Last fall, I bought somewhere in the ballpark of 150 snowdrop, crocus, daffodil and tulip bulbs and lovingly inserted them into my flowerbeds. I had just trotted over to Sheridan Nurseries, the vastly expensive mecca of gardening in our neighbourhood, and chatted with the local Guru about what I should be planting, what colours, and the sequence in which everything would bloom. I envisioned that Spring 2007, and all springs thereafter, would be a TREAT! The wash of colour would begin sometime in March (the Weather Gods willing), last right through till the perennial beds kicked in and the annuals were planted. It would be uplifting, and downright inspiring: the "bonus" before the Digging Season began!!
What I didn't count on, of course, was critters. We have critters in our garden. And I'm not talking about your "Oh, look, there's a sparrow", "Pooh, I just smelled a skunk", "Who knocked the g-d garbage bins over AGAIN?" kind of critters... WE'VE got critters that think they own the place. They think the People Owe Them A Living.
It's my own fault, really, because I listened to my father and started feeding the birds. To say that my father loves birds is a wild understatement. My father is the man who puts up a multitude of birdfeeders every year, choosing different, exotic seed mixes to attract the birds he likes the best, and even hand-grinding his own suet to entice his beloved woodpeckers and nuthatches. I witnessed one of his suet-grinding exercises one unfortunate afternoon, and all I can say is, he prepared that revolting fat and stuffed it into the holes of the rustic log-feeder with the same kind of tenderness that a mother prepares homemade babyfood puree for her firstborn. That's Love.
As much as my father adores birds, he detests squirrels. When we first moved into our new home, one of the first gifts he bestowed upon my husband and me was a squirrel-baffling birdfeeder. Birds who are acceptable to feed, in his eyes, are those who are light-weight (ie. NOT PIGEONS, whom he considers to be rodents in feathered clothing). When small birds land on this feeder, the vast seed-trough remains open... but if a pigeon or a squirrel attempts to nosh, a lid comes crashing down and hides the food, not unlike some sick-o psychological "conditioning" experiment.
My children were not overly impressed by this birdfeeder, although they delighted in the rapidly increasing population of birds we were attracting to our garden. They quickly figured out the feeder's elitist intentions. It didn't take long for the seeds scattered on the ground to attract grey, black and even tiny red squirrels, and the grandiose acrobatics that all three varieties performed in wild attempts to alight our contraption kept the girls in stitches at the kitchen windows for hours. However, in order to reward the squirrels for their Hurculean efforts, my girls began... dare I confess it? They began tossing peanuts out the back door, as adoring audience members toss roses at ballet dancers during curtain calls...
Well, as time went on, the squirrels got bolder. They started rushing our back door every time they saw movement in the kitchen. One enormously fat grey squirrel, when unable to coax the desired meal out of me when he all but banged on the glass, climbed up the brickwork of our house and glared HARD at me through the window over my sink, where I was plowing through a load of dirty dishes!
"DIRTY BEGGAR!!" I heard the voice in my head roaring (with an English accent... WHOSE voice was I hearing in there???) "DON'T. FEED. SQUIRRELS!!!"
But we did. Mainly because, as my middle child pointed out belligerently, "SQUIRRELS ARE PEOPLE, TOO!" What can I say? My kids have me wrapped around their fingers, and I'm a sucker for small, furry creatures. Even if those furry creatures chase me every time I set foot outside...
But back to the flower bulbs. I spent an entire back-breaking day socking those bulbs into the ground, all over my garden. The task was unintentionally thwarted by the "assistance" of my two youngest daughters, who love to help their mummy whenever they can, and never give up a chance to get their hands in the dirt. I had arranged all of the packages of bulbs in piles on our patio, according to the colour-scheme I had drawn up in my mind. While I was in the garage hauling out my garden fork and spade, the girls delightedly "helped me" by opening every single package and pouring the contents into one gigantic pile. Now, the crocus and snowdrop bulbs are smaller, and a no-brainer to separate from the larger ones... but to this entirely self-taught gardener, tulips and daffs look pretty much the same... and the colour scheme? Forget about it.
But, nonetheless, we planted them. By six o'clock, we were filthy and exhausted, and we retired to the house with a sense of tremendous accomplishment and anticipation.
It took me till about noon the next day to notice that the squirrel population in the back yard was slightly busier than usual... and not up to their usual tricks of grand-jete-ing their way onto the birdfeeder. Nope, they were IN the flowerbeds, not flying high above them... At first, I thought, "Huh... it's a little early for those guys to be burying nuts for the winter..."
And then, I saw one. I saw that fat, grey, furry THIEF make off with a bulb in its mouth. By suppertime, I swear, the entire garden had been ransacked. Our local critters must have made like one of those old fashioned Breck shampoo commercials and "told two friends, and so on and so on...", because my garden was OVERRUN with squirrels, and the flowerbeds were TOAST. My beautifully planned springtime treat had turned into a Treat, all right-- my back yard looked like the aftermath of a cop convention at the local Tim Hortons Donuts.
The Sheridan Nurseries Guru had a tremendous laugh at my expense when I returned to consult him about my problem the following weekend... Apparently, that's the reason why he had sold me twice as many daffodil bulbs as he did tulips... But, he neglected to tell me that I should be planting the daffs in a tight circle AROUND the tulip bulbs, because, while tulips are the Big Mac of the squirrel diet, daffs smell and taste bad enough to them to put them off altogether. Had I planted the daffs AROUND small clumps of tulip bulbs, apparently none of this would have happened.
Well, all I can say is, thanks ever SO for SHARING. Too late. Because I've just provided enough sustinance to see the entire squirrel population of my surrounding area through the winter AND mating season, as well.
Twice as many squirrels this spring, and not a tulip in sight. Better buy me another baffling birdfeeder or two...