Gardening where the sidewalk ends

Nutty December 3, 2009

Filed under: fall,fauna,trees — greenwalks @ 10:33 pm
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After our witch hazel (Hamamelis X intermedia ‘Jelena’)’s leaves do their spectacular fall color thing and then turn to a crispy brown carpet for the winter, there’s not much to look at until the tree puts out its fragrant red-orange flowers around January. Not that I’m complaining! To only have a few months of boring-ness in a deciduous tree, that’s pretty impressive.

But this year I noticed something I hadn’t before – squirrels searching the branches for something tasty. One day I looked out and saw one happily munching away:

Squirrel Nutkin

On what, though? Not the flower buds, I hoped! Or the bark. Then I saw a second one:

Peacefully munching squirrels

Sorry for blurry photos – taken through a window on with my crummy camera on a gloomy day. Couldn’t believe it when I finally noticed the third one on a different branch (at this point they are all at about the same level in the tree, evenly spread out – can you spot them?:

Squirrel haven

No fighting, no biting – a peaceable kingdom. Pretty rare – usually they are tearing up the place, chasing each other around and chattering like demons. I went back through my photos from earlier in the fall and found a close-up of the hazel ‘nuts,’ which I’d promptly forgotten about. Are these edible for humans, or only birds and fancy, sometimes mischief-bent rodents?

Witch hazel "nuts"

Moot point this year, anyway – they seem to have got ’em all!


Squirrel Vacation? March 1, 2009

Filed under: fauna,winter — greenwalks @ 11:11 pm
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It’s kind of weird to even say this, but I haven’t seen any squirrels around lately and I kind of, well, miss them.

Yes, I know I complain about them endlessly, write them angry letters, and concoct horrid potions to keep my garden safe from their terrorizing ways. But I am starting to wonder where they’ve gone. Nesting? Greener pastures? Trip to the Bahamas? The Great Beyond?

At the Seattle Audubon Society shop last week, I picked up a few books and other fun things, including this handy pamphlet about my furry friends/foes.

Enjoying Squirrels More (Or Less)

I might have put myself firmly in the “less” category, but my new philosophy (at least until they decapitate my sunflowers again) is to try to build my garden so that it is wildlife-friendly and does not involve so many battles between me and the critters.

There were some mystery tracks in the snow the other day – maybe a stealth pre-dawn foray by a bushy-tailed one?

Squirrel Tracks in Snow

Maybe they’ve all just gone off to live at my daughter’s friend’s house, where the parents abandon all caution and actually put out food, right outside their front window, so the kids can get a close-up view of squirrels making pigs of themselves. Look at that beady little eye – no fear whatsoever!

Ballard squirrel on porch

What is your philosophy about gardening with sometimes-pesky wildlife? Live and let munch? All out war? Or something in between?


The Squirrel’s Response January 9, 2009

Filed under: fauna,winter — greenwalks @ 12:36 pm
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Dear Karen of Greenwalks –

I received your missive, dated November 3 of the previous year. I am appalled at your use of such offensive words as “annoying” and “infuriating” to describe my natural, instinctive food-seeking behavior, not to mention that you now “officially hate” me. And I will not even stoop to address your depiction of me as a germ-covered potential¬† child-sickener.

I think it would be illustrative for you to consider what winter is like for myself and my ilk. Do you think we have cozy Craftsman houses such as your own to cuddle up and stay warm in during the wet and cold months? Oh dear me, no. A bundle of sticks if we’re lucky, and the warmth generated by our own bodies, is all we possess in the way of shelter and comfort.

You begrudge me the occasional tasty chard morsel (nota bene: I prefer white chard to your current selection of Bright Lights, which I find a bit gaudy for my refined visual sensibilities) or nibble on your daughter’s crudely carved Jack-o-Lanterns. I was merely “thinning” your seedlings and making a more expressionist take on what seemed to me to be rather prosaic designs on the pumpkins.

You mention my “million acorns” without having heard, I presume, of the acorn shortage that has inexplicably hit the Eastern US.¬† I had to systematically, using my GPS, dig up and mail off all I could spare to my cousins on my mother’s side so that they would not starve this winter.

Then, after that irksome letter, you had had the nerve to cover your bulb plantings in a repulsive, stomach-turning concoction of boiled onion and pepper water, topped off with gag-inducing paprika. Really, that almost caused me to seek new feeding grounds. Almost… but then I decided to dig in for the winter and not let you have the last word. And so, I have been scratching this letter on a piece of cedar bark since before the snows came, letter by laborious letter (it’s not easy writing when you have no opposable thumbs, yet another thing you probably disdain me for!).

In closing, let me show you a few pictures from our family album from the past few months. See if it doesn’t pull on your heartstrings to see us out there, huddled against the wintry bleakness. If not, well, you must have no heart whatsoever.

Yours truly,

Ignatius P. Squirrel (known to you, demeaningly, as “Dr. Destructo”)

PS Oh, I know you worked hard with your daughter on that peanut-butter-and-sesame-seed-covered pine cone. It was fun to take it right off your witch hazel tree, whole, before the birds even got a nibble. And even more fun with the two of you there on the other side of the window, watching with your mouths gaping open in shock and horror! Hee hee. It almost repaid you for that odious letter.

PPS You almost gave me a heart attack yesterday when you came up on the front porch so suddenly as I was nibbling away at a forgotten pumpkin. I had to fly right by you, only inches away, tail flailing! Truly humiliating. And that it happened again later in the day, well, it truly almost did me in. I would appreciate if you would be more careful next time and give much better notice of your arrival!

Squirrel in snowpatches

Soggy squirrel

Squirrel huddled in a cammelia

Squirrel atop Radio Flyer red wagon


Bulb Post, Part III November 14, 2008

Yesterday’s post probably had some of you calling my sanity into question. I won’t argue with you there, I did feel sort of like a madwoman cooking up that hideous concoction to squirrel-proof my bulb plantings… but it was fun. And it didn’t even smell that bad! Just like salsa soup or something.

So, after I was done loading up (and half-melting) the spray bottle, it was time to head out to the parking strip and put those babies in the ground! Another thing preventing me from doing so had been the weather, but I took the first sunny moment I had time and went for it. Bulb planting always takes longer than I think it will, so I had to allow for a few hours’ work, counting the potion-brewing.

La la la, line ’em up on the back porch and see what I got, because I always forget between when I buy them and when the poor things actually get planted.

Bulbs to plant

I lost the full list, but this is some of what I scribbled onto a now-muddy piece of paper when I was out there, so I could remember locations:

– Narcissus ‘Scarlet Royal’ (yellow with large orange cups)
– Narcissus ‘Sir Winston Churchill’ (white/orange double-flowering)
– Tulip ‘Fashion’ (rose with purple veins – Kaufmaniana)
– Tulip ‘Mona Lisa’ (yellow feathered with raspberry)
– Tulip ‘Palestrina’ (salmon with green feathering)

Oh man, I know there was a lot else. Some things that ended up in the upper garden include

– Muscari ‘Blue mixture’
– Narcissus ‘Little Gem’
– Bellevalia paradoxa (never grown this before, related to muscari)
– several varieties of species tulips – maybe I’ll find my other smudgy paper before spring and will update this if so… sorry!

My hands were too muddy to take pictures of the bulbs going into their new homes, but I did try to put them at the right depths, at least as well as memory served. I had thought I had some bulb fertilizer in the garage but it wasn’t where I expected it to be so I probably used it up last year. So, they’ll have to get what they can from my semi-poor soil and I hope it’s enough! This is definitely not a guide for how to give your bulbs the best start…

After they were all planted, it was time to squirrel-proof up a storm! I sprayed my goofy concoction over the planting site (these next pics are from the upper garden, under the witch hazel), sprinkled a little paprika on for good measure (word on the street is that they don’t like the smell of that either),

Paprika sprinkle on bulb zone

and now my garden smells like Hungarian goulash!

Just to be triple-sure, I covered up each site with some witch hazel or plum leaves. I hope the various methods didn’t cancel each other out, that would be so typical of my haphazard approach to gardening. I made sure a little paprika was sticking out past the leaves.

All covered up and protected

Thanks to the Arboretum volunteers for packing the bulbs in compostable paper bags, no plastic anywhere to be found. They all went straight into the yard waste toter.

Bulb bags in the yard waste

Now the waiting begins. I’ve been out once so far to “refresh” the spray, but doubt I’ll get to it more than maybe once or twice again. I can’t see going out there all winter, that’s just not my kind of gardening (the lazy kind!). So far so good, with nary a paw mark upon any of the leaf piles. Hm, I probably just jinxed it all. Damn.

So, Dr. Destructo, the gauntlet is tossed. Yeah buddy, I’m talkin’ to YOU.

Nemesis squirrel, Dr. Destructo


Freak tiny corn September 27, 2008

It’s always funny to me to hear about the weirdo volunteer seedlings that sprout in people’s gardens, whether from compost, bird leavings, or another mysterious process. Probably my most unusual sprout this summer was this freakishly miniature corn that showed up on the edge of my veggie patch, despite the fact that neither I nor anyone else on the street has ever grown corn that I know of.

Freak volunteer corn - alive

When it first came up, I thought it looked like corn but wasn’t sure. As it matured and its little tassels showed up, I let it stick around and wondered if I’d get to “harvest” something that maybe looked a little bit like the baby corn that usually gets tossed into bad vegetarian Chinese food.

But one day I got tired of looking at the broken-necked sunflowers and ripped them out (thanks, Mr/Ms Squirrel), and when I came back to the garden later I found this:

Freak volunteer corn after squirrel removed it

I don’t have a spycam but I’m just going to take a wild guess and say that the pissed-off squirrel, not finding any more sunflowers to break/devour, decided to see if the corn was worth gnawing on, ripped it out, took one bite, and tossed it. Either that or it has weirdly accurate perception of which plants I like, and decided to show me who’s the boss in the garden (after what I learned about crows this week, I wouldn’t be that surprised). Oh well, it probably wouldn’t have been edible anyway.


Seed Snarfer August 31, 2008

My family looked out the window this morning and saw something pretty funny. A big, fat squirrel, perched precariously on top of one of my parking strip sunflowers, was scarfing down all the seeds s/he could reach. I had noticed yesterday that some of the flowers were leaning over and thought it was due to a windy day we had earlier in the week. Guess it was the squirrel’s climbing expeditions instead.

Sunflower Squirrel

One of the stems had snapped off halfway down, so I hacked it off and brought it up to our house level so that we could watch the fun from a closer vantage point. The squirrel soon reappeared and ate the entire huge head of seeds. “It’s like it’s a big feast!” was my daughter’s comment. Guess fall must really be here.

Squirrel Things Sunflower Seeds Are Yummy