Sharing the vegetable patch with birds and squirrels and bears, oh my!

I am not alone in my garden, though my children do not join me there. They solemnly declare it “my” space, feigning respect for an artist’s proprietary control over the process of creation, when really they regard it as one more chore with all the allure of the toilet that needs cleaning or the dishwasher that needs emptying.

It is the local creatures who like to put a paw or claw or beak into arrangements. Most of these creatures are post-modernist, which is to say that they are deconstructionist in their approach. The bear is a prime example. Twice last spring, the bear lumbered through the yard between 4:00 and 4:30 in the morning. My dog likes to announce such things, so I know this schedule to be accurate. The bear was after the bird feeder, which was hanging from a hook atop a wooden standard placed at the exact centre of a mandala of pie-shaped raised beds I had constructed.

Animals: Deconstructionist in their gardening approach

The earth in these beds was light and fluffy, having been recently purchased, dumped into an enormous pile in the driveway, then marched bucket by heavy bucket through my hilly terraced lot. This project I proclaimed to be my “boot camp” to my eyebrow-raised neighbours and the cheerfully inquisitive postal worker. “I will be strong like a peasant!”

I teased the Russian across the street, thrusting my biceps into the air for inspection. She gave me a dismissive growl, as I had anticipated. It’s good that some things in life are predictable.

But back to the bear. The bear tramped through the freshly planted salsify and popcorn beds, leaving deep round impressions in the soft soil. Attempts to prop up the tiny shoots and infill the sinkholes didn’t really work. Eventually I replanted the popcorn but it looked pretty Raggedy-Andy all season, and I blame the bear.

The birds plant my sunflowers

The birds alone contribute positively to the garden. Each year, they plant sunflowers in every conceivable nook and cranny of my property. Sunflowers, large and small, protrude from cracks in the driveway, pop out of ignored containers of spare dirt, wave gaily from every plant bed.

One year they even sprouted out of a big pile of volcanic rock I had scraped from one planter and dumped behind the house. The flowers looked like a group of preschoolers pushing their way to the top of the heap in a game of king of the castle.

Thus, it was with particular regret that I removed the offending bird feeder, which was also obviously a bear attractant.

The disappearance of the bird feeder did, however, help to discourage the squirrels. The squirrels have strong opinions about the two hazelnut trees in the corner of the yard. In fact, they approve - so much so that I have never benefited from a single, solitary hazelnut, though I find their empty shells scattered hither and yon.

RED FINCH PHOTO: Bronwyn Vaisey

Nothing’s safe from the squirrels

A couple years back, at the culmination of a massive leaky-house repair project, the construction workers left me two large pieces of netting to secure the trees come summer. Teetering atop a ladder and wedged carefully against the tippy front fence, I sweated to envelop my hazelnut trees entirely in netting during the horrendous heat wave of July 2009.

I sewed the nets together with stout twine and cinched the ensemble tight around the base with ropes. My trees were now in camouflage behind a veritable tree burka/chastity belt combo… but still not safe from squirrels. At the culmination of hazelnut season, I unwrapped my trees to find that somehow they had been nonetheless stripped of nuts, plus they now also sported a few kinky branches, as if they had just gotten up after sleeping on a head of wet hair.

I felt like that witch must have felt when, notwithstanding all her efforts to the contrary, she climbed the tower to discover Rapunzel was with child. Such a shock – and one that I had planned so hard against.

Since that summer, I have admired the green, fuzz-covered decorations festooning the branch tips of my hazelnut trees but harbour no delusion that I’ll ever get to taste them. As for the local cats, we’ll not mention what they plant in my garden.