Dratted Suirrels!

by Jamie Lutton

Last year I moved into a house where there are trees, bushes, flowers...and an overgrown yard that needs a lot of work.   This particular home had been neglected for many years, except that someone had put down a ton of wood-chips, with cardboard underneath to kill the weeds in some of the yard.  I have not done any gardening since I was my Dad's indentured lawn servant. He used to follow me around when I mowed the yard, pointing out three or four blades of grass I missed, etc. He paid me the vast sum of $2 a week. After I took a  a labor history class in high school, I asked him for a raise; he told me he would 'do the job himself'. I said 'what, are you going to be a scab, then?"  I got my wages raised to $5. Dad was a left-leaning  history buff, and appreciated  my rejoinder. 
This yard, though, was mine, and my challenge. . I took on the Sisyphean task of putting it in order, and weeding it was the first item on the agenda. After sweating for weeks,  removing a million dandelions,  blackberry bushes, and English Ivy, I decided I wanted a treat for myself.
I went rosebush shopping
I had along a female relative who was wildly enthusiastic about my project.  She is alert for any signs of domesticity in me.    She drove me  to a big, fancy gardening place out in the sticks, where there were acres of rosebushes to choose from.  I bought three rosebushes, picked out for their scent, color and hardiness.   I did not want roses that were pretty, big, but had no scent.     In the end, I went for 'Julia Child' (yellow) 'Memorial Day'  (pink) and 'Shakespeare'' (red).   I was suckered by the 'Shakespeare' rose. Who could resist having 'Shakespeare in the front yard?
She said  David Austin roses were the best for our climate, but in the end only one of the rosebushes, the "Shakespeare" was that variety. She also said 'pay attention to the scent of each rose'', and at this place, each rose was marked by not only what the their blooms would smell like, but how strong the scent would be.  It was  rather like picking out wine for a wine cellar; the details were that careful, luscious and vivid; using terms like 'spice' and 'aroma'..
After I got the roses in the ground with THREE different kinds of rose food, I gave them a good watering.  I discovered, then, that the short hose I have did not reach Julia Child which had been planted far from the house, so to water it, I had to spritz the water long distance, holding my arm above my head, to reach the plant.

Looking at the roses each morning, I was hoping they would grow like Bamboo and get big fast. I called my female relative, and asked how soon till they get  full sized. She said 'two years'.

The next day, at the grocery store, I saw some  tiny tea-roses, already blooming with pink, white and red miniature roses. They looked like they needed a home.   I bought six of them, two of each color, and put them in another part of the yard, close but not too close to each other.  These last few warm days, I am out at midnight or at 7 am, watering all these roses. I had somehow forgotten about all the upkeep involved...

I also bought some big pretty purple daisy like flowers with white centers,  annuals, that I do not know the name of. In my enthusiasm to get them in the ground, I lost the little tag that says what they are.  They are very hardy. I bought them two months ago, and they are still blooming, going strong.  I keep waiting for them to 'die back', but it hasn't happened yet. I pick off the dead blooms, and stare at them, wishing I had the money to have bought many more pots of them. They are amazing.

All over the yard, about a six weeks ago, spindly knee to waist high plants, with long skinny leaves, 'weeds' I had not targeted, suddenly burst into gorgeous, feathery purple flowers, like the flowers on clover, but much bigger.  I learned that their name was 'Bachelor Buttons'. They are the most prolific flower in the yard, even growing up through the pavement here and there. I don't have the heart to cut them back, even though they are everywhere.
A well meaning person gave me a huge bag of wild bird seed. This got me looking at bird feeders; after a few false starts I went to Wild Birds Unlimited, where a crafty saleswoman (you know the type) got me to buy four bird-feeders, two of which were supposedly 'squirrel proof'. Also, she sold me  blocks of suet for birds that don't like seeds, with wire baskets to hold the suet
One feeder was OK; it had a wire basket over the feeder that kept squirrels out, but the second, which had  a plastic 'dome' over the feeder, did not keep  'Houdini' out of the food for long.  She lowered herself down onto the dome, riding it like an exercise ball a couple of times, till she figured out she could hang by her back legs, easing herself  around the edge and jumping on the lip of the feeder. Her mate, Edmund Hilliary, was more prone to taking great leaps over a five foot gap  to land on this feeder.   And the suet feeders were harvested merrily by both; they would hang by their back legs and eat upside down in seeming comfort, not going away even when I rapped on the glass. They would glance at me, snicker, and go back to chowing down on the '''bird''' food.

My cat Piglet sometimes looks out the window at the fun. She had not seen squirrels before; I think she thought they were small vegetarian cats who could climb really well.    She knew what birds were , but these squirrels were a mystery to her.  Once, when she sneaked out of the house, she came across a squirrel on the ground only  a few feet from her. They both froze, then both galloped in opposite directions.

I do get some birds.  Chickadees, Juncos, and some other small birds I have not identified yet. They eat both the seeds and the suet.  Two huge bluejays from the one yard over drop by now and then, where they have a nest, to  eat the birdseed spilled on the ground.  I am hoping for a lot more bird visitors in the winter, when wild food is harder to find. And by then, I hope to have figured out how to baffle the squirrels. The two I am dealing with are too smart for me, so far.   I have seen feeders put on poles at that shop, but I hate to buy $50 -$200 pole systems when I have a couple of perfectly good trees to put feeders in.

Houdini and Edmund Hillary don't look like they have missed any meals; I will report back if I get any more high-tech  (expensive) bird feeding equipment that can finally baffle them. Right now, I am laid up with an twisted knee inside, and in in no shape to chase squirrels.