This is the time of year when we reflect on our lives and realize how blessed we are. You will, no doubt, read columns about gratitude and loving and family.
This is not that column.
This column is about me vs bunnies and you don’t need to skip to the end to know how this is going to turn out.
The flower protagonists in this column are pansies, my favorite flower. I could wax eloquent for a long time about pansies. They come in an array of beautiful colors and faces. They smile. They are resilient, they overwinter on the Eastern Shore. Their fragrance is divine. They are the perfect size, not too tall and not too small. They grow anywhere there is some sun, but the best in a lot of sun.
But most of all, they welcome me back from Florida. Every winter, I returned to rows and rows of smiling pansies. Pansies in the front so that tourists and neighbors alike could see their welcoming faces. In my garden, they circled the perimeter and provided stunning bouquets of flowers in my planters.
But about three years ago, the bunnies showed up en masse. In the beginning they only chomped on some of the flowers; but by now, they eat all the pansies down to the nubs, only tiny reminders of a stalk remain.
This year I planted my perimeter, and outside my fence with pansies only to discover that within a week, all had disappeared. I have tried to contest nature before and failed, but this battle was too important. I rolled up my sleeves and got to work.
Bunnies can help themselves to any clover, holly branches, or even my liriope (which is considered a bunny deterrent, for other bunnies, anyway). But like me, pansies are their favorite flower.
I developed a plan of action by scouring the Internet and talking to experienced gardeners on how to keep my bunnies at bay. First, I tried commercial solutions. I sprayed Liquid Fence, but my garden simply stunk…it kept the bunnies away for a while, but I couldn’t tolerate the stench. Then I found a granular rabbit repellent. I carefully followed the directions, only to watch my little Maltese devour it. But it didn’t work outside of the dog fence, either. The rabbits simply hopped over it.
This was war. And the scientist in me decided to experiment. I selected three patches and planted another 21 pansies. I measured the size of each plant and counted the number of flowers so that I would know which of the three deterrents was most effective. On one patch I applied Milorganite, an organic fertilizer that is supposed to repel bunnies. In another patch I placed mothballs around each plant. In the third garden I cut up Irish Spring soap and placed it around each plant.
I did not have to wait long to see the results. By the next morning all of my pansies were eaten down to the nubs. So much for my scientific experiment.
But this was the first battle, and I became determined. I bought another 21 pansies and this time combined all three deterrents. It took two days before the plants were all gone (I guess that my bunnies were full from the night before.)
Back to Internet. Garlic is considered a deterrent. I bought 21 more pansies and added garlic to the other deterrents. I put it on the plants, I put whole cloves around each plant. I spent over $50 on garlic.
The next morning, I discovered that my bunnies seemed to appreciate the savory addition. In meantime, one of the idiotic bunnies was eating the Irish Spring shavings.
Since it’s holiday season, the next addition to my deterrent garden was peppermint. The bunnies celebrated the holidays by chomping down the next crop of pansies.
I bought 12 pansies this time and added red pepper flakes and chili powder to the deterrents in the three patches. The bunnies had one word for my addition. “Ole!”
I trained my male dog to pee in the beds. But the bunnies didn’t mind the new atmosphere in the pansy restaurant.
But they do not appear to appreciate my dogs’ feces…for once, I can’t get my dogs to poop fast enough. The poop only stops them briefly, it takes them a week for it to be less pungent so they can return.
I gave up and moved to my fenced in garden. My dogs were supposed to watch over my pansies. But these bunnies are big now and my dogs simply watch them devour my treasured pansies.
If raptors could read, I would have installed a neon sign facing the sky that read Hasenpfeffer, All You Can Eat Buffet.
Back to the Internet and more realistic solutions. I read that white plastic forks placed so that the tines are up can be a deterrent as it resembles the teeth of predators. Not to my bunnies, they saw them as backscratchers or an inconvenient post that had to be knocked down.
I concentrated on pots; I moved most to the outdoor table. Then I raised all tables and planters by placing landscape bricks underneath them.
But my bunnies have grown quite large, while the table has inhibited them; they are still able to reach the planters. I added more bricks. One planter toppled in the wind.
I put chicken wire fence around one of the planters. These bunnies are strong and they were able to push in the wire to get to most of the delicacies.
In the meantime, the squirrels have decided to help when they can, so they dig up the planters on the outdoor table to plant their nuts and knock the pansy plants onto the ground for the bunny feast.
I was coming up with my next plan when I stopped to survey my garden. It stinks. It looks ridiculous. Planters are lifted to silly levels. The remaining pansies are stuffed together on a table where they don’t get enough sun.
I took down the chicken wire. I took a big whiff. I smelled mothballs, garlic, peppermint, cumin, chili peppers, Irish Spring soap, dog poop, and the remainder of the rotten egg smell from Liquid Fence. Even if I wanted a garden that stunk, it would not last the 6 months that I will be gone. And since the planters are above the soil, they may not survive a brutal winter.
I gave up.
A close friend has agreed to watch my pots still on the table to make sure they remain upright throughout the winter. That it is the best that I can hope for.
Game, Set, Match—Bunnies.
But bunnies, this is directed to you. Like cancer, you are destroying your host. Our favorite flower will be gone, you will be left with tasteless plants. I know that nature doesn’t allow you to believe in surplus, you have to eat everything that is there. But I would have shared. I would have given you apples and carrots and clover, all you could eat. If you just ate ½ of the flowers, we could have had a relationship. But we are enemies now. At present, you are a formidable and powerful opponent—but I am persistent.
I will be back.
Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.