a tricky one. Thistles are very pretty and such great magnets for wildlife. However I wouldn't want to risk them getting into my veg patch either #whatsthestory

  3. I love thistles-so beautiful and structurally interesting. Plus, they're my national emblem but I'd have got rid too-they take over :)

    1. Simon strimmed them although I did notice one small one surviving in the front field ... just for you Scots :)


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