Sunday, June 16, 2013

Wildlife in the garden # 1

We have a visitor in our garden.  

These are through the kitchen window with maximum zoom.  However, he has been spotted within a few yards of the house investigating the pots of herbs on the terrace (we refer to it as he, as one does).  We don't quite know where he's getting in, but then rabbits can squeeze through very small spaces.

When we see him, we do our best Mr McGregor imitation.

Now my dears,' said old Mrs. Rabbit one morning, 'you may go into the fields or down the lane, but don't go into Mr. McGregor's garden: your Father had an accident there; he was put in a pie by Mrs. McGregor.

Poor Peter, child of a single mother, lacking male role models,his sisters all higher achievers than he, turning to delinquency... 

There's a funny and clever critique of Beatrix Potter and her ambivalent morality by Stuart Jeffries here, from when the film Miss Potter came out.  Jeffries is a terrible snarky smart-arse but I do often enjoy his pieces.  In truth, he comes out rather positively about her.  He also mentions that the reason so many Japanese tourists make the pilgrimage to Beatrix Potter's house in the Lake District is that Japanese children often learned English from her books.  This was interesting to me because many years ago I assisted in home-schooling a couple of very bright Anglo-Japanese children of about 5 and 7 or so, who now have Cambridge doctorates and heaven knows what under their belts (nothing to do with me, both their parents were exceptionally clever, they went on to international schools in France and spent all their summers in Japan, they were, and are, just very gifted), and we worked our way through much of the Beatrix Potter canon, from a big volume they'd been given.  I assumed this gift had come from the English side of the family, but perhaps not. I was struck by how the books really provided a remarkably complete and well-differentiated reading scheme.  Jeffries sneers a bit at the idea of 'delightfully outré Edwardian syntax' and 'bizarre Potterian ideas about our dress codes and ethical views' but I can't say they caused us any problems.

And for my French visitors, here's the Francophone version.

I do like the art nouveau/ belle époque font for the title, which is slightly subverted by the blockish 1970s majuscules for the author's name (I expect someone with greater design and typography knowledge than I have can better inform me about these). A perusal of Google seems to show that Peter and friends are well appreciated here, though Benjamin Bunny becomes Jeannot Lapin. I mean, what's going on there?

Anyway, whatever our visitor's resemblance to said anthropomorphised lagomorph, we didn't find him so cute when he chewed all the tops off our newly planted pinks.  There didn't seem to be much else he fancied in the flower beds, and he could eat all the dandelions he wanted, plenty more where they came from.  For a while it didn't seem as if he had made it to the veg garden, since he seemed to be entering at the other end of the plot, but then my new sweetcorn shoots were chewed, then the better established peas...

Unable to resort to the McGregors' pie option, we have to employ other methods to protect our vegetables:

Apologies for the flare, I was stricken by an urge, rare these days, to get me up and go out in the garden with the camera sometime around 6.30 am as the sun was rising.  Old willow hurdles and bird netting we had lying around have been commissioned as an anti-bunny measure.  So far so good.  The white trapezoid shape mid right is the old cold frame, falling apart but still useful, the tuft behind it the broad bean plantation, of which I am quite proud.  The variety is Karmazyn, they are pink beans and the plant stems are slightly pinkish.  Despite the continual presence of prospecting black ants, the tops haven't fallen prey to blackfly, and the flowers are incredibly abundant, I hope the beans will be too.

The other rather larger animal who has been frequenting our patch is a red squirrel. If there were no other reason to be glad to live here, that the only squirrels are red ones would be enough.  They're somewhat elusive round here, but they are about.  For a long time now, I've wondered why the excellent if rather small nuts on the purple filbert bush always disappeared before I could get to them, and assumed that the middens of hazel, walnut and occasionally snail shells in the same area were to do with mice or voles.  Then the other day a movement of something running across the veg garden caught my eye. 'Bloody rabbit again,' I thought, but a second look revealed it was a squirrel.  Since then, I've seen it twice: once early in the morning, outside on the terrace - I reached for the camera but wasn't quick enough, and again when I was turning the corner in the car, and it was scampering down the verge towards the house, it quickly ran across the road and ran down Ludovic's drive.  Both sightings confirm that it has a circuit; the large hazelnuts we find come from Marcelle's garden up the road, the walnuts probably from Ludovic's.

We had a basket of hazelnuts on the table, left over from Christmas in fact, too much bother to get into and often not worthwhile when you do.  Tom started taking them down and leaving them under the purple filbert. First of all they were taken away, one by one.  It amused us to think of the squirrel bringing Marcelle's hazels down to ours, then taking ours back to hers and stashing them there.

Now though, he (there we go again) mostly eats them sur place.

We wondered if perhaps squirrels buried nuts because they were easier to get into after they'd been exposed to soil and moisture for a time.  This was confirmed by Michael Pollan on BBC Radio 4's Food Programme the other week who noted that, since cooking is not only the application of heat but also of natural cultures and microbial actions, so that in that way, squirrels can be seen as the only other cooking animal.

Obviously, Cyril, as we have called him, can't wait.


Francesca said...

I do think that Pierre Lapin sounds lovely instead of Peter Rabbit!

The Crow said...

I've never seen a red squirrel, though plenty of greys live in the trees (and top floor of my barn) in my yard.

When I was stationed at Great Lakes Naval Hospital, near Chicago, there were more jet black squirrels than greys; they were much more curious about people than most.

The Crow said...

PS: your first photo looks like a Potter drawing to me - very nice composition.

Ellena said...

If only they visited without expecting to be fed. The need to take anti measures can take the fun out of gardening. I have problems with raton laveurs and squirrels. And, your avelines take me very far back to a country road lined with hazelnut shrubs. I remember picking the nuts while still green outside and yammy white inside. Have you ever tasted them green. Hm, actually, there is not much we did not taste after the war.

Zhoen said...

Windsor Ontario had black squirrels, while Detroit had grey, just across the river. Wide river, though.

Kim Chee'd nuts.

Lise said...

It is not the Alice'rabbit ?
That one is for eating.
Please excuse me for the "mistakes"
A demain

Anonymous said...

Beautiful little rabbit :D

zephyr said...

We have red squirrels here, too, but we rarely see them. They are much less comfortable with human company, it seems--and move very fast! A friend has seen them in her garden--up in trees--where, apparently, they prefer to live most of their lives.

Love this delightful post.

At somebody's advice, i laid chicken wire flat on the ground at the base of the fence around our kitchen garden, since ground hogs will not step on it. At that time, we had very few bunnies (the neighbor's cat kept them in check) so i don't know if their feet hate the wire, too or not. Yes, it was a bother clipping the grass the grew up through the wire, but it was very nice not having to install a much bettrer (more expensive) fence to keep them out.

We now have two little buns visiting the garden every day--who have munched on my parsley. Since all my veg are now in containers, it's easier to lift or protect than the traditional "in the ground" planting i used to have.

Nimble said...

The rabbit with the bright colored flowers seems like it wants to be a watercolor painting. I love seeing rabbits and at the same time I'm glad you've got your netting up.

Unknown said...

"The rabbit has charming face
Its private life is a disgrace.
I rarely dare not name to you
The dreadful things that rabbits do.
Things your paper never prints.
You only mention them in hints.
They've such lost degraded souls.
No wonder they inhabit holes".

If I remember it correctly.

Rouchswalwe said...

Hares dare go where bunnies are banished.

I quite like Cyril.

Natalie said...

I've just come back from visiting friends in Wales where, around their property in the country, squirrels have been causing devastation to the trees, eating everything in sight. So it seems that some measures (not specified) are being taken by local authorities to deal with this squirrelly problem - not sure if they're red or grey ones.

marja-leena said...

Love the revisit with Peter Rabbit, in real life and Beatrix Potter!

Wildlife here consist of grey and sometimes black squirrels, raccoons, a brown bear in late summer, and a couple of times in the past year, some deer. No rabbits.
Saw a coyote on our street one night. Oh, and rats sometimes.

Roderick Robinson said...

How many times did I read Peter Rabbit aloud to my elder daughter, Professional Bleeder? Perhaps no more than twenty times and yet it seemed many times more. And only in the US since she was doing her own reading long before we left.

I am a Beatrix Potter fan and yet no author can withstand that amount of repetition. After a while fits of yawning overtook me on the first page and to keep myself awake I started substituting words here and there. The only one I can now remember is McGillicuddy instead of McGregor.

And this changed PB's perception of the book. She waited for these text-tamperings with a sinful/gleeful expression on her face. And when they arrived she said happily: "Daddy you're doing your special companitions again."

Hence yet another addition to the family's oral dictionary of special words.

Lucy said...

Thanks all very much.

Both red and grey squirrels have black forms, as do rabbits. Steve, at the blog 'Visitors' (lower blog roll list), has been feeding, photographing and recording several generations of red squirrels round his home in Germany, has observed that the black form seems to be predominating, perhaps because, as Crow noticed, they're more forward and curious around people, so either they benefit from the feeding and breed more, or else he just sees more of them. My farming cousins in Somerset used to forbid the killing of a tribe of black rabbits on their land s they rather liked their oddity. Uncharacteristically soft for farmers.

Red squirrels, as far as I know, aren't responsible for any damage. One of the reasons they were pushed out by the greys in the UK was that greys eat anything, including acorns as well as bird food put out by humans and some human food scraps, while reds are much more choosy and limited in their food sources. As both species breed according to food availability, the grey population exploded. Also, I think they're more adaptable with regard to nesting.

Why the invasion of American greys did not take place in continental Europe I don't know, I suppose they didn't get whimsically introduced by some dopey aristocrat. The reds here are always shyer than the greys in the UK, but they do live in town parks and can become quite familiar, I think. I didn't know there were any reds in America.

Rabbit's, or rabbits', foodstuff has now extended to our salads - I plant scarole rather than soft lettuce as it's more resilient to other pests and more interesting for us to eat but evidently it's also sufficiently interesting for them to eat as well. More netting. As it's in the same bed as my carefully brought on but still scarce red and white currants, which must need be covered soon before they disappear down the necks of the blackbirds, this isn't so bad.

If they start on the broad beans I'm getting really mad.

Robbie - companitions is an excellent made up word. You were of course making a rod for your own back as waiting for the companitions clearly became an end in itself and a reason for asking for the story again. Your amendments were not as drastic as Jeanette Winterson's fanatical low-church mother's to 'Jane Eyre', where she made up a whole new ending wherein Jane does not go back to Mr Rochester but marries St John Rivers and goes off to be a missionary with him. Jeanette said she never quite recovered from learning the truth.