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.
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.
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.