Tag Archives: squirrels

Ode to a Flower That Could Have Been

11 Jul

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a gardener in possession of flower beds and dogs must be in want of good sense. Or at least, must be prepared for disaster.

Earlier this year, we cleared a new flower bed in front of a section of our wooden fence. I carefully planted multiple gladiolus bulbs (my first foray into the fine art of growing gladioli), set up a small powder-coated steel garden fence in front of the bed to keep the dogs out, and sat back with eager anticipation. I watched the tiny shoots emerge and kept track as they grew, and was finally delighted to see the first spike beginning to bloom…

… and then I did two things that sealed the fate of that gladiolus and all its sisters. First, we built a patio, raising the level of earth (and patio) in front of the gladiolus bed. Meaning the distance from the ground to the top of the small steel garden fence protecting the gladioli was now shorter (just above knee height), with no way to compensate since the steel fence was set in lower ground. Second, I tidied up the garden after the patio was finished and attended to some long-neglected duties, including refilling the bird feeders for the first time in months. Within a day, the sounds of birds chirping filled the garden and I looked upon the scene with great satisfaction. And then the squirrels arrived.

Here is a photo from last year, which sums up the situation quite nicely:

If there is one thing that drives our dogs (Schnauzer 1 and Schnauzer 2) to utter distraction, it’s  s-q-u-i-r-r-e-l-s. Yes, our dogs recognize the word. In fact, they almost may be able to spell it by now, too. The gladiolus bed was (note use of past tense) in front of the wooden fence to the right of the bird feeder; squirrels hoping to get close to the feeder have to scramble across the top of that section of wooden fence. For our dogs, this is akin to waving a red cape in front of a mad bull. They go nuts. A day or so after I took the photo of the gladiolus, Schnauzer 1 (the smaller of the two dogs but the most zealous squirrel chaser) saw a squirrel dancing along the top of the wooden fence and immediately realized the new patio allowed her to clear the small steel garden fence quite easily, putting her within jaw-snapping distance of the squirrel. After an elegant leap landed her squarely on top of the gladiolus plants, she crashed through them, launching herself against the wooden fence in the hopes of shaking the squirrel off.

The gladioli survived this first game of rodent roulette, but just barely; they were all knocked over. So I propped them back up with stakes, set up a barricade of patio chairs in front of the flower bed, and yelled at the dogs. But instinct trumps all. Within another day, all the gladiolus plants were shredded; Schnauzer 1 went around, under, and over the chairs, or simply leapt the garden fence a bit further down the garden and trampled her way to the gladioli. Schnauzer 2 offered abundant vocal support. Here is a photo of the sorry scene–a couple of lilies were also leveled:


And here are the culprits, scanning the trees and fence lines for more enemy combatants. Wretched dogs…. I’m not quite ready to go the electric fence route, though each decimated plant moves me closer in that direction. So for now, it’s a choice between moving the bird feeder or filling it up only in the winter (which many people advocate anyway). I hope that with these additional precautions, I might actually see a gladiolus in bloom next year.

Cheeky Buggers: Squirrels

23 Jun

In this war I wage with squirrels, I have won most battles, aided originally by some chicken wire, but now mostly by my trusty sidekicks: Schnauzer 1 and Schnauzer 2 —  in front of whom we have to spell the word s-q-u-i-r-r-e-l, as saying the word out loud propels them to the back door in hot pursuit. Schnauzer 1 has yet to learn she cannot climb trees, despite 7 years of trying.

But squirrels are intrepid souls. What are a couple of earth-bound dogs when there are bird feeders full of seeds at arms length? Ok, not at arms length, but squirrels are nothing if not optimistic.

Today, I put up a second bird feeder…

… and then waited to see what would happen.  Sure enough, along came one cheeky little bugger:

…who then considered a leap of faith:

He ran across the top of the fence, gauged the distance for a jump (too far), went up the tree near the bird feeder to see if that got him any closer  (no), went down the tree in the hopes that a different direction would have closed the gap  (no), and appeared to give up. Until he realized the birds were knocking seeds onto the ground.  So maybe this battle was a tie.

2011: Lessons Learned from the Garden

21 Jun

When it comes to gardening, I learn as I go. In 2011, I learned some valuable lessons:

  1. Yarrow gets big and bushy and then it starts to fall open, exposing its barer, unattractive core. Of course, this could be due to the fact that perhaps one is supposed to stake Yarrow. But I am not about to start staking my plants. Harsh, I know — but when you don’t have a lot of time to garden, it comes down to survival of the fittest, not support for the floppiest. For this reason, Yarrow was on my do-not-resuscitate list. Actually, it earned a spot on my get-rid-of list, not only because of its spineless character, but also because when it fades, it doesn’t fade nicely. When I could no longer bear to look at it, I leveled it. And lo and behold, it bloomed again. For that act of bravery, it earned a reprieve. But I have my eye on it.
  2. Some plants, such as Asters, are space hogs.  Of course, had I paid more attention to info about plant spread, rather than just plant height, I might have realized this beforehand. This oversight on my part has caused some problems elsewhere in the garden, and I suspect I will be trimming or moving (or removing) plants in years to come for this very reason. As an example, Montauk Daisy is also a remarkable grower, and within one year, the two daisies I planted completely overtook the poor Asiatic Lilies in front of them, like a mother hen atop her eggs. The lilies did not survive the experience. The daisies are now on my watch list. As for the Asters, two of them had to go, and they did, in Spring 2012.
  3. Gaura (Belleza Dark Pink) did not survive the winter. All six plants died. I was willing to give them one more chance and plant them again, but I couldn’t find the same variety. Instead, I’ve planted Gaura (Passionate Rainbow), which caught my eye because of its wonderful foliage; you can see it here in the foreground (note the bushy green Montauk Daisy in the back). If this new Gaura does not survive, that’s it — I will move on to something hardier.
  4. Beware of hubris. A couple of my tulips did not come up in 2012. Those miserable squirrels (see the bottom of this post) must have figured out how to get them. But my squirrel-proof bird feeder gives them pause. Actually, it doesn’t; they just get the seeds that fall to the ground. Miserable squirrels.
  5. Marc Chagall said, “All colors are the friends of their neighbors and the lovers of their opposites.” But some flowers in my garden in 2011 just did not go well with their neighbors. They may have been friends, but they weren’t a love match. So I moved them. This is a lesson I learned a while ago — if you aren’t happy with a particular combination of flowers, if the colors don’t sing together, move things around. If the plants are hardy, they will be back next year. Otherwise, they shouldn’t be in the garden.
  6. Final lesson is one concerning dogs and gardens, but as there are as of yet no solutions to that particular problem, I will simply leave you with a photo of the two culprits:

2010: Garden Phase 1

19 Jun

Some of the very first plants I planted in our new flower beds in the summer of 2010 were NE Asters  (Purple Dome), a Crape Myrtle (Siren Red), two Porcupine Grasses, some Asiatic Lilies (Tiny Dino and Tiny Ghost), a couple Montauk Daisies,  Red Hot Pokers (Flamenco), Echinacea (Red Knee High, Rocky Top Hybrid, Big Sky Sundown) and some daylilies (Baby Darling). After getting them in the ground, I waited to see what would happen. What happened was that that I loved the Porcupine Grass as it grew tall and striped, the Crape Myrtle with its red new-growth foliage and its crimson blooms, and the fact that in late summer, the Asters exploded in masses of bright purple blooms surrounded by buzzing bees that our dog persisted in chasing despite retaliation on the part of the bees. And the Montauk Daisies are so cheerful that I forgave them for being white in a garden that is mean to be bright.

Here’s new-growth foliage on the Crape Myrtle, from this year, with Porcupine Grass in background:

But even with these plants, I was aware that the garden was still fairly bare. So in the fall of 2010, I planted bulbs under the watchful eye of the neighborhood squirrels. Having battled bulb-eating squirrels before, I built impenetrable defenses around my bulbs: I coated them in foul-smelling deer repellent spray before planting them, covered the planted area with chicken wire, added a bit more soil, and topped up with a light layer of mulch, which I sprayed again. It worked — no squirrels got my bulbs. Note: use this method only if you do not ever plan to move the bulbs elsewhere or plant anything else in close proximity to them.  The chicken wire served as a great defense against my own future landscaping plans. But I got the best of the squirrels, so it was a small price to pay to have to pull out the wire cutters a couple of years later.

Next: Phase 2.