Sandy’s Garden ... Rabbits

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Biodiversity is about ensuring we try to live with the plants, animals, birds and insects that share our immediate environment.

It is increasingly recognised as essential to the well-being of that environment. There are good and sufficient reasons why those plants, animals, birds and insects share our particular part of the world, and we interfere with the natural balance at our peril. Still, it can be difficult to be wholly enthusiastic about some of the local wildlife when the neighbourhood rabbits have chosen, from the entire range of plants available in the garden, to eat the rarest, most beautiful and most expensive of them.

I have quoted before from that splendidly humorous American book, “A Gardener’s Dictionary,” and I shall quote from it again. ‘Garden,’ is defined as, “One of a vast number of free, outdoor restaurants operated by charity-minded amateurs in an effort to provide healthful, balanced meals for insects, birds and animals.” But rather than reach for the trusty twelve-bore, there are other ways of coping with the local rabbit population. The most obvious by far is to choose plants that rabbits don’t really like ... but I have to add that a very hungry rabbit will, in my experience, eat almost any plant that it can reach. Prickly plants are usually safe, as are roses ... often prickly as well as being unpalatable to rabbits ... and fairly tough plants like sedum, skimmia, rhododendron, poppy and cotoneaster. Your local garden centre will probably be able to offer suggestions. Your local garden centre will also have a selection of ultra-sound generators, which produce low-toned sounds that birds pay no heed to but are useful in scaring away moles, grey squirrels, cats and rabbits. Actually, cats are pretty good rabbit-scarers themselves, but your neighbour’s cuddly bundle of fur may not be too welcome in your garden anyway if your garden is its chosen toilet.

Just at this time, we have nightly visits from the local rabbits which, having feasted till they are full, then sit in a line along the centre of the road, each rabbit on its own, about 20 metres apart. It is a curious phenomenon, one which my neighbours have commented on, so I know that I am not dreaming. They have also chosen a spot just outside my garden as their communal toilet and a considerable pile of rabbit droppings can accumulate there, a pile which, fortunately, is substantially depleted every time it rains. But, I try to assure myself, biodiversity is a good thing. Live and let live. And, although the season is all but past, I did grow some of my favourite summer bedding plants ... a favourite with the rabbit too ... in pots and hanging baskets where Fifi Fluffytail couldn’t reach them. I think that the rabbits that inhabit my neck of the woods are either deaf or dim, for they don’t seem much bothered by an ultra-sound generator that moans away periodically in my garden. Nor do they seem to be excessively bothered by the local dog population, members of which sometimes encounter rabbits during their final walk of the day, being content to disappear into the long grass beyond a fence that deters all but the smallest dogs but which offers no protection at all against rabbits; and almost as soon as the dogs’ backs are turned, the rabbits re-emerge.

Bio-diversity is a good thing; biodiversity is a good thing; biodiversity is a good thing. Perhaps if I repeat that mantra often enough I shall learn to love my local rabbits. And anyway, the winter is coming, when the cold will take its toll on the elderly and ailing members of the local population of Oryctolagus cuniculus - the European wild rabbit. But, come the spring, the surviving rabbits … a species often used as a symbol of fertility or rebirth … will breed, well, like rabbits. Bio-diversity is a good thing; biodiversity is a good thing; biodiversity is a good thing; remember that mantra and learn to live with nature!

Sandy Simpson, Polmont Horticultural Society