Grit Blogs > A Lakeside View

The Quest for the Idyllic Garden

By Cindy Murphy


Tags: Gardening, Pests, Moles, Japanese Beetles, Squirrels, Cindy Murphy,

Since man first tilled the earth in an attempt to garden, he’s had to battle forces hell-bent on destroying the fruits of his labor.  This is the price for trying to manipulate nature and force it into submission.  Nature, not one to go down without a fight, battles back with drought, floods, and creatures that seek to destroy what we’ve created.

The Not So Idllyic Garden 

 Insecticides, herbicides, repellants, traps, and those squirrel-proof bird feeders that give the critters a spin before flinging them into the air, are just a small sampling of a vast array of products used in a vain attempt to rid our gardens of pests.  There are a myriad of folk remedies, some tried and true, and some that border on the bizarre; their only purpose being to make us feel as if we’re are doing something to prevail in the battle for the idyllic garden of picture books.  Take my neighbor:  he rigged an alarm clock into the ground that ran nonstop in an effort to drive the moles from his yard.  He went through three alarm clocks and the only thing he succeeded in doing was driving his neighbors to the brink of insanity.        

We battle these invaders with a primeval blood-lust; normal, mild mannered people become blood-thirsty hunters.  My friend is one of the kindest wouldn’t-hurt-a-thing women I know…except when it comes to her garden.  She’s been known to be seen on sleepless nights working by flashlight, scouring her honeysuckle vines for aphids, and scraping them off with a toothpick.  Japanese beetles she takes pleasure in drowning in coffee cans filled with soapy water.   My husband thought he saw a Japanese beetle on her roses, causing her to leap over the porch railing, and yell for her son to “GET THE CAN!!!” 

Working at a nursery, I hear lots of similar stories.  There’s the woman who, with Rambo-like moves, shoots the squirrels at her bird feeder with a high-powered Super-Soaker water gun.  Japanese beetles are reserved a special hatred.  “What do you have that’ll give the Japanese beetles a very slow and painful death”, one customer asks.  Another woman, like my friend, drowns them…..in gasoline.  “Don’t you think that’s perhaps overkill?” I asked – especially considering the fluctuating price of gas these days.  “Perhaps”, she replied, leaving with her purchases of deer repellant and mole bait.  But I saw that gleam in her eye when she went out the door, and knew exactly where she was headed:  to the nearest service station to fill up her gas can.

The image of the idyllic garden, I think when I look around my yard, is a myth seen only in gardening books and magazines.  Glossy photos depict women wearing long, flowing floral print dresses and wide-brimmed straw hats, serenely strolling with baskets filled with beautiful blossoms they've just cut from their lovely weed-free gardens packed with an abundance of blemish and pest-free plants.  Some of these magazines perpetuate this myth by running glossy advertisements selling product lines of long, flowing floral print dresses, wide-brimmed straw hats, and wicker baskets. 

I hope I never fall under the spell of this idyllic myth; I just don’t fit its image.  I’ve never looked good in wide-brimmed straw hats.  I labor, toil, and sweat.  I’ve got dirt under my chipped fingernails, calloused hands, blistered feet, and aching muscles.  My gardening product line would include heating pads, pain ointments, and extra-strength muscle relaxers; the Deluxe package comes with a personal masseuse.

 I work hard in my garden, and it just takes a moment with my back turned to find a plot has been hatched to undermine all my efforts.  The weeds gain stronghold, refusing to let go.  Leaf rollers, aphids, and European chafers move in.  Rabbits eat their fill of our spinach, then move on to the blueberry bushes.   The beast I call “Molezilla” and his brethren make a maze of tunnels through the yard, uprooting every blade of grass in their wake.  Japanese beetles launch a full-scale attack with their insatiable appetites for destruction.  In a frenzy, they devour nearly everything in sight, mating while doing so, like attendees at an ancient Roman orgy.

The squirrels and I came to an understanding long ago.  I gave up planting annuals in the garden because it seemed to bother them; they promptly dug up every little marigold or snapdragon I planted.  But the porch and flower boxes were my territory.  Off limits.  Last year, they crossed the line.  An entire pot full of begonias was overturned, the wilted plants strewn all about the porch.  I repotted them, sat on the porch glaring at those pesky squirrels, and noticed the earth moving.  Molezilla!  The audacity this beast has, destroying my yard right before my eyes in broad daylight!  Ready for hand-to-hand combat, I charged off the porch, grabbing the first weapon within reach:  a tripod sprinkler.  Using it as a spear, I stabbed the ground, hoping the neighbors weren’t watching.  The spearing was in vain, and thankfully, no one saw me except for the squirrels.  They laughed.  I’d say theirs was a maniacal laughter, but I might be confusing it with my own.                 

 I suppose if I was fair, I’d say that these things have a right to be there; they are just doing what Nature intended them to do.  Maybe I should just toss up my hands, letting them have it all.  Turn over my garden to both the living things I welcome there, and those termed as ‘pests’.  I’ll retreat to the front porch with my pots of begonias, settle back, prop up my feet and open a good book…..preferably one without glossy garden photos (except for GRIT, of course).  I’ll look out at the destruction before me, discovering it’s really quite pretty if I don’t look too closely.

Front Porch Retreat 

Wait?!  Do I see the earth moving?  Evil rears its ugly, little head again, leaving in its wake a tell-tale trail of up-turned earth.  And me without my tripod sprinkler spear handy!  The squirrels look down on me from their perch in the maple.  They are laughing. 

 

michelle house
7/13/2011 11:56:18 PM

Cindy, we hardly ever see butterflies here. So, seeing one is a good thing, I am hoping for more. I love Monarch Butterflies, they are so beautiful. But...they don't live around here. :( I agree the weather has been bizarre all over the country.


cindy murphy
7/12/2011 7:32:17 AM

Great that your butterfly garden seems to be working, Michelle! I was just commenting to Hubs that other day that there seems to be very few butterflies this year, even at the nursery where there are usually gobs of them; maybe it has to do with our colder-than-normal very wet spring? I did see a Monarch at the milkweed in my front garden the other day though. Hoping he's just the first of many to follow.


cindy murphy
7/12/2011 7:27:08 AM

Hey, Stepper! I'm always amazed at what a thorough job a few ladybugs can do in a very short time; they don't seem to miss a single aphid. And unfortunately, I've come across a few of those super-bugs...only at the nursery, we call them customers. Oh, the vast majority of them are benign, friendly, we welcome them, and are grateful to have them in our gardens. There are some of the species though, that mimic the behavior of your neighbor super-bugs. They commit planticide regularly despite all attempts by us to change their ways, insisting that they know best. They only appear in this area for a short time, and usually only on weekends on summer. Migratory creatures, they reside here only part-time, and leave their plants out in the blazing sun for weeks on end - most often still in the pots on concrete driveways during periods of drought. Upon their return, they are surprised to find their plants have died. There is no known pesticide that thwarts their planticidal behavior. Ah well...at least there's not an infestation of them. Thanks for stopping in, and enjoy your day.


michelle house
7/12/2011 12:03:23 AM

Cindy, I adore what you write. I always have, ever since Keith sent me your first published work. :) Squirrels are evil. I planted a wildflower garden out in front of the house, a mixture of Butterfly plants, and other wildflowers, it seems to be working, I saw a butterfly the other day. :) I also have a cucumber and green bean teepee this year.


chris davis
7/11/2011 10:59:32 PM

I remember having an infestation of aphids and purchasing a package of lady bugs from the local nursery. Most of the ladies flew off but a couple of them stayed and feasted on the aphids for which I was very appreciative. If it wasn’t self defeating I would have bought them some desert aphids as a reward for their diligence. But no creature, not even a squirrel, is as sneaky as the what-did-you-do-different-because-my-tomatoes-are-yucky-can-I-have-some-of-yours-next-door-neighbor-super-bug! You know who I mean. The one who tells you for weeks that you’ve done it wrong and his garden is growing so well, except yours is the one with all the tomatoes while the only thing growing for him is leaves. Rabbits will at least limit themselves, but neighbor-super-bugs know no limits! Unfortunately, there are no natural predators although ravenous pit bulls are somewhat effective. Maybe if Quetta was really hungry she’d be a good substitute! As always, enjoyed reading your blog.


cindy murphy
7/10/2011 9:56:34 PM

Thanks for the compliments, Mountain Woman. My gardens are not everyone’s taste; they’re overplanted (on purpose), and kind of wild, but I like it that way. I’m with you on the flowy, femininely refined garden attire; it is a dreamy almost bygone era look, but I’d be dreaming if I think it’d work for me. First, I imagine long gowns and crinoline (I’m not even sure I know what crinoline is) are expensive, and I’d be too worried about getting it dirty or torn to get much work done. Secondly, it’d be hazardous to my health; I am sure the flowing fabric would somehow get wrapped around legs, I’d trip, and I’d end up flat on my face…most likely in a patch of mud. Yes, yes…I’d love to sit with you one day and discuss relief for aching muscles, laundry tips, and Jane Austen. Love, love, love your blog too; I never miss a one! Thanks for stopping in.


cindy murphy
7/10/2011 9:27:23 PM

Hi, Dave. Yes, indeed, it sounds like your zucchini fell victim to squash vine borers. It doesn’t matter that you started off with new soil; the adult form of the insect is a moth that flutters in during late spring and attaches her eggs to the base of squash plants. Her newly hatched babies bore into the vine, and as you unfortunately know, once the effects of their feeding is noticed, the damage is done and it’s too late. After they’ve destroyed your zucchini vine, they hang out in the soil, pupating into moths that will begin the vicious cycle all over again. Prevention is the best way to ensure you’ll have plenty of zucchini to pawn off on anyone who will take them. The eggs are teeny and hard to see, but spraying the vine with insecticidal soap weekly should smother them. Thuricide is another good organic solution; it’s a biological control that only affects caterpillars and only on the part of the plant where it’s sprayed, (no chance of it affecting the bees needed to pollinate your zucchini). Again, spray once a week during egg laying season. Or do like they did in the old days – wipe the stem with a damp cloth once a day to clean off any eggs that’ll hatch into those pesky squash vine borers. Good luck, and hope the rest of your garden remains pest free.


cindy murphy
7/10/2011 9:00:56 PM

Hi, Michelle! I agree that squirrels have evil intentions. How can something so cute and furry be so destructive …and on purpose, too! I’m convinced of it – the havoc they cause serves no purpose whatsoever, other than purely for their own enjoyment. Our cats are inside, so they aren’t an effective deterrent, as if anything could stop them. The dog tries to give them a good run for their money, chasing them into the trees, but they sit there just out of her reach, taunting her. Pfft to the squirrels! I’m always glad you take the time to stop in. Hope you and the grands are enjoying the summer and your garden is doing well; I think I remember you saying you were putting in a butterfly garden this year?


mountain woman
7/10/2011 2:11:10 PM

First, I have to say your home and garden are lovely! Wow, I enjoyed the bug stories and the pest stories especially the one about the alarm clocks and moles. Seriously, Cindy, I found a blog not too long ago where the woman wandered her farm in crinolines and petticoats and long flowy gowns and hats and everything was pink. Wow,it was just like opening an old fashioned magazine and I was drooling but not going to happen for me cause I'm always wearing old clothes and covered in mud. Still, I thought of Jane Austen and sighed once or twice before I went back to my utilitarian life. My way of coping with garden pests has been to build them their own garden. I have it marked with a sign saying "Bugs and Pests Please Use Here." Seems to be working although perhaps it is because our yard is naturalized and I just don't notice the critters through the dense vegetation. Love, love, love your blog and you always make me smile. Maybe we could meet one day and compare muscle rubs :-)


nebraska dave
7/10/2011 8:13:17 AM

Cindy, people can be funny about their passions can't they? Due to the Missouri river flooding the bug population is a never ending battle this year. I live just a couple miles from the river as the crow flies. My house is in the hills and is 45 feet above the level of the river at this point in time. The mosquitoes are atrocious this year. It doesn't matter what time of the day they will dine on your blood. The only thing that seems to work is to keep moving. A moving target is hard to hit I guess. My garden is doing pretty good this year. All except the zucchini are right on track to produce an abundance. Half of the zucchini has succumbed to some kind of plant thing. It seems that at the base of the plant half the stem is gone and the stem is hollow up inside the plant stem. If I didn't know better I'd have thought I was once again the victim of the vine bore but these zucchini plants were grown in containers that sat on the poor man's patio. The soil came from the city composted yard waste mixed with miracle grow potting soil. Can vine bores crawl across a patio, up the side of a container, and feast on my zucchini or do they come from flying bugs that lay their eggs in the soil of the zucchini? What is the answer to my problem oh wise and wonderful master gardener Cindy? I think I'll preform an autopsy to see if I can actually find a bore in one of the plants. Wouldn't you know that the plant dies right as the zucchini are starting to form on the plants. Drat!! Dog gone vine bores. Where's that can lady that can leap over porch railings in a single bound, can run faster than a speeding bug, and can swat the smallest bug at the speed of sound? Have a great day at the nursery.


michelle house
7/9/2011 10:34:39 PM

Oh, Cindy, I love reading your blog, they make me smile, and chuckle. :) I love the image of your neighbor, vaulting over the porch, to kill a bug. I don't get to worked up about bugs, they rarely invade my potted plants and flowers, I do use a tobacco spray on my roses, to deter them, but as far as flicking them off? Only if I see them. Now squirrels? Those things are just evil, they dig in my front garden, and my pots on the deck, and we have cats!! They don't care. lol