March 23, 2011
Pride Goes Before a Fall
I have been guilty, not of sinful pride so much as stupid smugness in my garden.
I was awfully sure that I had no vole problem in the narrow strip of garden that borders my front walk. Having no vole problem in New England is the same as gardening indoors with houseplants. It just means you haven't been outside.
But for the first three years, I was able to create a nice mosaic of low plants in a hot dry strip along the garage wall, where bulbs and shrubs were not bothered by voles at all.
I was proud of the effect I had created, especially in spring. I had alliums: tall purple globes and small golden garlic and some sweet pink rosy garlic too.
And tulips! 'Queen of Night' and 'Triumphator' made a nice black and white study in early spring, and the voles left them alone. Surprisingly, the tulips came back each year. I even added some pink and green viridiflora 'Groenland' tulips this fall.
Planted among the bulbs I had little bun shaped false cypresses and last summer I added two iteas -- Virigina sweetspire 'Little Sprich'. There were sedums -- 'Angelina' and 'Red Carpet' and a tall sedum with white and green foliage called "Frosty Morn', and a frothy Amsonia hubrichtii with gorgeous yellow fall color.
My theory was that the voles, which plague our lawn and gardens, would not cross the cement walk to get into this narrow strip.
My second theory was that all the the alliums I had planted here discouraged the voles with their strong oniony scent.
Whatever the reason, I had no problem with voles, and when I read Frances at Fairegarden's problems in her wall garden, I smugly thought: "Ha, I don't have to do that! Poor Frances....."
Fall color was nice too, with the garnet red of the iteas shining against the brick wall.
Then, last fall, disaster struck.
Everywhere I looked there were tunnels. Entry and exit holes and piles of excavated dirt. Tall sedums toppled over, their roots gnawed off.
The little bun shaped false cypresses kept losing the lowest branches from underneath. Every time I touched a plant or deadheaded or did anything in that area, the plants wobbled. By late November the whole strip was a disaster, with plants keeling over.
Entire branches of the young iteas were chewed off and left lying next to a vole hole. The woody iteas were easily upended from the earth, and on inspection, bereft of most of their roots.
I added sharp gravel all over the area, since voles have soft bodies and won't cross a gravelly barrier. ha.
I sprinkled peppermint oil down the holes, and used the old chewing gum trick, and various obstacles stuffed in the tunnels. ha.
Mouse traps baited with peanut butter were raided, the bait completely eaten, but the traps unsprung. ha.
I was so smug.
Humbled now, I know I have to dig up the entire strip. I have to dig down 18 inches, add inches of gravel, not just a sprinkling, and lay down a sheet of hardware cloth.
Then I will add soil and replant what can be salvaged that might still have some living roots. Or I will buy new plants. More gravel on top. A big friggin' project. Fortunately I have Frances's Wall Project post showing how to do it, complete with pictures.
What was I thinking? Of course I have voles in this garden. I even see them, brazenly scurrying around my ankles as I try my escalating levels of rodent harassment and murder. I have heard high pitched squeaky laughter as I work to salvage this devastated garden.
The tulip bulbs surely brought them in. They just waited a few years until I was proud of this space and smug about what I had created. Then they moved in.
Humility is a lesson I am still learning.