A Peaceable Kingdom

Every gardener likes to believe that their garden is their own kingdom to do with as they wish. And, in many ways, it is. A gardener can plant just about any thing that suits his or her whim -as long as it is adapted to the garden's climate and conditions; any 'weed' or unliked plant is heartlessly dispatched, fought off, and generally not tolerated; insect pests and other pesky animals are combated by any means possible. In short, a gardener can be a despot in the garden.

There are, however, some gardeners who prefer to take a more 'Mother Earth' approach, nurturing the land that feeds them, accepting and welcoming any guest who wanders into the garden. Drastic measures to fight off destructive invasions are only used as last ditch solutions. While it is not my place to judge how everyone else chooses to maintain their garden, I do firmly believe that every creature and plant -no matter how disagreeable- has its place in the world.

We humans are not always very good at sharing our habitat. We will preen over our pets, but 'pests' are another story altogether. Nevertheless, if we think about it, those other creatures were here before us, and they've let us move in on their territory. They've learned to live amongst us, and have even adapted to living with us.

Take the urban raccoon and skunk for instance. The few studies conducted on these urban critters has found that they average longer lifespans and are generally sharper than their rural counterparts. Their roaming territory is much smaller than that of their country cousins, often delineated by large thorough fares. While they do indeed enjoy snarfling through our trash for food, their diet still comprises mainly of large insects and vegetation. In Montreal, where suburban lawns have been decimated by the white grub for the past decade, both the raccoon and the skunk are an effective (though messy) method of controlling the pest.

As for the groundhogs, the squirrels, the mice, and the voles, they too have their place in the urban landscape. Squirrels like to hoard away seeds and nuts, most of which they never find again; those very seeds and nuts go on to grow into plants and trees that rejuvenate urban forests and woods (what little of them is left.) Groundhogs, mice, and voles dig underground tunnels -that can, admittedly, cause some havoc in gardens; however, these tunnels often become the refuge of wild solitary bees, who build their nests there. The bees that emerge from there are the first pollinators to appear in the spring, buzzing about the earliest flowers.

Urban animals do make a nuisance of themselves at times: stealing the first, perfectly ripe cherry; taking one bite from the reddest tomato... Wouldn't you know it, they like tasty foods too! It's annoying, I know: I've pumped my fist anger more than once. If you are tempted to trap and to relocate your local pest, please don't. Most SPCAs and Humane Societies no longer advocate the relocation of urban critters. Especially not this late in the season. The displaced animal will be away from its community and its winter stores: you will basically abandon it to starvation and predators. Also, you open up space for other critters to move in, so you will be nowhere ahead.

The only way to control their population is to limit their access to food. Make sure your garbage and compost bins are tightly covered. If you have a garden, fence in or cover your crops; however, if the creature is wily enough to figure out your defences, admit defeat for now, and try a little harder next time!

I'm going to miss those creatures. In a few weeks, I will be moving across the pond. There will other animals, different plants to eat. The growing season is a little off, but longer. I'm not sure I will have a garden. I'm not even sure if I will have time to write. I hope I will. In any case, it's been a fun two year and a half.

Thank you.


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