Nope, not in my little garden


I have a dilemma that is both cute and fascinating, but has the potential to wreak havoc in my Certified Wildlife Habitat garden. 

A lot of drama gets played out in our cultivated but still eat-or-get-eaten microcosm of the larger world. Good gardeners learn to live and let live, within reason. I mean, ladybeetles will not survive without aphids to eat, lightening bugs need tall grassy weeds for their glowworm larvae. And do not be smug about having butterflies without tolerating a few plant-eating caterpillars.

My approach to garden critters is selective acceptance, the opposite of selective indignation in which we take umbrage at certain things while embracing very similar others. Sorta like the woman who told me she thought glass bottle trees are tacky, yet hangs colorful baubles from holes in her ears.

My default, in my overstuffed cottage garden, is that it is all good until proven otherwise. I appreciate the whole web of life thing, going way beyond the expected delight in songbirds, hummingbirds, owls, bats, butterflies, pollinating bees and lady beetles. And wildflowers. Those are easy. But I also allow room to roam for tree frogs, toads, several kinds of lizards, and even small non-venomous snakes. My plot of ground, though in the middle of the city, supports several different kinds of each, with their unique roles and fairly predictable habits.

There is some unease, of course. Because of a lifelong knee-jerk reaction (and its accompanying little girl squeal), I tolerate but keep a wary eye on big spiders, fire ant mounds and active wasp nests in inconvenient locations. And I make sure to bury fresh compostables deep in my leaf pile to reduce the attraction to rodents and slugs.

And in spite of their general creepiness or naughty behavior, I tolerate raccoons, possums and, grudgingly, squirrels. As if there was much I could do about the latter - funny how so many people call or email me expecting reliable advice for dealing with squirrels, when I wish I could keep them off my own bird feeders and tomato plants. And, knock on wood, I am relieved to not have any rabbits, deer or voles and their voracious vegan appetites.

But it is not all nirvana in my little corner of Paradise. I actively ban some wildlife that is too risky to my plants, other creatures and me. No wiggle room for venomous snakes, neighbors’ kids and feral or free-roaming pet cats. Appreciate them all, but nope, not in my little garden.

But they are all part of the web, and I believe after 40 years of trying different approaches that the best tactics are, in descending order, ignoring or planning them in as best you can, using barriers and mechanical controls (fence for deer, traps for smaller noxious animals, netting or squashing for bugs when practical), and resorting to poisons only in specific instances where losing a plant, pet, or finger is likely.

Here’s my current dilemma: A neighbor found an orphaned possum joey, North America’s only marsupial. He was going to release the vulnerable baby into the woods, which would mean certain death by predation or starvation. So, dusting off my years-ago training in wildlife rehab, I took it in. Made a nice roomy cage with protection from weather, and branches to climb to build up agility. Being careful to not try to domesticate it, I have provided fresh water and fed it dry cat food supplemented with fruit, eggs, worms, and big slugs (of which I have plenty in spite of the lizards and toads). 

Little Pogo will soon be ready to go out on its own. Now what?

Felder Rushing is a Mississippi author, columnist, and host of the “Gestalt Gardener” on MPB Think Radio. Email gardening questions to