You may want to kill me for saying this, but I say, “Bring on the critters.”
If you happen to be fortunate enough to find yourself in Invermere, B.C. any time soon you will notice that every tree on the main street has a wire cage around it. These have been installed at great expense to taxpayers in an attempt to prevent deer damage. It is difficult to have a garden in Invermere as the deer there have developed a palate for just about every living thing with leaves.
Squirrels have this in common with deer, I find. When they are finished eating everything in sight that comes naturally to them, they start chowing down and destroying many of the plants that are not normally on their menu. “Why is a red squirrel ripping the bark off my mature sugar maple?” one reader asked. My answer: “I have no idea.” To get the answer you would have to get inside the brain of a squirrel and I am just not interested enough in the subject to become a full time neuro-student of squirrels.
I say, “Garden calm and I will carry on.” With apologies to my British friends.
I do not have deer or rabbits in my garden. I hear the horror stories about them when I travel, mostly out of the densely populated urban centres of the country and into the small towns and rural areas. While on a speaking engagement in Muskoka recently, I took questions from the audience. The enquiries about deer damage quickly became a theme of the evening. “Everyone with a deer problem, there is a special meeting afterwards. We will sit in a circle and have a deer therapy session,” I suggested. It got a laugh but we did not meet afterwards and there were no definitive answers to this dilemma.
This column is not for deer-victims. It is for the more urban set that wake up to raccoon scat on the patio or skunk smells where they were grubbing for grubs in the lawn. I know your frustration with rodents as many of them are dumped at the end of our driveway at our property north of the city. You want racoons, skunks and squirrels? We have them in spades. Many are “city rodents.” We can tell because they act kind of confused: raccoons that wander around in the daytime looking for shelter and squirrels that are chased around by their more local, native cousins. They look lost because they are. But they do precious little damage. For the most part, they seem to be a nuisance when we pay too much attention to them.
There are many critters that we tend to demonize.
Bats do not advertise well. We have many notions about them that are not grounded in fact. While they can carry rabies, they are less likely to than ground-dwelling rodents and coyotes. They may bite if you cornered one, but I cannot find reports of them biting humans.
Bats consume flying insects in voracious quantities. They can consume enough mosquitoes to equal their body weight in one evening. Bat populations are generally in decline and that is too bad: we need more native bats.
Snakes get a bad rap, too. I have no idea why. I think that the story about the Garden of Eden did them a poor service and set them up to fail in the public relations department. Perhaps the fact that they are cold-blooded is a turn-off for some people. The truth is, they control mice and large insects like slugs, earwigs, grubs and the like quite effectively. What is not to like, except they aren’t cute.
Chipmunks are cute. And we are overrun with them. This summer they have burrowed under the locust tree in my back yard with abandon. They run and jump and skip and play, chasing each other like identical twin boys with way too much energy. Sometimes they make us laugh out loud. Any damage that occurs in our yard due to excess chipmunk activity is forgiven because they are cute.
You know what aren’t cute? Coyotes. They come over to our place most evenings and howl at the moon and each other between midnight and four in the morning, often right under our bedroom window. Coyotes are like the screaming baby that is not satisfied by a bottle of warm milk: they just seem to enjoy howling.
Coyotes are the reason why I yawn a lot mid-afternoon this time of year. They may also be the reason why I don’t have deer or rabbit problems in my garden. Perhaps I should send a few of them to Invermere.
Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, author and broadcaster. Get his free monthly newsletter at markcullen.com. Look for his new best seller, “The New Canadian Garden,” published by Dundurn Press. Follow him on Twitter @MarkCullen4 and Facebook.