About a year ago, a friend, let’s call him Mr. Green Fingers to protect his anonymity, sent me a snarky e-mail. He is a keen gardener and our gardening exchanges always contained encouragement, advice, wisdom and occasionally, the gifting of plants when he had too many for his own garden space. But after sending some pictures of the location for our vegetable beds, he wrote me, “I especially like your optimistic reference to the future vegetable plot. I have this image of a line of bunnies sitting on the stonewall with tiny napkins grasped in their dirty paws.”
Was this some kind of a joke masking encouragement, or true empathy anticipating any number of challenges that awaited us? Possibly, it was a prophetic truth, akin to the three witches in Macbeth whose predictions hold the capacity to effect later events in the play. No matter, I felt decidedly unnerved. The very idea that our friend, this gardening man, could profoundly influence our garden’s future sent shivers. We know when the three witches speak of those “Horrible Imaginings” they happen.
While not in the opening act, our character made his cameo hopping into the garden from stage left, as we were exiting stage right for 10 days of holiday. Blast! We had lined up friends to water the plants, pinch out anything before it began to bolt, and to harvest whatever looked ready. But on the morning of our departure, while we loaded our suitcases into the car, Harvey, Bugs Bunny, Peter, Roger or Jessica Rabbit, Flopsy, Mopsy, or if you prefer, Cottontail burst onto the scene and we were powerless to do anything about a possible future invasion from this furry fiend and his colony of mates, grabbing their napkins to feast on the bounty of our garden.
Admittedly, rabbits are cute, and some people keep them as pets, but they can cause considerable damage in the garden. If our garden came under attack, we would suffer heartache of epic proportions because we’ve worked hard. As if the slugs and weather challenges weren’t enough, do we really need to fend off this little blighter, too?
Despite its late start due to an extended winter and a cold spring, we’ve done well with our summer garden. Throughout the year, the vegetable beds were under siege from our own chickens, determined slugs, snails, cabbage butterflies, moles and, at times, harsh Dartmoor weather. Let’s not forget our own learning curve, too, which was steep: We planted many plants too close together and our companion planting was sequential rather than simultaneous, letting the aphids get the better of our broad beans before the nasturums blossomed to the rescue. Despite all this, every day since mid-June we’ve managed to collect something from the garden for our table: A variety of lettuces, cabbages, carrots, potatoes, cucumbers, beans, peas, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, chard, beets, tomatoes and onions. Soon to come are the celeriac, celery, purple sprouting broccoli, courgettes, peppers, squash, swede and Brussels sprouts.
Much of where we live, in the high moors, is not ideal for rabbits, who prefer kinder soils in which to burrow and breed like, well, rabbits, kicking out a litter of three to six babies each time. It’s inconceivable, but the females can become pregnant again one day after giving birth! We may not have the cultivated land favoured by rabbits, but we are surrounded by gorse, which provides shelter. We are also surrounded by historic man-made rabbit warrens. Centuries ago, people built these from stone and earth to provide the ideal burrowing places so rabbits could breed and then be caught for their meat and skins. Still today in the UK, rabbit is available at the butchers and some supermarkets. At a local market, I once spotted some dead rabbits hanging next to pheasant and other small game. And if it is on the pub menu, Roger will always opt for the Rabbit and Bacon Pie.
After our ten-day adventure in British Columbia and Montana, celebrating our 50th birthdays (for the careful reader, our birth year was 1963 – The Year Of The Rabbit! – an unusual coincidence, me thinks) with childhood friends, we returned to find the garden doing well. Whew! It is nearly two months later and we still have daily visits from this single rabbit, which has us wondering what happened to the others? It was a small baby when we first spotted it in June and now it is a medium sized adult. But, we only ever see the one. Or, is that is what we are being led to believe?
Usually, when you see one rabbit, you’ll soon see many. Like Bugs Bunny, these critters are known to be tricksters, and it is possible we are under a cunning illusion cooked up by a warren of rabbits that are planning a stealth operation to devour our garden. It’s also possible a fox got the rest of this rabbit’s family and it was spared, but we are keeping up our guard. While I find myself rooting for this one rabbit to survive, find a mate and make a happy bunny family life, I look at the bounty in our garden and hope it keeps to nibbling the grass, commits itself to a life of celibacy and stays far, far away from our vegetable patch.
With a rabbit population of one, we happily welcome this bunny to join the wildlife of Crockern. But if things change and our garden becomes a bunny smorgasbord, then we may grab our own napkins and cook up a rabbit pie.