Have you ever gone into a garden centre and asked for advice on ‘rabbit proof plants?’ Well, don’t bother because here’s the answer: there is no such thing.
A guilty looking rabbit in Margaret’s field
Behind the counter at the garden centre where I worked, we kept a folder. In the folder were information sheets: plants for shade, plants for sun, plants for chalk, plants for clay, plants for wet soil, plants for dry. Plants that need absolutely no care whatsoever and flower all year round wherever they might be planted. (I made this last one up; the sheet didn’t exist though it was our commonest request). And in amongst the sheets was one for “Rabbit Proof Plants.” And for a year or so I peered over my glasses, referred to this sheet and doled out information sagely and wisely. Just like a wise sage, in fact.
Allium christophii and foxglove - June 2011
Then I started work at the Priory and my expertise in rabbit proof plants evaporated in a puff of blue smoke – thanks to rabbit indifference and downright disregard to the ‘list.’ Poisonous plants such as foxglove …
Aconitum - September 2011 (a Doctor Who villain if ever there was one)
… and aconitum, plants with acid for sap (euphorbia) and unpalatable plants such as box and sedum were all attacked. Not eaten you understand. But bits bitten off and spat out or simply dug up for fun. Tulip and allium flower stems cut off with one clean incisor bite and discarded. The not eating of something somehow made it worse: if you’re going to destroy my plants at least have the good grace to eat the flipping thing.
The newly fitted rabbit netting, April 2009. It is less obvious now and more hidden by the beech.
You only had to stroll about the grounds to see rabbits grazing, rabbits playing, rabbits dozing, rabbits pulling faces at me, chortling and rubbing their tummies. It was terribly demoralising. So one of the first things I did was to ask that we put in rabbit proof fencing. ALL ROUND THE GARDEN. Hugely expensive but we managed to half the price by not burying the netting to a depth. This is the traditional way of rabbit proofing a garden; about a foot of netting is buried underground to stop any bunnies tunnelling underneath. However it is much, much cheaper and far, far easier to lay the netting out horizontally for 18 inches or so at the base of the fence and peg it in place. (In time grass and weeds grow up through the netting and hold it firmly in place). Rabbit then runs up to fence, stops, thinks, “Drat” and starts digging – only to hit the netting at his feet and in a flurry of bad language, gives up and goes elsewhere.
The new post and rail fencing along the top of the riverbank. This was later rabbit proofed with netting. April 2010 (it went in later than the rest of the fencing. We'd hoped the river would stop rabbit incursions. It didn't).
That’s the theory anyway and it has worked very well. Unless someone leaves one of the gates open in which case I roar and howl and drool spittle in rage, frustration and despair.
"Master rabbit I saw."
But …. I was walking about the gardens the other day, notebook in hand, making plans. I like making plans. “Plans maketh the man” as the saying (my saying) has it. Plans for plants to be moved and plans for plants to be split, plans for plants to be bought and plans for world conquest and dominion, when I came across proof (incontrovertible proof) of rabbits in the garden. Sure enough, when I hopped over into Margaret’s field and carried out an inspection, I found several holes in the netting.
Unlikely as it might seem, rabbits can and do chew through netting. No, I didn’t believe it either until I saw the evidence with my own two eyes. So every few weeks, I beat the bounds i.e. I walk around the outside of the netting (in M’s fields) and inspect for any holes. (Incidentally, in a book about the wonderful and beautiful gardens at Heligan
, I read that they have seen rabbits CLIMB
metre high netting fences. Meter high! I might as well pack up now and go home).
As if that wasn’t worrying enough I found this hole. This hole is particularly odd. Too big for a rabbit, I think and yet I don’t know what else could have made it. Not a fox. A fox would simply jump the fence – it wouldn’t bother chewing through the netting. A badger? Well, a badger might just barge through and make a hole like this. But there would be badger damage in the garden, wouldn’t there? And a badger wouldn’t be stopped by my flimsy repairs and would carry on walking through the netting whenever and wherever he or she wished. In three years at the Priory, I’ve never seen any evidence of badgers. So I hang up my Holmes deerstalker and pipe and admit to being flummoxed as to what caused this. Goblins?
Anyway, I patched up the hole and continued with my notes for plant re-jigging, since when it hasn’t been re-opened. I can now look you in the eye, hand on heart and assert that the Priory gardens are completely rabbit free.
Until, that is, the next fence-climbing, netting-nibbling and, who knows, paragliding bunny gets in.