Right from the off let’s state that some people are going to become marginally hacked off with me for writing this blog, but it kind of follows in my theme, we have an ongoing battle with critters that nibble, dig up or squash stuff in our gardens. Perhaps this posting would have occurred later on however, I have things on the brain regarding Bob, and need to unload. Bob is our cat here in Grange, along with his many cat mates they are the scourge of this garden. However, the main emphasis is about ‘critters’ of all kinds who take up residence in our contract gardens.

Bob the Cat in full summer sleep mode

It may be helpful to itemise the critters that cause damage in some gardens. Of course the type of critters in our gardens are likely to be affected by our rural aspect in the English Lake District. Potentially folk who possess a rooftop garden in Soho are unlikely to have their roses ravaged by red deer.

Garden Critters in order of nuisance value:-

  • Rabbits
  • Deer
  • Moles
  • Rodents
  • Badgers
  • Sheep, yes Sheep!
  • Cats
  • Dogs
  • Squirrels
  • Birds
  • Snakes

Rabbits

Very tricky blighters. They dig and eat their way through a garden with devastating speed.

We look after several properties that are used for holiday letting. There is nothing more discouraging than turning up to mow a lawn and find carrots covered in chomp marks strewn across the lawn. Beatrix Potter created Peter Rabbit, but she didn’t tell the tourists to feed them. Surely the tourists can see the rabbits demolishing our flower beds.

What to do?

Exclude them. At least with rabbits the wire netting isn’t as substantial, the rabbits do have a fair set of gnashers though and are capable of chewing through chicken wire which has a more open mesh. Eventually they may dig under the wire so it is a good idea to peg it down. Good luck you will need it.

Deer

Without a shadow of doubt, are the toughest problem for us to deal with. The area is awash with roe and red deer that roam throughout the woods, spill down from the hills and traverse the gardens mostly during the night. As they travel they browse, nipping off shoots and buds without much other damage. The Lake District has both roe and red deer, in the main we are troubled by roe deer. In some respects this is a bonus because the roe deer are lazier than the red and don’t reach up on their hind legs, so they only browse the low growing plants.

During Winter they are at their most pernicious, they become hungry due to reduced food in the woods and find our gardens full of succulent plants and emerging new shoots are irresistible. For a family of deer it must be like an episode of the Great British Nibble Off as they ghost through, snacking on whatever takes their fancy, unfortunately lots of plants take their fancy.

One previously magnificent garden is particularly prone to damage. Sadly on this garden there is no means of exclusion because it is totally open. We can identify two areas that the deer rest, one aucuba hedge has a virtual tunnel down one side with shedloads of pungent droppings where they have scoffed their way in. Earlier this year we reduced the hedge considerably and wonder how the deer find reduced rations…ha…take that!

The most disheartening sights are roses after a deer foray. One of my favourite jobs is shrub and standard rose pruning, it is a skill that few possess, the results can be spectacular. Less spectacular are the amateur attempts by a family of deer. They seem to wait until the buds are just about to burst and then they launch a pruning assault. The roses are left looking like some drunk has walked through the bed after a night out, grabbed clumps of the delicate shoots and hacked them off with a butter knife.

What to do? The only foolproof way is to exclude them, and this can be costly. For red deer the fence needs to be 2 metres (about 6′ in old money) high so that they won’t jump over. Without exclusion some proprietary treatments are available, commercial crops are sprayed to deter the deer, and can be bought in smaller quantities for garden use. We have tried several times, and I believe it does work. Spraying needs to be done in dry conditions, and new growth, after the spray has been applied, is likely to be snaffled if left untreated.

Moles

Sometimes when a mole moves into a garden it can seem interesting, afterall it isn’t every day that you get a crazy creature in your garden that lives most of it’s life underground. Let me tell you, if you get troubled by moles you will struggle to evict them without resorting to drastic and nasty means. I read a blog the other day that suggested placing a bamboo cane in the ground with a cd inserted plus a piece of string with a cd tied to the string. Theory being the cds would clack around, the wind would wiggle the cane and the whole lot would create enough vibration to deter the moles. Hmmm…I have my doubts. In fact I think it would just look downright stupid and be nothing more than a talking point for your neighbours.

We use mowers with heavy metal rollers, and these can have an effect on moles that are living under the lawn. In the main I think it is best to thank the moles for creating a place where you can collect wonderful soil, take the pile of loose soil and distribute it around your garden.

It is also quite a novelty to walk on a heavily infested moled up area, can feel like walking on a garden feather bed. Go for a mole spike that is supposed to deter them with sonic booms and vibrations, but in the end the only way to remove a mole is to catch it and take it for a holiday to the other side of town. Good luck.

Rodents

Mice and rats are such quick and secretive animals that seeing them at their work is unusual. The main problem for us is the way they will scuttle out of the dry stone walls, nibble various plants and dig up and chew through some bulbs. Things like euonymous are particularly prone to attack. We don’t mind them in the garden so much, the damage they inflict can be minimal. Only other area that they can become troublesome is in a compost heap where food scraps are added. We discourage people from adding food scraps to an open compost bin for this reason, if they can find a safe place to breed they will use these food scraps to proliferate rapidly.

Badgers

We have badgers in and around most gardens. They do little damage apart from leaving snuffle marks in lawns from time to time. The only other problem is the way they will force a way under a mesh fence to travel across a property. Badgers are ok for us.

Sheep

Talk to the farmer quick. Sheep usually arrive in our gardens after escaping from a field where a gate has been left open, they do scale walls and will chew a way through thin hedges, so it is a problem that needs to be addressed by the owner. In a garden they can be totally destructive in a short space of time. Even a lamb is a powerful animal, they destroy retaining walls, pull up plants and irreversibly damage anything they get their jaws around. Ever tried catching a lamb? We have run around to the point of exhaustion in a vain attempt to get them through a gap in hedges. No wonder a farmer needs a sheepdog. Pray that sheep don’t get into your garden, it could be terminal.

Cats

Bob helping sedums to spread out!

These beasts are lovely pets for some, but for us gardeners they can become dirt terrorists. It is easy to become upset with them, and it is down to their toilet habits. Cats are fastidious, clean themselves for hours on end and mince around as if they are walking in stiletto heels. They are full of character and will sit fascinated by us working for ages. But they are just too fussy when it comes to going to the loo.

Invariably when we dig over a bed or dress a bed with composted bark the cats will run around the neighbourhood, screetching…PARTY TIME. Of course they bury their waste. We walk in it unknowingly, but worst of all, the absolute pits is when we are weeding and uncover a mound.

Oh how we dislike cats in the garden.

What to do? Curse and shrug, hope the owner converts the feline to a house cat.

Dogs

Companionable, friendly, intelligent but most of all playful. Dog fouling isn’t the same problem as it used to be with public awareness heightened in recent years. We seldom find dog waste any more. Their downfall is how playful they are. Owners understandably play with their dogs and in the process frequently cause damage to the gardens. One absolutely lovely dog comes to see us within 10 minutes of arriving, she runs up to us with a huge grin on her face then proceeds to tear up around the garden, muck and plants are skittered all over the place. No solution, mention it to client to deter any accusing finger then grit teeth and smile.

Squirrels

Conflict of interests in the Lake District between the Grey and the Red. Squirrels occasionally dig up things, bury things and hide things in awkward places, but they aren’t responsible for serious damage in the garden. They will chow down heavily on the bird feeders and are powerful enough to can-open mesh on peanut feeders. Solution is to get a squirrel proof feeder. Simples.

Birds

We love birds, and can forgive them all their misdemeanours. They are troublesome for fruit and veggie gardeners, but we are ornamental gareners in the main and the birds can share in the fruits of our labours any time they like

Snakes

Grass snakes and Adders are occasionally discovered in the larger gardens, Grass snakes more frequently than Adders. They don’t do any damage to the plants, it is the surprise factor to our cardiovascular systems when we discover one that is the danger. Taking the cover off some compost bins has uncovered a few big boys and they are scary every time. One lad was standing on top of a compost bin squashing down the waste when a huge snake slithered out from the corner and over the edge, I heard his yelping for ages. Needless to say we left the bin alone after that in case the snake was breeding, eventually we plucked up enough courage to filter through it and thankfully found nothing.

We live quite comfortably with all the critters, and we love to see them in the gardens, but the cats and dogs cause us to suffer the most and we can’t do much about it.

Ho hum

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