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July 07, 2006


Your experience has been much like mine recently. We have three lovely trees on our property, but, sadly, the trees are drinking up all the water and the grass has just about given up the ghost. My husband loves it and calls it "shabby chic," but I yearn for a more orderly look. Then, like you, I'll go out in the yard one morning and see all the lovely birds, the small green apples for the squirrels, well, all of the things you described so much better than I. It's so hard to just let go, isn't it?

Nature adores messiness. No doubt 99 percent of our visitors are appalled by the way we "neglect" our yards, but to us it's the exact opposite: we're nurturing them. (And I do plant new trees and shrubs, which is something the previous owners didn't do for much of the 20th century in their zeal to maintain acres of mowed lawn and arrow-straight drainage ditches and fences.)

Beth, this is a beautiful story.

As a new gardener I find I have crossed over to the other side, the side that views pocket gophers and ground squirrels as vermin not wildlife, real honest native have-a-right-to-live here wildlife. Then I catch myself.

I can line my beds with hardware cloth against the gophers. I can put fences up against the cottontails and jackrabbits, but come winter when the ground softens, they can tunnel under. And the ground squirrels will get my tomatoes no matter what. They can climb anything. At least at the moment we don't have rats... but when they next plant corn, we will.

I like the idea of just sitting and contemplating it all and rededicating your beautiful garden to the birds. Thank you for this.

Thanks for these comments - I'd like to hear what others have to say about this. I've actually been thinking for a couple of years about replacing the more labor-intensive, finicky perennials with shrubs - many of which are great food plants for wildlife anyway. Nature seems to be doing this for me, but a bit more intentional planting would just help things along and give the birds what they most like. It's amazing how quickly, when the cover increases, especially the sub-tree brushy cover, the number of species increases. Once I've gottne to a point of acceptance, I find I can move into a different space - literally! - with a benevolent and practical purpose that is simply different from what we had before. It feels a whole lot better to have made this shift in my consciousness of the garden, becasue it is the one part of the whole moving thing that has bothered me the most and created the greatest sense of loss.

...and as I think about my garden when I'm away, it won't be with that heart-wrench, but with pleasure at the thought of all the creatures living in it, in the middle of a small town moving toward suburbanization. Maybe that won't last forever, but it can last as long as we own the house.

"My onions all got the screwfly.'
"That's a pity. You like onions."
"Even screwflies've got to eat."

-The Sea and Little Fishes
Terry Pratchett.

You eco-rebel!
I decided to turn the top of my garden into a wildlife haven this year. Well, the decision was really taken for me, I've been too busy buying a house in France and selling this one and leaving corporate etc to garden much... anyway, it transpires that nettles are the most eco-sustaining plant that a suburban garden can harbour, that all kinds of butterflies and 'beneficial' (to whom?) insects adore nettles and thrive where they are left to grow...
how lucky! I have nettles a plenty and, now that the sun is shining, a garden that is positively bursting with butterflies!
I say, leave a corner for the 'others', let nature re-establish its equilibrium and sit back and admire...
and please, for the benefit of this inhabitant of rural Oxfordshire, what, pray is a woodchuck?

Julia, I've added a photo (by J.) of the lovely creature himself. They are also called ground hogs; they're fat and not very nice, and can be extremely destructive. We sometimes trap ours in a hav-a-heart trap baited with broccoli and peanut butter, and take them up in the hills for "relocation." I don't think this one would even fit.

Beth, thanks for the picture... it looks like a guinea-pig'ish type creature.
Nothing like that is ever seen in rural Oxfordshire.
All I get are live mice deposited, like future-favours, on my bed in the wee-small hours by felines that are over-anxious to please.
And foxes and the occasional deer which, if you have never seen an occasional deer, is exactly the same as a regular deer, just not so frequent!
Good luck with Chuck!

Thanks for your comment, Julia, and for asking me to post a picture of my friend. I dumbly assumed everyone knew what woodchucks were because they're so common here - of course you don't know them! They are indeed sort of like guinea pigs, but much larger - this one stands about two feet tall when he's on his hind legs. They have big yellow front teeth which they chatter angrily at you when cornered. Our beavers are similar, but with a big flat tail, and of course beavers live in the water. Woodchucks have little furry tails. They've lent their name to the language too - rough, uneducated rural locals in New England are unflatteringly called "woodchucks."

Field mice are MUCH more attractive!

Aw, you didn't tell your British readers the doggerel the Woodchuck has inspired. So, how much wood does a woodchuck chuck, if a woodchuck would chuck wood?

...and you have to say it FAST: it's a tongue-twister.

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Who was Cassandra?

  • In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.