Grab Bag

Making the case for wildlife in the garden, kinda

Foxflickrskedonk

In this article, garden writer/garden designer Joel Lerner does a great job of encouraging us to

plant a variety of wildlife-feeding plants, provide water, and building materials, and even reduce the size of our lawns.  He covers birds, bees, toads, frogs, and the mosquito-eating capacity of bats.  And sure, chipmunks can be pests but they're so cute.  Even snakes Lerner assures us aren't poisonous in this part of the world.

But here's how the article ends.

Rabbits and chipmunks also can dig up the garden. Raccoons can be
destructive. Foxes are beautiful, as long as they don't have rabies. If
these animals are approaching you, especially in daytime, acting
aggressive or strangely, call animal control in your local
jurisdiction.

Is it just me or is that a total buzz kill?

Photo credit.

Posted by on February 28, 2009 at 3:50 am, in the category Grab Bag.
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22 Responses to “Making the case for wildlife in the garden, kinda”

  1. I think his key statement is “Where does wildlife attraction stop and pest begin?”

    We all would like to have a peaceful existence with the critters and creatures who come to our garden. We wish the wildlife would somehow know plants they should eat and plants they shouldn’t. But every gardener learns quickly that many of those cute little animals can destroy a quickly garden. Vole, moles, chipmunks, raccoons, and rabbits… somehow they all find my garden and all taunt me with their garden-destroying tunneling, burrowing, and EATING.

    But still I try to have all the elements in the garden that would naturally attract them.

  2. At the house I lived in for a number of years (we moved in late summer last year), we had raccoons and we had skunks. The raccoons taught us to be careful with our garbage and kitchen waste. The skunks never bothered us. I had a painting studio in an old shed behind the garden, and if I went out to it at night, I would clap my hands so Mr. skunk would know I was there. Sometimes, we would see him in early morning waddling home from a night at the clubs. We have cats, but they seem, unlike dogs, to understand that staying away from the skunks is the right idea. Neither animal was destructive, and we had no cause whatsoever to make them go away.

  3. Debbie says:

    I agree with Mr. Lerner that a healthy garden should attract a variety of wildlife. There’s nothing more surprising and exciting than seeing a tiny hummingbird feeding on flowers. However, many kinds of furry wildlife bring ticks with them into a garden. Here in CT, Lyme disease is a growing problem. Deer can quickly ravage a garden and they are one of the primary hosts of disease carrying ticks. Keeping deer out of a garden is not only an aesthetic issue but also a health issue.

  4. sarahammocks says:

    I read Lerner’s column every week, and it very often reads like notes for a column, or helpful hints, with scant explanation. I don’t know if this is the hand of the editor or what.

  5. peg says:

    I don;t understand the, ahem, rabid assumption that there is some kind of epidemic of rabies out there. It simply isn’t true.

    Once my (indoor and very skittish and antisocial) cat got outside for a few days; I used a humane cage to trap him. He scraped his face trying to escape it so I took him to the vet. He was in rough shape; face scraped raw and bleeding, and salivating and looking crazy. The vet on duty (at the all night state of the art veterinary facility in Boston) wanted to observe him for 24 hours because he thought it might be rabies. I was amazed he’d even say this the cat had never been outside before his recent 5 day outing, so it was impossible that he had rabies even if he had been bitten by something. This is a city that requires a yearly rabies vaccine for all indoor cats. There are a lot of raccoons, skunks and possums in the city getting into trash; but I have never heard of a single documented case of rabies there.

  6. Rabies is showing up more and more in our area –
    by fox and raccoon. In the news too often and with scary reports.

    A few people and dogs have literally been chased down by a fox and bitten.

    Cameron

  7. James says:

    Buzz kill for sure. I think folks stop appreciating nature when it stops being convenient. I had a multi-year coexistence with skunks in the yard. They ate some of the less desirables, and the only time I got sprayed was when I tossed something in their direction to distract them from a faceoff with the cat…

  8. Pam J. says:

    A small correction about snakes in this, the DC area. Lerner says, and he’s right, “few in the Washington area are poisonous.” There ARE poisonous ones in the DC area, specifically copperheads.

  9. Elizabeth Stump says:

    I think the buzz-kill is necessary. When I hear about families driving through national parks and then approaching wild animals thinking they will behave like cute critters in a Disney flick, then getting gored, bite or attacked, it makes sense to remind people that wild animals in their suburban and urban backyards can be dangerous, too.

    And I must agree with Pam. In Southern California, I had a cozy backyard encounter with a baby Diamond-back rattler when I was 5 years old in rural L.A. county. It slithered up next to me and then moved along. Good thing I didn’t spook it or I would have been dead. So there are some poisonous species, especially in the Southwest.

  10. I think this reminder is important, having met too many people who just think wild animals are cute fuzzy friends that you should go try and pet.

    And after having heard a recent story from my aunt who is an ER nurse about a woman attacked by a rabid coyote to the point where it wouldn’t let go of her arm and she had to walk back to her car and get something to beat it to death with.

    I absolutely want animal life in my yard, just at a healthy distance. And I don’t mind a little destruction as long as I can keep gardening.

  11. If we hadn’t destroyed so much of their habitat and plunked down housing developments in its place, we wouldn’t have to have such an adversarial relationship with some wild critters. I must admit I enjoy the squirrels a lot more when they aren’t nipping off blossoms or digging up newly installed plants. I have learned to co-exist with them (critter repellent is the equivalent of the good fence making good neighbors).

  12. JT says:

    Knowledge is power, and so I agree with sarahammocks’ comment about the brevity of info in Lerner’s column. It reads like a breezy homily to the fun of wildlife in the garden, only to scare the bejeezus out of the reader with the threat of rabies. Obviously wild things can be dangerous, if you think about it. I think actually the final bit is simply the standard disclaimer, necessary if a careless or unlucky, but litiginous reader gets bit by something.

    And: there are many more species of pollinating bees in addition to European honey bees, which must be the ones Lerner is referring to in the article. These other bees, as well as many flies and wasps, carry on pollination duties as long as habitat is provided for them and their larval stages. Also, most European honey bees (Apis mellifera) found in an urban garden are feral, so to speak, not from a apiary so we don’t know for sure whether these too are suffering colony collapse disorder although it does seem there are fewer of them at times.

  13. zephyr says:

    For me, his caution statement at the end does not negate his premise: after all, what he says in that last statement applies to neighbor’s pets as well.

  14. Kat says:

    I’m just curious as to what the creature in the photo is.
    I’m guessing a fox?

  15. Kat says:

    Ah! Never mind.
    Red Fox taken at Mount Rainier National Park.
    Very cool!

  16. Susan Harris says:

    It was the scariest-looking fox I could find.

  17. I’m still laughing. It’s like “let’s save the cute seals” but forget those ugly animals. We humans are funny. Out here in the country, I watch out for any strange moving, acting, foaming at the mouth critters. That’s the truth.~~Dee

  18. Old Kim says:

    Living 2 miles from an I 5 freeway racoons are brutal predators and cougars have been spotted. Mama shetlsnd sheep is gonna give birth any day to twins. My awesome Aussie hopefully will keep the predators at bay. I’m scared more for him thsn the sheep.

  19. Barbara says:

    The wildlife are native.

    Us gardeners are not.

    But we can get along.

    I am lecturing on “gardening with Bambi and other visitors” at The Philadelphia Flower Show and will be posting next month on a new blog: http://deermanagement.hudsonhighlandsgardendesign.com

  20. Aunt Ida says:

    The Humane Society of America put out a book in 1997 titled “Wild Neighbors: the humane approach to living with wildlife.” It describes habitat, foods and health problems of just about every animal one might find in a yard.

    We have racoons (doesn’t everyone?), but have no problems with them in our yard. One neighbor, however, has heaps of probelems – they get in the attic, crawl space and garage. The difference is that we don’t feed pets outdoors and neighbor does.

  21. PeonInChief says:

    When we lived in Oakland, a raccoon and her kits installed themselves in our basement. We couldn’t have them moved, as vector control informed us that they would kill the kits. (The mother raccoon would be so upset that she’d likely abandon them.) So we lived with it. The mother, Roxie, ate all the apricots from our tree and was an assiduous hunter of snails. I loved her, and her cute little kits.

    Now we have occasional visits from raccoons and possums, and resident squirrels and frogs (Pacific Chorus). The frogs live in my plant pots, but are entirely harmless. I sometimes find acorns that the squirrels have secreted in pots, but they haven’t usually disturbed the plant. So we (and our two cats) live in harmony with the wild creatures around us.

    I don’t know that I’d be so tolerant if I had voles or deer, and came out in the morning to discover that my garden was wrecked. And of course, we have our cats vaccinated against rabies, just to be safe.

  22. same story with us, a lot of different animals close to the garden, some are passing by, some are staying, and usually without any problem

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