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
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
- coyotes (per a neighbor)
- foxes (per a neighbor)
- wild turkeys
- song birds
- owls and woodpeckers
- moles and voles
- 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
LOSING THE BATTLE OF WITS
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 . . .
. . . 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
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
A bee and a butterfly dine on appropriately-named "bee
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
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
© 2008 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil