By Ruth D’Alessandro, The Wildlife Gardener The Wildlife Gardener has special powers. She can talk to hornets. Just recently she has had a couple of ‘up close and personal’ encounters with hornets that could have been quite nasty had she not talked her way out of them.
The Wildlife Garden House is having a lot of work done to it by a band of rather jolly builders. While replacing the ancient oil boiler the boss man needed to test the pipes in the loft, and, unwilling to send his 30-stone labourer up there for fear of him falling between the joists through a ceiling, he sent The Wildlife Gardener up there instead. The Wildlife Gardener always enjoys creeping about in lofts ” all manner of fascinating creatures may live there, including bats and wasps. The critical part of climbing into our loft occurs when you leave the safety of the stepladder to dangle momentarily on the loft hatch like Nadia Comaneci on the parallel bars at the Montreal Olympics. Once you get a leg up through the hatch you’re reasonably safe. As I hung, arms locked, above the hallway, a thrumming sound like a B52 bomber arrived from nowhere, an inch from my ear. I had two choices: I could panic, drop onto the stepladder which would probably topple down the staircase and break my neck or I could keep very still and perhaps be stung by a hornetâ€¦ I chose to keep still. The buzzing creature, obviously attracted to the light, landed on the hatch frame. A magnificent queen hornet, 5cm long, regarded me as I lowered myself, Brian Jacks-like back down onto the stepladder. I didn’t fancy wandering round the loft with this beastie loose, so I found a postcard and a pint beer glass and climbed back up the ladder. Ma’am was still there on the frame. “Hello Missus, I’m just going to let you go outside”. The hornet backed away from me, obviously a bit scared. I gently placed the glass over her and slid the postcard underneath, unfortunately trapping one of her feet under the glass rim. She buzzed furiously as I gingerly carried the glass down the ladder to the nearest open window. I passed the builders with my prize and one of them said: “That was up there yesterday”. Oh, thanks for telling me… As I removed the postcard and shook the glass, the hornet flew out and turned to face me, hovering angrily. Is this the part where I get stung? “Go on, off you go” I said, gesturing to the expanse of the Wildlife Garden. And the hornet turned and flew off towards the oak tree. Phew. A few days later, I was doing my bread-and-butter writing work in my study with the window open. A worker hornet thundered in, looking me square in the eye. Not wanting to abandon my paragraph I simply said: “You should not be in here. Go outside and find yourself some caterpillars”. And it turned and went back out through the window. I subscribe to the view that hornets are much gentler creatures than wasps. Although, when regaling my flooring supplier with the loft story he solemnly recounted the death of his brother-in-law from a single hornet sting: this unfortunate gentleman was one of those unlucky hyper-sensitive people who go into anaphylactic shock with one sting. Just today, the eldest junior Wildlife Gardener was stung by a wasp in the car as we negotiated a tricky roundabout. I opened all windows, and through the screaming, ordered the wasp out of the car (I didn’t want to get stung while driving). Apparently it flew out as I accelerated along the A25. As I mused on my encounters with Vespa species this week, I was struck by the idea that, just perhaps, a soft answer turneth away wasp.