In Which I Declare War on Squirrelkind

I had grand plans for today’s blog post, dear reader. I planted my garden on Mother’s Day, and though I considered writing about it in my most recent Thursday Things, I thought, “No! I have so much to say that I shall dedicate an entire blog post to this, my pride and joy!” I planned to enthrall you with the true story of why my tulips didn’t grow, impress you with the environmental consciousness and thoughtfulness that guided my planting this year, entertain you with self-deprecation and wit.

Alas! No good deed goes unpunished, and instead I come to you today with a tragically different tale.

Gaze upon the destruction foisted upon my poor garden!

garden2018-wildflowerseaten

*grumbles forever*

But first, some context.

In my ongoing effort to convince the birds to come to me rather than me going to them, I decided to focus my garden this year around bird-friendly practices. Specifically, I wanted to dedicate at least part, if not all, of the bathtub to native plants, under the premise that native plants would attract native bugs, which in turn would attract native birds. Plus, native plants are good for the ecosystem, help the bees and butterflies, etc. etc. I’m sure the Sierra Club will show up at my door any day now to recognize my outstanding environmental consciousness.

Anyway, the idea was foolproof! It was also a bit foolish, admittedly–well, maybe not so much foolish at it was ironic–being that I am a renter and decided the best use of my time and energy in the gardening department this year would be spent on perennials. The “planting seeds in a garden you never get to see” line from Hamilton came to mind as I put my plants in the ground, but leaving behind a legacy of Illinois-friendly plants is about as much as I could hope for in this little rented patio of mine, so I was at peace with my decision.

I spent time researching native plants that could handle low sunlight and brought my list to Gethsemane Garden Center in Andersonville, which, holy cow, was far and away the best place I’ve gone yet to buy plants. They have EVERYTHING you can dream of and more. If you want to garden in Chicago, you should go to Gethsemane Garden Center. It was so organized, the employees were so helpful, and the whole experience of buying plants there was delightful. There, I found sedge, Virginia Bluebells, Jack-in-the-Pulpits, and phlox. I figured two sedge plants, two Jack-in-the-Pulipits, two phlox plants, and one Virginia Bluebell would nicely fill my bathtub, so I brought them home, planted them, and patted myself on the back for caring so much about the environment.

garden2018-wildflowers

Because I have no self-control when it comes to plant purchasing, I also bought a tomato plant, a basil plant, an African Daisy, a petunia, and more begonias than you can shake a stick at. I was especially proud of my begonia display. This was the first time in four summers of gardening that I managed to coordinate the flower colors, pot colors, and plant sizes in a way I found particularly visually appealing, and I looked forward to watching the plants grow and fill the patio with color as time went on.

garden2018-begonias

When I came home last Thursday, I saw a hole in the dirt in my petunia pot and dirt all over the surrounding area. I immediately suspected a squirrel had come to call, and checked on other plants to see what else had happened. I didn’t see too much destruction, though I did notice that one of my white begonias no longer had any flowers and had the distinct look of something that had been eaten. I started researching how to keep squirrels away from begonias.

Friday morning as I got ready for work, I heard noise in the back patio and went to the window to investigate. There I saw not one, not two, not three, not four, but FIVE squirrels having their way with my entire garden area: romping through the bathtub, treating my tomato cage as their own personal jungle gym, demonstrating their powerful leg strength by jumping the two feet or so from a ledge to my begonias, where they helped themselves to a delicious breakfast of freshly-planted flowers.

I. Was. Furious.

I yelled at them from the window, which filled them with so much fear that they bothered to glance in my direction before resuming their destruction. I then pounded on the window, which produced the same lackluster results. I finally stormed outside, armed with red pepper flakes (given that I had no cayenne, the recommended squirrel deterrent, in my house). They scurried into a dark corner behind one of the houses that backs up to the patio while I seasoned my plants with reckless abandon. Take that, rodents!

I went back inside to resume getting ready for work, and when I checked the window a few minutes later, there they all were again, utterly unfazed by the red pepper and wholly unconcerned by my wrath. In a fit of rage, I trimmed off some of my own hair, since the internet also said that could frighten them away, grabbed the chili powder from my spice cabinet, and went outside again. I was now 20 minutes late for work, had a vaguely awkward haircut (though I at least had the sense to trim bottom layers rather than something more obviously) and was so frustrated I wanted to cry. I was also worried: I had to go straight from work to Michigan, and wouldn’t return to my apartment until Sunday. Who would fight off the squirrels in the mean time?

Nothing and no one, apparently.

garden2018-begoniaseaten

I came home Sunday to a ravaged garden. My Virginia Bluebell had been eaten entirely, as had one of my phlox plants. The other phlox had been completely stripped of all its flowers, leaving nothing but sad stems where a beautiful plant had once been. The squirrels also helped themselves to nearly all of my begonias, as you can see in the picture above, which shows the same two plants from the previous picture post-squirrel feast.

I don’t know what to do at this point. I think (hope, pray) most of my plants will grow back over time, but waiting to find out makes me nervous: what if it’s July and they haven’t regrown? It’ll be too late to plant anything at that point. On the other hand, I’m also not interested in dropping a bunch of money on new plants, only to bring the squirrels back for more meals. I could try other squirrel-deterring methods, but when recounting this tale to my mom and grandma over the weekend, both warned me that their success with supposedly fail-proof critter deterrents has been spotty. I did buy cayenne at Jewel this weekend, though, and will happily sprinkle the entire jar on my plants if it’ll keep those stupid creatures away.

I’m not entirely sure where these squirrels came from, but I strongly suspect that they are last year’s babies returning to their former home. The hole that allowed them to get into the garage last year has been sealed, so they don’t seem to have any good reason to hang around, other than, you know, the smorgasbord of flowers I’ve provided for them to eat at their leisure, apparently.

I’m a bit discouraged by this turn of events and have extremely low hopes for my garden this year as a result. I’m particularly disappointed at the native plant situation, because I really did want to attract birds to my patio. But, such is the plight of gardening, I suppose. Nature will have its way!

Oh, and as for the tulips (and daffodils and crocuses)? All of the bulbs rotted, save for the one that produced a flower. All 54 of them. I dug them up before planting my native plants, and they were all squishy, oozy, and generally revolting. I don’t know exactly what caused that, either, but it was likely due to fungi, bacteria, poor drainage, or some combination of the above. Really batting 1.000 in the gardening department in 2018 over here *eye roll emoji*

Have you ever successfully deterred squirrels from your garden? Please, give me your insight. I’m all ears.

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