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A town garden doesn't prepare you for country wildlife

  • A town garden doesn't prepare you for country wildlife
  • A town garden doesn't prepare you for country wildlife
  • A town garden doesn't prepare you for country wildlife

For many years we had a small town garden and, on the whole, it was a simple pleasure. I could weed and trim the whole front garden in a Sunday afternoon. In the back, I would plug my electric mower into the socket in the kitchen, feed it out the window and could mow the 40 feet to the end of the garden without the need of an extension cable. There were a few birds (seagulls mainly, we lived in Brighton), our two cats and the occasional fox and they were no trouble at all. Gardening was more like keeping a room tidy. I could focus on the plants I liked and 'do' the garden in a weekend.

Five years ago we moved to Somerset and I quickly discovered this was no preparation whatsoever for managing a country garden. Spread yourself thinly over a larger area (in our case a few acres) and you soon see that Nature has its own ideas about how the garden should grow. Nettles and brambles form impenetrable strongholds that can take days to clear, only to spring back within weeks. Trees are in a state of constant flux, losing boughs, shedding leaves that need clearing, dying when you least expect it. If you don't strim or mow, areas of rough grass will grow waist high by mid-Summer and be a devil of a job to clear.

More challenging still are the other users of the garden. The moles who tunnel for insects and worms and sabotage our lawn with their earthworks, the badgers who dug up all the bulbs we planted down the side of our drive, the squirrels who ate through the electric cables in our loft shorting the power supply.

So you come up with strategies. One of ours was to let the local farmer put sheep in our orchard. They eat the grass and he cuts the hedges once a year in return. Perfect I thought, until I got a late-night call from a neighbour the day the sheep had been put in. What had they done? Presented with a field of lush knee-length grass, the sheep had headed straight for 6 Kingston Black cider apple trees I had just planted and were pulling them over with their teeth to get at the handful of leaves at the top of the 8ft whips.

Then there's the deer. I had always loved the idea of seeing deer in the garden. They are still a wonderful sight. But my, are they a menace. Like the sheep, they have an eye for a tasty morsel. There's nothing they like better than new buds on young plants or trees. One completely decapitated an Arbutus I had just planted. Each year, at about this time, they feast on the new rose buds. Only yesterday, as I was settling in to do some planting, I discovered they had found the most expensive tree I have ever bought, a lovely Acer conspicuum 'Phoenix', and munched the heads off half the new shoots.

So yesterday afternoon, instead of planting, I was building defences. The Acer is now encircled by a deer no-go zone built from what I had in the shed. I reckon they are opportunists and should breeze on by. Or will they jump the fence? Barbed wire and a 9-volt car battery are my next resort.

I'd love to hear from other gardeners with home-made solutions to the challenges of wildlife in their gardens.

Comments (2)

  1. Grower

    Helene U Taylor

    I must admit when I came to London in 1999 I thought the only ‘wild-life’ I would get to see would be the occasional seagulls and other birds, unless I went to the zoo. I was not prepared for having to battle city foxes and the utter devastation they do to the garden. And having successfully managed to get rid of the foxes in my garden and moved them on to pastures new – in moved a family of squirrels! They do just about as much damage, only in a different way. I have NO rosebuds on my Rosa ‘Crimson Cascade’ at the moment. Why? Because the squirrels have eaten all the young shoots as they have appeared. The rose have faithfully put out new shoots – which the squirrels have come and eaten when they looked just delicious, and I think we are on the fourth set of shoots now. I got no idea if I will have any Crimson Cascade this summer, I have plenty of other roses, but this one, trained up my fence is a particularly beauty and I hope it will be left in peace soon!

    Gardening in London is fun and challenging, I can imagine gardening on the countryside of England having different challenges. I come from Norway originally, and before I moved over here I lived in a small village of just over 4.000 people in a place in southern Norway where summer temperatures gets as high as well above 35 C and winter temp record is minus 37C. Now, that’s gardening challenges of a different sort….In terms of ‘wildlife’ we had bear occasionally walking past in the woods – they were all radio marked so they were followed. We had lynx walking past our house very often, and someone like me who was often late in bed got a glimpse of them regularly. The most annoying wildlife in terms of my garden was all the moose walking around. They are wild, bad tempered and HUGE! Think police horse and then some for height! Their favourite food is new shoots on young trees and bushes, and they can devour a garden in a few short hours. If you approach them in the spring when they have a calf they can attack to protect the calf so not wise to go out a shush them away to save your garden. They often ate my strawberries while they were green, pretty devastating experience when you got as far as having lots of strawberries just waiting for them to become red and then they are all gone.

    The photos I am attaching are from the garden I had in Norway - and of some of the local moose I snapped from my bedroom window one morning. I had a huge garden with an even bigger field which the next door neighbour came and cut every summer. He used the grass for his sheep as winter feed – it was not exactly a pristine lawn. But great for me not to have to take care of it. A very different garden compared to the tiny London garden I have now. I have no good solution to the squirrels, but I managed to move the foxes on by doing up next door garden! That’s where they were sleeping and hiding out during the day, it was an absolute jungle and I persuaded the owner of the house to let me clear the garden and plant some of my surplus plants. Three years ago I spent 4 months doing up that garden and never saw the foxes again. I think the garden got too tidy, and although there are new tenants there now and much of my hard work is buried under weeds and litter, it will take many years again to become like it was – a haven for foxes.

    Good luck Jeremy with building defences, deer are good at getting what they want, don’t be surprised if they simply tear down your fence!

    • A town garden doesn't prepare you for country wildlife
    • A town garden doesn't prepare you for country wildlife
    • A town garden doesn't prepare you for country wildlife
    • A town garden doesn't prepare you for country wildlife
  2. Grower

    Jeremy Wright

    ... and would you believe it the deer was back, bold as brass, at lunchtime today. Walked straight past the Acer defences thank goodness. But I'm not confident he won't have a go next time.

    Where you lived in Norway looks amazing Helene ... and the Mooses' favourite food sounds familiar! Tender young shoots are THE delicacy they go for.

    But I didn't know squirrels also go for shoots and rosebuds. I'd only got them down for nuts and electric cables!

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