A Security Breach

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.
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12 thoughts on “A Security Breach

  1. Hmm. You may be right about an ambivalence when it comes to rabbit-dom though I don't expect them to do anything, Janet other than to not eat my plants!!! Ha, fat chance. The thought of a super-rabbit just makes me morose.

    Dave

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  2. Well, if they are going to chew through the fence, I think electrification is your only option… Though the beauty of that rabbit close-up suggests a certain ambivalence in your anti rabbit stance. Oh, and how do you expect them to work out that they don't want to eat something without trying it first?! Having watched my nephews negotiate new foodstuffs, the “try it and spit it out” approach seems to be far from unique to the rabbit kingdom. Do rabbits have kingdoms? Maybe they do, and their king is a Super Rabbit, capable of larger and more perfectly round holes in netting fence… Didn't think of that now, did you!

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  3. Stacy, I could do with a young spritely dog really. Both Hobbes and Solo are too old to do much more than lie in the sun. Rabbits are too cute aren't they? And I read Watership Down too many times which made me even more sympathetic to the little darlings. In the beginning…

    Kininvie, I think you're spot on with the low flying meteor. Problem solved though I shudder at what worse pets you might have? Water buffalo?

    You're quite right, Jane I'll put the wire cutters back in the shed where they can't get at them.

    Hi Faisal, sorry don't fancy the rabbit garden idea much, though I do think of myself increasingly as Mr McGregor. Rabbit pie? Now you're talking.

    Janet, the answer is yes they can, I'm afraid. Sounds like I'm not the only one to get upset at gates left open.

    Hmmm Petra, not sure I'd swap rabbits for badger and deer. I used to work in a garden with badger incursions and they used to wreak havoc.

    Hi Alberto, I'll have you know that Hobbes is the only specially trained daffodil gathering dog in the UK. And no problems, I'll pop the deerstalker in the post.

    Dave

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  4. Oooohhhh the gardener's nemesis! They do look annoyingly sweet! I know the damage they can do to a garden. We are rather lucky though, am crossing fingers, legs, even the dog is crossing his paws,.. we have no rabbits! Lots of foxes, badger, deer, and looney dog, but no rabbits..

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  5. Can rabbits chew through fences? I watched one baby one today go down the side of a rabbit fence at a National Trust for Scotland Stately house until it came to a rabbit sized hole… And the grounds are full of notices about keeping the gates shut to keep the rabbits out…..

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  6. Such humiliation, Dave. I guess you wouldn't want to open the fences and have a sort of Rabbit Garden, pitted with intriguing pot-holes, plants shorn to their roots, mounds of perfectly useful dung waiting to be bagged up for profit?
    Don't throw your deerstalker away just yet and get hold of a few good Beatrix Potters…maybe there's a human being somewhere on the planet with some sort of feasible solution…probably fast asleep at the bottom of a burrow dreaming of all the fun to be had in being utterly reckless.
    Rabbit pie, anyone?

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  7. Are you blind!!! They use those flamin' great big loppers, the ones in your photos…didn't you see them!!! The red n' blue ones!!!! Sheesh! Too busy looking for bunnies when the tools of 'their' trade were right under yer nose! GET RID OF THE LOPPERS, GETS RID OF THE 'WABBITS'!! Good grief! :0)

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  8. Hello David; If it had been a badger, you would have found hairs left on the wire. I think a low-flying meteorite is the best explanation. Long ago, my garden was rabbit-fenced, but it never worked well enough to justify the cost of re-doing it. I now have learned to live with rabbits – I have worse pests.

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  9. They do have a knack for adding insult to injury–like squirrels eating one bite from an apple and throwing the rest away. I was at a nursery a few weeks ago when someone asked for rabbit-proof plants, and the owner just found a polite way to laugh loud and long. Can you invite Hobbes and Solo to anoint the rabbits' favorite places to eat through the netting pretty regularly? When I lived in the country before, Luther was the best deterrent I found–at least the rabbits did more eating and running instead of sampling everything in sight. (Then he got elderly, and they got obnoxious again.) (That is to say, more obnoxious.)

    If rabbits only looked like hyenas we'd have eradicated them centuries ago.

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