Written by J. Mitchell Brown
Photgraphy by Ed Funk
bought me a dog a few years ago. I named her Colleton River’s Waltzing Mathilda, but call her Mattie for short. She’s a beautiful black lab. She’s not too hyper, not too ornery, and not too stupid. She’s a laid-back LowCountry gal, just how I like ‘em.
Mattie and I like to sit out under the arbor in our main garden at dusk. Maybe we’ve got some pork chops on the grill, maybe a book in our hand, but usually just a nice cocktail watching a beautiful sunset. I’ll be sitting, quietly reflecting over the day’s events, or perhaps what I have to do tomorrow with Mattie sprawled out with her cheek next to the concrete pavers trying to keep cool. She’ll twitch when she falls asleep and is dreaming – probably about jumping off the dock or digging up a fiddler crab. Perhaps it’s about the time she learned of the business end of a cat’s claws.
We’ll get startled out of our daydreams by the buzz of a hummingbird coming to sip on its feeder. A painted bunting will flit from one feeder to another, while the woodpeckers do their trade looking for bugs in tree trunks. The cardinals and nuthatches are dropping seeds from the feeders to the patiently waiting mourning doves and a stray fox squirrel or two. Every now and then, we’ll see an ol’ turtle come loping out of the underbrush to see what’s going on. Pretty soon, the sky blazes the last colors of the day and fades to gray. These are the uninvited visitors I like in my garden.
But reality is that midnight marauders are never on the guest list, either, but they certainly take advantage of no sentry being on duty. I’m talking about my two garden nemesisses – Mr. Deer and his buddy the Raccoon.
These two outlaws like to strike under the cover of darkness. One, the deer, likes to view my hard work in my garden as the ultimate salad bar buffet. The other is simply a vandal with a penchant for sunflower seeds. To be fair, I don’t have any use for a gray squirrel, either, but at least they face off with me in the daytime when I am awake enough to do something about it. Sit back and picture the deer and raccoon in your mind. God gave them those big eyes for a reason.
There have been countless theories about how to foil a deer and keep him from devouring your expensive plants. The ONLY foolproof method I have found is to move to the Sonoran Desert and have a barren rockscape for your garden (but, funny enough, even that has its own host of problematic and thieving animals). Deer love almost everything that has a root system and can fit in their mouth: potato vines, portulaca, begonias, ornamental grasses, daylilies, herbs, and ESPECIALLY impatiens. (I had the most spectacular impatiens garden last year that was reduced to nubs in one night.) And once the deer know where you keep your salad bar, it’s all-you-can-eat with a return ticket!
There are deer blankets that you place over your plants at night, and deer fences that can be installed to surround your property; there’s high-pitched deer alarms and plastic snakes that are supposed to scare away deer; you can install automatic lights or sprinklers years. Here’s how it works:
Once you find evidence that deer have been munching on your flowers, pull out a dozen eggs and leave them on a sunny porch for a couple of hours. Fill up a two-gallon pump sprayer about three-quarters full of water. Sprinkle in a couple of tablespoons of paprika or cayenne or Uncle Billy’s Hell-In-A-Bottle Hot Sauce. Crack open those eggs and dump them (no shells) into your pump sprayer. Make sure that the eggs are well stirred up in the mixture so they won’t clog your sprayer. Proceed to douse everything in your garden with this mixture. Now, mind you, it will smell for a day or two, but that will soon fade. Until the next heavy rain washes the mixture off, there won’t be a deer in Beaufort County that will come near your collection. And if he does – well – suffice it to say it will only be once.
Be advised that you need to clean your sprayer thoroughly after using an egg treatment. If you forget to, the pungent odor of rotten eggs in a sealed container left in the sunshine will be sure to remind you. It’s also a good idea to make this mixture outside. I made the mistake of filling up my pump sprayer inside once, only to drop the whole she-bang on my carpet. I was not my wife’s favorite person that day.
As for the raccoons… These guys are just bandits, plain and simple. All they are after is that $30-a-bag sunflower meat, or unattended cat food, or carelessly discarded crab backs. Your best bet is to keep food out of their reach. They don’t care about the ambiance in your backyard. If the food ain’t there, neither are they.
Raccoons, like their daytime counterparts the gray squirrels, are wily and acrobatic. Don’t let their goofy plump size fool you. Take a look at their hands or their footprints sometime. That fifth digit is as close as you get to an opposable thumb without being an ape or a human. They can jump, hang, manipulate, strip, or break just about anything that stands between them and dinner. I awoke one night to find that five of them had not only climbed up my bird feeder pole, but had removed and opened two feeders (one with a clasp) and were contentedly chowing down on their contents.
The best way to stop a raccoon from devouring your birds’ rightful fare is to place your bird feeders well away from anything climbable. This includes trees, houses, and garden structure. A baffle is a must. You can buy baffles at any place you buy bird feeders and supplies, but pay close attention to what you are buying. Make sure that the baffle is large enough to fit around your pole or post, and is larger that the raccoon’s ability to reach around. A baffle should not be so firmly attached to the post that it cannot move; on the rare occasion that a raccoon or squirrel does get around it, you want the baffle to give way and make the animal fall to the ground. Don’t worry, they won’t get hurt from a few foot drop to the ground. They’ll get embarrassed and frustrated, though, and realize that your next-door neighbor’s birdfeeder is much less protected. You can even make your own baffle out of an old garbage can lid, but I like the store bought ones that have the steep angle on the top. It satisfies the sadist in me to see a squirrel scratching at the top of that thing trying to get a firm hold, only to fall back down to earth.
I am passionate about keeping my garden my sanctum. No unwanted visitors allowed. My garden is the tangible expression of my hard work and values. It is the place that I come to relax, to rejuvenate, and to reflect. A garden is where I get in touch with the spirit that forms my character. I am at home in my garden.
If I wanted a deer to be with me in my garden, I would never have gotten Mattie.