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"On every stem, on every leaf ... and at the root of everything that grew, was a professional
specialist in the shape of grub, caterpillar, aphis, or other expert,
whose business it was to devour that particular part."
-- Oliver Wendell Holmes
We have a lot of "professional specialists" in our yard, and I'm not talking about Jim and me!

This is the third of four entries in my "garden series," a bit of a departure from our running and travel adventures. Since I've spent as much of my time and effort (maybe more) this summer trying to keep up with the yard and gardens as I have staying fit and training for upcoming races, gardening is definitely on my mind.

One of the joys -- and frustrations -- of gardening in a rural area is sharing the land with wildlife. Lots of wildlife. I've dealt with most of these creatures at my more suburban homes previously, but not all on the same property and not to the extent that we do farther out in the country.

Monarch butterfly sips from a coneflower

There have been some humorous incidents as we try to outwit the numerous critters with whom we share our yard and woods. At all times we have to remember that no matter how much time, effort, and expense we've put into our gardens, the wildlife was here long before twenty houses for people were built in this neighborhood. This is their land, not ours.

We're willing to share, but we do want to keep some of the "fruits of our labor" to enjoy ourselves!

Here's a list of the wildlife we have seen. I'm sure there are more species we don't see.

  • deer
  • coyotes (per a neighbor)
  • foxes (per a neighbor)
  • rabbits
  • squirrels
  • chipmunks
  • wild turkeys
  • buzzards
  • hummingbirds
  • song birds
  • owls and woodpeckers
  • turtles
  • moles and voles
  • mice
  • frogs
  • lizards
  • poisonous and non-poisonous snakes
  • bees (honey, bumble, maybe more)
  • caterpillars butterflies
  • spiders galore
  • lots of other kinds of insects

Although some neighborhoods in the Roanoke area that back up to large public forests have "bear problems," I think we live far enough away from the national forests that we don't have any bears on our property. Black bears have proliferated in our area despite legal hunts during the winter to reduce their population. It drives me crazy that some folks think the bears are the problem and not the humans that encroach on their territory and tempt them with bird seed, dog food, and unchained garbage cans. It's sad when relocation of a persistent bear fails and (s)he has to be killed. Very few people or pets have ever been injured by a black bear in our area.

Bee gathering nectar (and pollen) from an ice plant


Many of the critters listed above have done some damage to our flower beds and peach trees. We don't try to harm them, just discourage them from eating tasty young leaves and flower buds! The dogs tend to deter the critters from the back yard during the daytime when they are outside, but Cody and Tater don't have access to most of the flower beds. We confine (?) them to about three acres of woods and the back yard with an Invisible Fence. We will never build a tall fence to keep deer out and we don't even put in a lower fence to keep rabbits out of the vegetable garden.

The deer and other animals are smart enough to know where the dogs can go and when they are/are not outside to guard the property from intruders. In other words, the wildlife basically have carte blanche to eat whatever they want in most of our yard!

And they do.

We've tried various (mostly humane) ways of deterring the critters but most of them aren't very effective, especially against the deer. I can relocate a turtle that appears to be munching on the pansies, below . . .

 Pansies! Yum!

. . . but it's nearly impossible to keep deer, squirrels, rabbits, moles, and other potentially destructive critters away.

The only animal we've tried to kill are the moles, and we gave that up the first year we moved in -- too messy and labor-intensive! (I don't have much more sympathy for the moles than for the snakes, I'm afraid. I could do without either species.)  Moles have destroyed a number of our garden plants and areas of grass with their burrowing. They've got quite the system of tunnels throughout our yard.

We lost the war on moles the first summer, so we gave it up.

Tater's never been interested in moles but Cody sure is. He can smell and/or hear them burrowing just below the surface of the grass. I don't know if he's ever captured one or not; I had another Lab that did. We've tried to train Cody not to dig them up, but it was really funny to watch him furiously digging a time or two in the past.

Deer like much of what we grow, including tulips, lilies, violet and other tender leaves, peaches and their leaves, etc. They even munch on some plants that are supposedly deer-resistant, like daylilies. They are pretty fearless, too, despite Tater chasing them out of the back yard every morning when she flies out the doggie door after eating breakfast! She used to do the same thing with antelope in our Montana yard. (Cody's never been one to chase deer or antelope much.)

We often see deer parading through the front and side yards during the day, and it's obvious when they've been foraging at night. They leave hoof prints, chewed plants, peach pits, and little piles of poop pellets in their wake. The two deer below were ambling across the road one day last fall after visiting our front yard:

But "deer gotta eat, too," as Jim would say, so the most we do to discourage them is occasionally spray [rather expensive] stinky Liquid Fence around the plants they love the most and the peach trees and use home remedies like dog hair and urine to repel them. (You don't want to know.) These deterrents are only partially effective against persistent deer, however. Any new plants we put in have to be deer-resistant or it's potentially "money down the drain."


Many of the critters in our yard are either beneficial or harmless to the plants, however. Bees help to pollinate the flowers, for example. I've been pleased to see so many honey bees and bumblebees this summer after reading about the bee crisis in some parts of the country (not enough to pollinate the crops)..

A bee and a butterfly dine on appropriately-named "bee balm" flowers


A closer view of the butterfly on bee balm

Butterflies and hummingbirds are a delight to have around. We truly have "butterfly gardens," thanks to the judicious selection of plants chosen by the former owners. I love watching them while I'm out in the yard. I can even see them through the window of the study when I'm on the computer.

Monarch butterfly on coneflower


They like coreopsis, too.

Here are some vivid close-ups of other insects I captured on film (er, pixels) as they explored various flowers in the garden:

Ant (?) in center of a lily


Cricket on a daylily (L);  fun with Photoshop (R)

Some of the birds on our property are not so helpful, although I love to watch them and hear them sing. The only feeders we have are for the hummingbirds. I haven't seen the hummers do any damage to our fruits or vegetables like the songbirds do. The latter love to peck into almost-ripe peaches and strawberries right before I want to pick them.

Maybe they'd stay away from our food supply if we provided some birdseed and water for them . . . but then we'd have to do battle with the squirrels to keep them out of the bird feeders!

So far we've been fortunate to not have too many critters raiding our vegetable garden. That's probably because it's in the back yard where the dogs can roam. I noticed only recently that the deer finally found the tomatoes and peppers; one morning some stems were bitten down and the most accessible ripe cherry tomatoes were gone. The best way to prevent that is to leave the dog door open at night . . . but then Cody wakes us up when the paper is delivered at 5AM.

It's always something. We need our sleep more than tomatoes.

Deer gotta eat, too.

Another flower photo I like: columbines. Fortunately, deer don't like them much.


Next entry: the peach saga (last of the garden series)


"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and Tater

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2008 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil