The pandemic is winding down, sort of. Despite the restrictions put upon us, I decided early in the spring, that this would be the summer of the flower garden. How much trouble can you get in, if you never leave the yard, right?
To that end, I retrieved pictures of a magnificent Door County Wisconsin garden that I wanted to replicate. Taking this photo in hand to a local nursery, I sought the help of a smiling lady who would identify and select the flowers I wanted to grow. She enjoyed my enthusiasm as I racked up the charges. She joyfully counted up the zinnia, rudbeckia, sweet potato vine, coleus, ageratum, gladiolus, alyssum and countless pots of geraniums. I was envisioning a floral presentation which would turn the heads of any passers by.
While I trailed behind her among the rows of flowering flats of annuals, I couldn’t help noticing the abundant displays of leafy, shade-loving plants as well. Perfect for the crabapple-covered berm in our front yard! So I loaded up on some plants blessed with strange and exotic names like hosta, lilies, caladium, coral bells, heartleaf, and lungwort, and pushed a crowded steel buggy back to the cash register. It was without doubt, the most expensive impulse I had enjoyed in a long time. And the flowers would pay that all off.
I won’t bore you with the earnest labors which followed, turning over the earth in our front, side and back gardens, pulling out the weeds and dead roots from prior year’s efforts. But count on it, the ground was mightily disturbed, and by the end of two weekends, I had planted all the greenery, laid down some delicious fertilizer, and watered.
The summer of the flower garden was off to an auspicious start. Every day through May and June I walked the perimeters, pulling out weeds, and smiling as blooms started to appear. Meanwhile, the perennials were covering for any spot not in bloom, so I watched as the shasta daisies blew up into a mountain of white, our bed of roses went wild all at once in multiple colors, evening primrose, sweet william, even our hollyhocks rocketed to new heights outside the fence. The day lilies lining our hedge delivered a marching brass band of orange trumpets. There was no end to the diverse display of blooms, and my dream of the summer flower garden was being fulfilled.
The dream was not mine alone however.
On an early morning stroll through the zinnia patch, I was stunned to find that five of the thirteen plants had been felled like prime pulp wood. The perpetrator left no footprints, but in a brazen attack on our sovereignty, had chewed through the stalks at knee height, bringing them to the ground where they were then masticated into shredded greens. Gadzooks!
I scratched my head at this, and then went to the side garden where the full Door County display had been planned. Calamity again. Three more zinnias, which are the tall variety and much counted on for color, had been trimmed and toppled. But adding to that injury, the same dastardly villain had also chowed down on the sweet potato vine. The vine, when mature, provides a brilliant light green, or a dark purple outpouring to the garden, knee high. It was at this time, lower than a coalminer’s boot.
I recalled a short discussion at the nursery: “Do deer or rabbits like sweet potato vine?” The helpful lady replied, “Well, they are a vegetable, you know.”
Galvanized by these assaults I quickly looked for our asiatic lilies and their brilliant orange blossoms. There they were, in shreds like forlorn tears, fallen from their completely denuded and decapitated stems.
It struck me that I had sown my own misfortunes. Back in April, while weeding around one of our hundreds of clumps of narcissus, I spied a small brown furry animal. It was a baby rabbit. Following his mother’s instructions, he was frozen in place, waiting for me to go away. But I didn’t. Looking around, I discovered that this little fellow had disobeyed a greater instruction: “Do not leave the nest!” Indeed, there was a nest, burrowed under the side of one of our roses. It was beautifully made with a soft bedding of warm, sun-soaked leaves, and at that moment, home to three more baby bunnies.
Then, I made the worst error possible. I informed my wife who is an ardent bunny lover, that we had a tiny family of four in our rose garden. After settling her down, and dampening those motherly instincts, I promised to leave the small nursery to itself. Cute little fellows, they were smaller than my fist, and had tiny bunny ears. How could I possibly harm even a whisker on their adorable heads?
We watched for them constantly, and after a couple of days, they had fled. Occasionally they would pop their heads out from under the back deck, or play a hopscotch game beside the yew hedge. We were entertained as they rolled in the sand–where there used to be a healthy lawn–and laughed as they nibbled on blades of grass.
So I was reconciled to a hands-off policy vis-a-vis the bunnies. As it turned out, one day a gorgeous red fox was skirting around the backyard. Foxes are quite extraordinary. They have sharp, well defined facial features which telegraph high intelligence. And their tail, it floats behind like a giant white-tipped bronze scarf in the wind. But most importantly, though sadly, they love rabbit. From that day on, the bunnies no longer frolicked in the yard. Except for one, whom I suspect is the same one that wandered from his nest as an infant. And he was now the numero uno in our backyard.
I thanked the fox under my breath, and explained to my wife about the circle of life and other esoteric philosophies about food chains, karma and rabbit ragout, which by the way is highly over-rated. We had rabbit once in a Montreal restaurant, and I nearly dislocated my jaw because of its rubbery texture.
The fox disappeared from our yard, and I saw that my best defense against further intrusions was a fence. I retrieved a sturdy green plastic net fence from the garage, and staked it up around the zinnias. I likewise circled the sweet potato vine in the vain hope it would recover. Returning to discuss my “wall” strategy, I was reminded of my promise.
“You won’t hurt the bunnies.”
“Nope. I am just cordoning off the area. We will co-exist.”
“Good, because they have a right to be here. And I like them.”
“No problem. We’re good.” I smiled and pursed my lips.
Next morning I returned to the garden to view the zinnias. Two more were down. But not eaten. Just snipped off at knee height and abandoned, with the blooms lying on the ground as if their necks were broken.
“What the hell?” I searched again for tracks. I found none. But looking closely, I found a small trap door had been incised through the green fence. Ankle high, the door was opened from the bottom, hinged at the top, and its sides neatly snipped off. “Crap!” I couldn’t believe it. The rodent had cut his way in, like Steve McQueen in the Great Escape. To his credit, he mischievously decided not to eat the flower, but just to kill it, to vex me.
Doubling down, I placed bricks against the hole. “That’ll do it, mister. I am onto you now.”
Next morning, I couldn’t get out to the garden fast enough, and to my dismay, another hole appeared in the fence. And he had cut through three giant marigolds. Rabbits don’t like marigolds. They smell, and they leave orange stains like Cheetos. Still the bunny had struck again.
“Do you know what he’s done now?” I challenged my wife. She responded defensively, “You need to share. They’re hungry too, you know. I think they’re cute.” The fact is I kind of admired the little varmint. The bricks had only egged him on. “I gotta get a better fence!”
ACE Hardware had just the thing– a black plastic, tight mesh fence, 30″ high. I brought it home, and wrapped it around the original green fence. “There. That’ll show ya.” I mumbled to myself. Our summer of the flower garden was getting off to a rocky start, but I felt that there was still time to bring it across the finish line in full bloom. Mind you, the garden was taking on the appearance of a prison yard.
Next morning, I stared out the living room window, wondering if I should even take the regular patrol. “What the hell, may as well.” So out to the yard I went, and carefully navigated among the geraniums to get to the prized zinnias. Almost with silent admiration, I gasped, “Two more down! How the heck did he do that??” I should point out that these zinnias are the “cut and come again” variety, according to the little plastic bookmark that comes with each pot. It dawned on me that perhaps the rabbit could read.
Looking closer, I found a section of the new fence where it did not cover the old green one. And there, like the open door to a rabbit smorgasbord was a perfectly carved opening. The bunny had precisely cut a 3″ x 5″ entrance, leaving no sloppy trim, no hanging flaps. A tech school grad could not have done better. I actually think he preferred the new material.
The surprise of this latest violation was that he had cut down no new flowers. I suspect he wanted to leave them for a later meal. But I am off to ACE again, this time, for a steel fence, and perhaps a 12-volt battery.
My plans for the magnificent summer of the flower garden continue, but I now admit that I have a hidden partner in the operation.
Thanks for reading and sharing! I hope you have better luck with your summer garden!