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MARTHA SEZ: So long, and thanks for all the tulips

May 27, 2011
I love my garden, especially this time of year, when the first little leaves are coming out on the trees and all of nature is in a rush to get going after the long winter.

As my friend Cal, who is in first grade, told me, “We like snow when it first happens, but the winter has just been too great. It’s gone on for too long.”

Cal, a deep thinker, was using the word great in the sense of mighty and powerful. I agree with him. Luckily, the forces of spring are mighty too. Daffodils and tulips are a bright flag testifying to the power of rebirth. (I’m pretty sure Cal would back me up on this.)

Except this year, for the first time, the deer ate my tulips.

I was out in the back yard, surveying the progress of the bulbs I had so carefully selected, sent off for and planted last fall. Nothing was blooming yet, but they were all up. Then I saw that the tulips’ normally lancelike leaf tips had been blunted. It looked as if someone had come along in the night and methodically clipped all of the leaves evenly with a pair of garden shears, leaving the buds intact. Hunh, I thought.

The next morning every tulip had been chomped down to the ground, buds and all.

I really, really hate deer. I know it’s wrong.

As a native Michigander, I have complained about robins in this space over the years. Now, even though they have withstood my sarcasm pretty well, I feel that I owe them an apology.

My perennial complaint about robins has been that while the robin is the state bird of Michigan, Wisconsin and Connecticut, these birds can be found disporting themselves shamelessly in the Sun Belt all winter, congregating in riotous, drunken flocks, eating fermented berries and falling out of bushes.

Disgraceful behavior? Certainly, but arguably no worse than that of many humans, from college students to Baby Boomers and on up. State bird status doubtless puts robins under a great deal of pressure, and, all in all, upon refection I think they have handled it gracefully.  At least you don’t catch them eating people’s hard-earned tulips.

I’m not a moody person, but, when I’m troubled, I can get sarcastic. Since I live alone, and have no one to take things out on, I sometimes catch myself being sarcastic to Jupiter, the cat. I am not proud of this.

“Oh, yes, here you are, yowling for food. Look! Your bowl is full! So far this morning I’ve given you two kinds of cat food, and a chicken liver. Oh, meow, meow, meow. Why don’t you go kill another bird? I wish you’d do something useful for a change and bring down a deer...”

Jupiter regards me fixedly, then stalks off. His feelings probably aren’t hurt, but he is above this kind of conversation, and lets me know it.

Deer are too dumb to understand sarcasm. One thing they do understand is bobcat urine and its implications. Coyote urine, too.

There was still time to save the tulips in the front yard. I went to the taxidermy store to inquire whether they sold either one, and they kindly referred me to another store in Lewis, where coyote and bobcat scent are sold to trappers.

In the end, I decided against resorting to this method. Trappers use scent as a lure, and luring bobcats and coyotes to the yard might just create more problems. With any luck, they would eat the deer. First, though, they’d probably eat the cats, Jupiter and Orangey.

Can you imagine bobcats and coyotes making a shambles of your lawn and garden? I generally sleep soundly, but the sounds of carnage under the windows might be enough to wake me up. Even if I slept through it, I wouldn’t like to see the aftermath in the morning. It could be worse than a few dozen missing tulips.

I went to the hardware and bought a roll of netting. A friend gave me a spray-on liquid deer repellent. One or both of these products worked, or else the deer found enough wild plants and buds to eat on the mountain slopes without venturing down to town to raid people’s gardens again.

I hope that’s it from the deer. I like them much better when they stay in the woods.

Have a good week.


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