Garden Update: Calling, Planting and Growing an Ecosystem

I’ve had an interesting week in and around the garden! The groundhog “training” continues, with one of the groundhogs content to munch on clover and behave in a very respectful manner. The other groundhog has behaved more like a teenager: “You’re not the boss of me! I’ll eat whatever I want and like it!” Opening and closing the dining room window startles him back into his hidey hole, but this guy was determined to get into the backyard bed.

On Wednesday just past dusk, really too late for a groundhog to be munching my backyard plants, I saw him lumber into the backyard bed. I thought this was perhaps poetic justice, since he would become great horned owl bait at that hour; however, the great horned owl informed me that the dog run wire from previous owners has created a no fly zone for predatory birds in that area, effectively turning the shed and backyard bed into a free for all. The red tailed hawk chimed in, as well, so that wire’s coming down this weekend. I don’t want to trap or have this groundhog killed. I just want the hawk and owl patrol to keep him in line.

In any case, on Wednesday just after dusk, I decided to see what this “whistle pig” would do. (They actually do whistle. More on that later.) I won’t embarrass my two pepper plants back there by taking photos of their completely denuded stalks, but suffice to say, I now have a clear understanding of the devastation one groundhog can wreak on plants. It was borderline apocalyptic. That morning, I walked to the dangerously nearby nursery and bought a bunch of groundhog and deer repellent plants. I put most up front and few of the bargain ones and known repellents like lavender in the back.

Well! Now I know why the list is so specific. It’s not all Coreopsis. There’s a reason for the specific “threadleaf Coreopsis.” My dollar bargain no longer looks like a bargain at any price:


It still looks better than the peppers, though! Anise hyssop also took a surprising hit, but el chubbo left some leaves. I’m not terribly mad, because I’ve been using the backyard bed as a testing ground. So far liatris, the large sedum, cosmos, peppermint, nettles, threadleaf coreopsis and lavender remain untouched. In keeping with his perfect timing, the groundhog devoured my pepper plants immediately after I considered putting just one veggie bed out back filled with pepper plants. He appears to be quite telepathic, this woodchuck, so I decided to use that to my advantage.

A friend who has been trying to give me his (very often puking) cat, joked that “Jiji could take him.” I declined, but went outside to explore. I found an apparently purposeful hole in the fence and thought about having David patch it up, in case critters moved from the backyard to the much yummier buffet of the front yard. Not that groundhogs can’t dig, but why make it easy for them? I had just texted David about repairing the hole when who walks through the hole and creeps along the back hedge? A cat. A very large cat — much bigger than Jiji, LOL!

This is where things got interesting. The naughty chubster came out of his hidey hole and started munching clover. All of a sudden, he stood on his hind legs and looked towards the hedge. The cat had begun stalking him. I’ve seen this cat before, but never on groundhog patrol until my friend and I started joking about that. The cat creeped all along the backyard spruce, and the groundhog got mighty nervous, at which point, I telepathically said, “THIS is what happens when you eat my pepper plants! THIS is what happens when you destroy things in MY yard. We can live in peace with you eating grass and clover, or we can duke it out, but I will win, little man. You need to behave.”

The cat continued to watch him from the spruce while I watched him from the window. He stared at me and after several repetitions of my message, I got a distinct impression of, “Arggh, would you please SHUT UP?!” At which point I said, “I want you to get the message. That no fly zone is going down. That makes you hawk bait. And owl bait. And now you’re cat bait. Behave, and we won’t have any issues.”

Amazingly, he nodded, then slinked towards his hidey hole with his head down, scurried past his hole, squished himself behind a pot of mint and continued to walk towards the back of the shed where the cat stood. Nothing happened, but he disappeared for a good 12 hours. When he returned, he did not move out of his hole. He just looked around, and I gave him a mental reminder of the rules. “OK, OK, I get it, shut up!” Other than eating the rest of the pepper fruits his two rodent teeth marks had made inedible to me, he’s done no more damage. I bought a nice nepeta (catmint) as a reward for the heroic kitty and put it right near the hole, along with more lavender.

Yesterday afternoon he popped out just to scratch himself but not move around the yard at all. This morning, he grabbed a bunch of grass in his mouth and ducked back down the hole for a snack. The mysterious arrival of the cat right after discussing cats as groundhog patrol underscored the continued call and response from the animal kingdom and makes me ever so cautiously optimistic that –despite warnings otherwise from every single gardener I’ve asked, local and otherwise — we may be able to coexist with respect instead of a mandatory relocation by trap or “flight.” When he behaves like the other one, I rather like this guy, but boundaries seem to be up for review and enforcement everywhere these days.

Meanwhile, I’ve got 1.5 tons of soil on order for a Monday drop off, in order to fill two more Big Bag Beds up front, as well as 10- and 20-gallon Smart Pots for up front and alongside the back hedge patrolled by the kitty. Two aronia berry bushes, three blueberry bushes (super sale on two of them), and a cranberry bush arrived yesterday:


… and I’ve got a bunch of perennials on order, including more rhubarb, some sea kale seeds (as well as a request for more starts from a local permaculture person), and numerous other Crazy Plant Lady goodies. Just the arrivals of the pollinator plants/repellent plants has dramatically upped the diversity in our yard. Bright, fragrant bloomers and mammal repellents tend to be the same thing since deer and groundhogs get sensory overload from too much scent, whereas bees and butterflies love them.

Just as I wondered about getting the catmint as a reward for the kitty, I heard a tapping on the bathroom window. A praying mantis “reporting for duty” reminded me that yes, the Universe has my back, and yes, please do reward the helpers:


That shed bed will soon have so much more color and fragrance, but even now butterflies and dragonflies are zooming all over the backyard. The front yard is beginning to resemble a small, regional airport, unlike the “O’Hare” of our Goshen yard, but still a major uptick in just a few days. Pollination of tomatoes and cucumbers has gone way up in recent days, and I’ve already eaten two ripe tomatoes with more on the way:


I’m so glad I’ve decided to complete the circle around the weeping birch tree by adding another 50-gallon and 100-gallon Big Bag Bed, plus at least 4 more 10-gallon Smart Pots for perennials and herbs. The ones pictured below are growing well despite only getting about 6 hours of direct sun, cobbled together throughout the day.




(Check out this sunflower who came along or the ride! I hadn’t planned to bring any, but this stowaway has earned a spot by the mailbox once I get my soil delivery.)


The new spots receive much more consistent sun, but they’re on greater display. I wanted to see how things progressed before committing to them. For now, I’ve got beautiful and repellent perennials staged approximately where the new beds will go. These plants will surround the edges while the veggie crops grow inside and among them. At least, that’s the plan!



The circle will continue around the tree with four more 10-gallon Smart Pots on the side facing our front door. These plants seem to love the Eastern and Southeastern exposure:


Near the collard on the right, you can see my one sea kale cutting from Goshen trying to take root. Poor thing has had a few transplants but does seem to like this spot better if I can get him to recover. If not, hopefully some of the seeds and/or cuttings I’ve arranged for will thrive. We do love our sea kale, and it’s sooooo pretty, too!

Meanwhile, I’m happy to report that the weeping birch appears to be making a recovery. A week of rain, runoff from garden watering and a whole community of new plant friends seem to have rejuvenated this very struggling tree. Here’s the current view from our living room, with the birch to the far left:


The ground cover needs some major weeding, and I’ve got more strawberries to plant while the drastically chopped back (by previous owners) holly begins to regrow. I’ve got shade blooming and deer repellent astilbe on order, and I’m pondering some other friends. It still feels quite manageable, and I’m excited about discerning and nurturing this “right sized garden” that makes our house and yard feel like home, while (hopefully) showing what’s possible even in and around existing landscaping.

As my Aunt Kath and Uncle John — who will visit soon — say, “To more love!”




13 responses to this post.

  1. Toll !!(*L*)

    Liked by 1 person


  2. Posted by Kieron on July 15, 2017 at 11:03 am

    Uh oh! “nearby nursery” = crack house! 😀 I know that hazard!

    Liked by 2 people


    • LOL! I know, right?! The cashier laughed at me the other day because I needed to make two trips to get home, then came back two days later. Uh-oh. Fortunately, the yard is quite full, which should put some limits on me, along with Herr Chubbo.



  3. Two suggestions to keep El Chubbo in check. First suggestion, get a large container of ground black pepper with a pouring spout. Pour a thick black line of pepper completely around your flower beds every morning then liberally sprinkle over all the plants in the beds. Do daily for 7 days then liberally every other day for another week, then two or three times a week for maintenance. El Chubbo’s nose should guide him to avoid your black-peppered flower beds.

    Second suggestion, get a large dog. I actually see a large friendly Golden Retriever. Let Goldie hang out in your yard liberally during the day. Compost Goldie’s droppings for your garden… Ah, the circle of life!

    Welcone to your new city, home, and garden! A writer’s garden.


    Liked by 2 people


    • Thanks, Sky! I was thinking of cayenne pepper. Somewhere — in one of the gazillion boxes in our basement or garage — I have a 5 pound bag of cayenne. That ought to do it!

      No large dogs for us, at least not for the foreseeable future. After caring for so long for David’s parents, including living somewhere that was a terrible fit for us, plus the intensity of helping my parents last year, plus having both been caregivers to ill/demanding people prior to meeting each other, it’s our time now! We don’t believe in adopting animals unless they are truly wanted, and we are burned out from prioritizing everyone’s needs ahead of our own for so many years. A big part of our move is about right sizing our lives.

      Others have suggested a dog, and the fact that we both cringe with horror at suddenly having a new being to prioritize ahead of all our creative projects, relaxation and fun tells me that communicating with the wild animals is the way to go for me at this time. At least they are self sufficient. 🙂

      Thanks for the warm wishes in our new home!

      Liked by 1 person


  4. I’ve had my first run in with groundhogs this year and yes indeed they can do a staggering degree of damage. Also not wanting to resort to trapping and moving them, I’ve tried motion detecting sprinklers which “woody” seems to merely snicker at as he deftly slips behind them. What has worked is spraying his favorite plants ( so far squash family leaves and sweet potato leaves) with my vegan version of deer repellant spray. A potent concoction of soap and essential oils of garlic pepper mint rosemary clove and thyme. It does have to be reapplied after rain but so far, the only thing that has worked. I should try a telepathic convo…. 😉

    Liked by 1 person


    • Thanks for the tips, Emily! I forgot to mention the morning glories (related to sweet potato). Oh, my goodness! Thankfully, I had already decided I wasn’t going to plant those, so their complete destruction was more of a “Whoa!” than anything else. I guess we’ll see how it all works out. Your concoction must smell better than fox pee. 🙂



  5. Sending all love as you settle into your new lives – the garden is looking so abundant already! With the passing of my mother in December, I too am learning what it’s like to live without being a caregiver. I have been spending lots of time being creative but you have reminded me to add the relaxation and fun bit too – lovely and helpful to see and hear this is something you are both doing and I wish you all the best with it xx

    Liked by 2 people


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