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.