Sandy’s Garden ... The Greys Have Returned

Sandy Simpson
Sandy Simpson

I thought I had got away with it.

In mid-October, I planted up some fifteen planters with tulip bulbs, offering up a silent prayer that the grey squirrel villains of last year would continue to stay away from my garden, for I had seen neither hide nor hair of a tree rat … as I call them when they attack my garden or take refuge in my loft … for months. And that phrase ‘hide nor hair’ is an appropriate one, for one suggested origin for these words is North America, the favourite quoted example being “I ain’t seen hide nor hair of him,” meaning, “I haven’t seen any trace of him,” and the grey squirrel was, as is well known, introduced into the United Kingdom from North America. Wikipedia uses these words to introduce its article on these largely unwanted immigrants from ‘across the pond’: “Sciurus carolinensis, common name eastern gray (sic) squirrel or grey (sic) squirrel depending on region, is a tree squirrel in the genus Sciurus. It is native to eastern North America, where it is the most prodigious and ecologically essential natural forest regenerator. Widely introduced around the world, the eastern grey squirrel in Europe, in particular, is regarded as an invasive species.”

I would actually prefer to call them invasive pests on the basis of previous experience with these mammals; and I thought I knew how to protect my newly-planted tulip bulbs from their depredations, for I had a sufficient number of wire hanging basket frames which I had used last autumn to prevent them from accessing my bulbs. So on went the covers and off I went on holiday, returning to find the pots undisturbed and a few of the bulbs poking the very first shoots through the surface of the compost. Great - possible problem averted!

Wrong! In the second week of November, my eye was caught by a movement in the garden. Uh-huh, two grey squirrels seemingly frolicking their harmless way across the drying green and off down a path leading to the Network Rail boundary wall, like a couple of first-time-in-love teenagers. It was a couple of hours later before I realised that one of my pots of tulip bulbs had been violated, compost scattered around it and ominous hollows where there had been bulbs. I wasn’t sure then, and I am still not sure, how the squirrels had succeeded in penetrating my wire basket safeguards, but there was not the faintest shadow of a doubt that they had. And, foolishly, in the gathering gloom, I resolved to do nothing more at that time, preferring to wait until the following morning before trying to strengthen my defences.

But the squirrels were up and about well ahead of me. I ventured into the garden mid-morning … human time, not solar time … to discover that they had been beavering away while I slumbered and had broken into another four of five planters, eating or stealing some of the bulbs and destroying others by digging them out and removing the roots and the growing tips. Annoyed with them and cross with myself, I scattered chicken manure pellets liberally across the surface of the compost in the remaining unviolated planters, for squirrels are alleged to be deterred by this evil-smelling fertiliser and I have found this to be an accurate assessment of their reaction to it in the past. Not this time – or, at least, not immediately, for a combination of slothfulness and a chilling wind encouraged me to leave the pellets dry. As I now know, dry chicken manure pellets don’t deter my grey squirrels; and another five or six planters had been stripped of viable tulip bulbs … despite two levels of ‘protection’ … before the next day, when rain turned the pellets into foul-smelling paste.

I ain’t seen hide nor hair of the squirrels since. Have I beaten them? Have they left my neighbourhood? Have they gone off in a train? Who cares … so long as they don’t reappear!