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I'm a woman entering "the third chapter" and fascinated by the journey.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The paradox of wildlife gardening

The point of gardening for wildlife is to attract critters, but we would like for them to leave us enough attractive plants for our gardens to be recognizably gardens, right? Given that those of us in town have yards visible to neighbors and passersby, a certain aesthetic acceptability is expected (though how Andrew Jackson Downing managed to convince people in the 19th century that large expanses of alien turfgrass constituted a democratic American--and therefore moral--landscape has always confused me). The lawn-haters among us therefore tend to plant things that bloom or have interesting foliage. The wildlife gardeners among us hope to see lots of birds, butterflies, and small mammals.

Therein lies a paradox: the Great North American Deer Herd loves young foliage and flowers. In our area, they eat not only recognized "deer candy" like hostas and tulips but supposedly deer-resistant plants like purple coneflower and hairy-leaved rudbeckia. Daylilies supposedly protected by deer-repellent sprays have been munched to the ground, generally a day or so before the first bud opens. (Once-blooming varieties are especially preferred.) Our deer have even been known to eat the thorny stems of old roses. Our landscaping has evolved toward what I call the Three P's--the poisonous, the prickly, and the pungent--but I spend at least one morning a week shoveling up deer poop for the compost pile and plotting new strategies to discourage the deer from visiting quite so often. (They do have an entire city wildlife refuge only a few blocks away.)

One evening about dusk, one of the largest does I've ever seen was wandering about the front yard, provoking great consternation among the cat population watching out the front window. Luckily for me, the recently-sprayed plants were remaining unmunched, but I attempted to shoo her away, anyway.

She wasn't having any of my attempts at deer removal. I walked, I waved my arms, I made loud threatening noises. She looked at me. Eventually, she sauntered over to the neighbor's yard and stood gazing calmly in the general direction of the annoying human. A little later, she wandered off toward the nearby golf course.

The next morning found me scrubbing the birdbath at the edge of the backyard meadow garden bed, an activity requiring a brush, a hose, and fairly high water pressure as our birdbath seems to start growing algae approximately twenty minutes after its last scrubbing. As the water jet splattered off in all directions, I heard an explosive sound not related to the liquid coming from the hose and looked up to see a fawn bounding out of the mini-meadow, where it had evidently hidden itself between the switchgrass and the asters. Who doesn't like fawns? Who doesn't feel bad for disturbing them?

Alas, fawns are deer. Now I know why the previous evening's doe had no desire to leave our yard. The fawn has not been sighted again, but as the mini-meadow expands, there will probably be more baby Bambis in our future. Sigh.

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