They provoke both hatred and cooing. They are cute, soft, furry, plant-eating machines. They breed like…rabbits. They amuse me with their adorable wiggly-nosed antics and reduce me to elmer fuddish displays of impotent rage. They remain undeterred by the barrier of the new “fence,” in quotation marks as it proves to be a barrier to nothing except larger dogs and children. Maybe.
I love the fence for its visual privacy. To me gardens should be enclosed spaces, with a bit of secrecy and mystery, unless one lives on a grand estate or a true farm. My favorite spaces have always been little nooks. A small space like ours needs a fence to feel romantic and cozy, as a nook should.
I foolishly believed the new fence would keep out rabbits better than the old fence. During construction the yard was unfenced for a few days. Gazing out my patio doors one morning with my husband’s cat Jinx, she started to have a conniption and stood up like a meerkat at the window. I followed her line of sight: three little bunnies in the butterfly garden, small as mice, nosing around, blindly gumming plant material and nuzzling one another. Finally they settled into a little pile.
The fence was completed the next day. Their mother never came back. They stayed in a pile. When I realized they weren’t moving, all I could do was bury them.
If you want to laugh at me for crying about this, you may. Wild animals die all the time. I’ve got no business growing maudlin over the death of an animal because I am not a vegetarian. Still, I cried. Yet even as I tearfully pushed dirt over the small bunnies, a dark part of my soul cackled with triumph: the fence kept the mother rabbit out! Yes! It works!
My guilt about this evil joy has been assuaged by the realization that the rabbit was just a bad mother, or was eaten by something. I know she could have traversed the “barrier” of the “fence” if she had tried because innumerable rabbits have been here since. So what have I done about the rabbit problem? How much damage have they done? How’s that clover lawn idea working out?
First, the clover in the lawn looks wonderful! I added white clover seeds to the existing grass lawn in May because a monoculture of grass is unsustainable in my climate (maybe any climate) without excessive chemicals and watering, and clover adds nitrogen to eliminate the need for fertilizer. I had a hare-brained theory that I could stop mowing the lawn if the plague of bunnies could be encouraged to munch it by adding clover. It kind of works! Here you see a rabbit eating the lawn instead of the spinach and lettuce right behind him:
The only vegetable plants damaged were chard (which I planted too much of and don’t mind sharing), some parsley, and my second round of beet seedlings which were decimated by the baby rabbits. Wait, you’re thinking, she said the baby rabbits passed away! I’m talking about the other baby rabbits, the ones that were born in the hydrangea garden right under my nose between the patio and the house, the ones who kept very quiet until they were old enough to survive without their mother, the ones who moved into the more dense cover of the Pink garden after I spotted all FIVE of them.
Imagine my horror. Five hungry baby rabbits, born into a paradise of food, water, and shelter with a fence to keep out predators and no cultural taboos against incest. I pictured my garden pitted with warrens and gnawed to the ground by twenty, thirty, a hundred rabbits. This is not what I signed up for when I started to develop “wildlife habitat” in my back yard.
I didn’t sign up for a dead possum clogging the downspout on the garage, giant blueish black wasp colonies on my milkweed, or tomatoes mysteriously bitten, moved, or disappeared by something that must have hands to actually pluck the fruit…all of these inexplicable occurrences plus rabbit invasion plus a year of drought equals one harried, discouraged gardener. However, as I write, fresh tomato sauce for chicken tikka masala bubbles on the stove, pink roses crowd my view, and my biggest worry is what to do with all the basil and akashiso before they go to seed.
How did I solve my rabbit problem? I didn’t. And this is why I really am starting to think gardening is actually magic.
Other than a little research into Havahart traps and Michigan laws stating it’s illegal to relocate wildlife, all I did about the rabbit problem was put some chicken wire around the lettuces. I thought chicken wire incredibly tacky and cringed for days before I installed it, but now that it is up, I think it looks very cool in an aggro-chic kind of way. Very Homestead Hipster, especially with the “ghost bunny” yard art from my mother-in-law’s house as a sentinel, don’t you think?
So essentially, I did nothing about the bunnies, except watch them play, or chase them and then laugh because they were cute and tried to hide underneath each other, or stare in dismay out the window at my yard becoming a teletubbies set, bunnies everywhere happily jumping, cavorting and munching. They definitely ate more lawn than anything else, so I kind of watched and waited.
One by one, the bunnies just went away. The last one to leave was living in the chard, and would panic every time I worked in the veggie garden, so I would say “oh you’re so bad!” in a high voice and he would run away. He was like my little mascot. I forgave him for eating my parsley; I should have planted more. He, too, left the backyard to find his fortune in the bigger world. Ultimately, I guess the frequent human presence drove him away, or whatever that thing with hands is that picks tomatoes.
Last year the lawn looked like hay by this time in the season. This year, it continues to stay green despite a record breaking drought. With the addition of clover, I have a greener lawn with less supplemental water, no de-thatching chores to break my back this fall, and no patches of grass dead from parasites or fungus. I’ve added diversity to the lawn. What’s wrong with a lawn being a community of plants? It’s a lawn, not a golf course. I can handle a little visual texture.
I’m 100% chemical free this year. I’ve had fun with baby bunnies who eat more clover than anything else. The garden worked its magic and solved its own problems when I waited and practiced non-action. I’m declaring Project Cloverlawn a resounding success.