In the Garden December 2015

By Rhiannon Allen

Dear Santa,

It’s the time of year when I retreat to a fireside seat and dream of next year’s garden. What do I want for next year’s sunny days? This year, as I think about that, my thoughts turn not to the flora, but to the fauna of the garden.

The reason this pops into my mind is that this year’s mild spring might have encouraged unusually ravenous pests who got an early start and a lot of offspring. Another mild winter might bring the same problems. I don’t know if you can give me a solution to the fecund meadow voles that almost devastated my rock garden. In case you’ve never had the opportunity to deliver tiny Christmas gifts to them, these are stout, small-eared mouse-like rodents with relatively short tails. They often chew bark and eat small plants, but their sneakiest habit is using underground burrows to attack bulbs and roots. I know they have a place in our ecosystem, but this was really a boom year for them, and I don’t expect them to crash anytime soon given the warm winter that is forecast. Last winter, they ate most of my tulip bulbs and destroyed a number of other plants. I am not looking forward to a repeat.

I am trying to think of what you can get me to discourage these creatures next year. I did some research, and a number of websites recommended outdoor cats. Well, that’s not going to happen because cats are responsible for a huge number of bird kills. I’d rather keep our cats indoors. Other solutions are not appealing because they are either not very effective or humane, or are potentially hazardous.

But speaking of cats, I used to use suet cages to save catnip plants from destructive cats by letting the plants grow through a cage placed over the base of the plant, allowing cats to nibble the leaves without uprooting or crushing the entire plant. Perhaps you could put a large suet cage under the tree this year. If you did, next autumn I could place some spring bulbs in it, and then bury the entire assemblage in the garden. This wouldn’t work for thick-leaved hyacinths, but might work for bulbs with smaller leaves. If this solution works, I know what to put on next year’s wish list.

Fortunately, fat little voles are poor climbers and jumpers, and cannot scale the walls of our raised vegetable patch. I wish that I could say the same thing about rabbits. In previous years, the rabbits were content to graze our lawn. This year has been a different story. I feel like Beatrix Potter’s Mr. McGregor, constantly chasing them out of our vegetable garden. First they ate all our lettuce. Then they ate all our parsley. They even ate our cilantro before moving on to the kale. I tried cutting toilet paper and paper towel tubes into little protective sleeves for seedlings, but that didn’t stop them at all. Our sole remaining cilantro plant is growing inside a little cage of pointy twigs. Frankly, it looks ridiculous… and lonely. I considered putting up a fence around the entire raised bed, but it might be difficult to reach over the fence to harvest the protected vegetables.

I noticed that Gardeners Supply Company is selling a new product that just might do the trick. The product is called a chicken wire cloche. Cloches are bell- or dome-shaped protectors that you place over a plant to protect it from nibbling wildlife or from the elements. Originally manufactured in glass, plastic cloches have been available for many years. The new wire ones seem much better for protecting plants from wildlife. At 1 lb., they are heavier than most large plastic cloches and floating row covers, and will probably not need staking. That would make it easier to remove the cloche to harvest leaves from salad greens. Because they are wire, they will let in rainfall and also allow the plant to breathe freely. At $20 each, they are rather expensive, but I would be happy with even one, just to give it a try.

Unfortunately, none of these will deter slugs, wood lice or insects. So I won’t look askance if you plonked a large plastic cloche or some floating row cover with garden staples beside the tree. Staked carefully enough, they should do the trick.

Now, all these things are too big to stuff in a Christmas stocking. So don’t forget a pair of those lightweight colorful Atlas 370 Nitrile garden gloves, size small. They should fit easily into my stocking.

Did you know that Garden Tour XIV will probably take place in late June 2016, since gardens are expected to peak early after an El Niño winter? Watch for announcements next spring.

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