During this year of quarantine and lockdown my garden has been my saviour… however it has also highlighted the way that gardening ‘for wildlife’, or aiming for a ‘wildlife friendly’ approach has its downside and begs the question, is it wrong to aspire to a garden which is pleasing to both the indiginous wildlife and humans!
By humans I suppose I really mean me. I haughtily tell myself, at the beginning of each season that I want to garden for/with insects, invertebrates, butterflies and moths…all those wonderful goals we set ourself on a lonely journey to safeguard our environment. I scour plant and seed catalogues, homing in on the bee and insect friendly choices. Consequently I am also choosing colours and scents which are so important to me as well as form and motion…I love grasses. I am secretly pleased with myself. I feel good about the prospect of a colourful, scented, responsibly chosen summer ahead.
Slowly reality hits as the new shoots and seedlings begin to poke their aspiring heads above the ground. The waves of annuals I have sown, the hopeful shoots on new perennials, which are carefully chosen for their sustainable planet credentials, disappear overnight both from beds and the greenhouse, even the infant tomato seedlings.
Immediately I ascribe blame…too warm, too chilled, over/under watered. Then I examine the damage more closely. Digging. Inside and out, similar signs of digging. Rabbits…definitely rabbits outside as looking closely I see scrapes…lazy-bunny sleeping hollows. Not so easily solved inside the greenhouse until I notice and investigate damage to every bean pot…not a bean to be seen… either eaten or stolen. Mice…or worse.
I order more seed, more beans, opting occasionally for tiny plug plants so some things arrive on time for planting out, rather than lagging behind the seasons. When all arrives I replant and then raid the various holly bushes around the garden and cut twigs to arrange around or over my second sowings.
I try to remain positive when the a similar thing happens, although holly seems to be effective around the tomato plantlings supplied (then ignored for a few days while the Covid Virus dies off) by a good friend with much more success than I so far this year. Now I am becoming downhearted. I have to get tough. The third attempts are sown into pots with the intention of growing them on then transplanting into beds once past bunny nibbling height.
I must confess to dire action in the greenhouse involving traps…best not mentioned considering my avowed ‘wildlife friendly’ aims… however it was our home grown harvest v mouse feast. I felt guilty but slightly vindicated as shopping was by now a weekly battle best not catalogued here!
I love dahlias, with all their colour, flounce and blousiness which more than makes up for their lack of perfume. By now poking tentative shoots were poking out into the sunlight and the new additions had very healthy shoots where they were being nursed indoors. These, I was determined, would be protected until they reached above bunny height so I erected a low fence around the new ones and protected the existing ones with cut off water bottles. Those inside the fence did better than the bottled ones, but both were still being eaten. I raised the fence around the the new ones and added a low fence to the bottle ramparts. The new ones…great. The older ones not so much.
I re-examined my defences and also wondered about the culprits a little more having photographed tracks which were not rabbit nor dog and much too big to be rodent.
It is also worth noting that by this time I had recorded a few things not being eaten…Amaranth seedlings, bunny’s ears, Verbascum, Salvias, Flag Irises.
I wondered whether the rabbits around me had learned to walk on stilts. The damage was continuing to the other plants (Sunflowers, new Artemesia, grasses, Cardooms, Rudbeckia), as they emerged from their water bottle shells. The answer came during the middle of one afternoon as I glanced out of the window to the front garden.
Deer. I had to add deer to the legions of wildlife snacking on my plants. Now, mice, rats, rabbits, slugs, for these I can envisage some element of control. Squirrels it seems can also be put off by spinning CDs hung in young trees and water bottles are also useful to prevent bark stripping. Butterfly and bird netting can encourage the success of vegetables and soft fruit. Deer however…short of a six foot-plus fence around the complete garden, I had and continue to have no clue as to how to deter.
And so we are pretty well up to date. I still cannot stop the deer despite hanging bunting all around in the hope the fluttering would worry them away from their snack. Mice, least said…and rabbits it is two stage fencing and waterbottle towers.
Don’t misunderstand, I have many veg successes but few colourful flowers. Those seeds planted into pots were never deemed safe to transplant so I have spent many lockdown hours watering. I continue to attempt to save the old and beloved dahlias.
Deer it seems love to eat just about anything even Bear’s britches, ostensibly impossible to kill off…not so. Deer eat them.
As an afterthought, I have managed to nurture one new plant this year … in a pot … and I love it … so do the wildlife it has to be said but this one survived their best efforts. It is humble, grown from seed but glorious outside the window as I sit to muse. It is bright, airy, energetic and cheerful.
This will definitely be on my list for next year…after all, 2021 is going to be a glorious year all round.