This bird, possibly a Junco, enjoys the buffet in the garden. (Mary Lowther photo)

Mary Lowther column: Garden a great place to experiment

One thing I love about my garden is that it is all mine.

By Mary Lowther

One thing I love about my garden is that it is all mine. I decide what, where and how to grow. I put in as much effort or money as I want and no one else needs to know what I’m doing, so I can try any experiment that occurs to me. If plants I baby through infancy die because I set them outside prematurely nobody else will ever know. On the other hand, when a brilliant idea works I can tell anybody who’ll listen all about it.

Perhaps the best thing about gardening is that it’s all yours to fool around with. I have visited circular gardens layered in tiers on a mound topped with a rotary sprinkler, square gardens with lengths of wood for paths between rows, and gardens that resemble combs with a spine down one side and beds like teeth radiating down the length of one side. You can try whatever study or experience inspire you and no pride is greater than what you get when you find another gardener copying your idea.

Just because certain gardening methods seem written in stone, we don’t have to stick with them if they don’t fit our needs. Garden, soil, climate and shade areas vary and these dictate every garden plan. What works for one garden will fail in another. For example, when sow bugs ate my strawberries I followed advice from other gardeners and made a batch of chili sauce, using the hottest stuff I could find and sprayed the plants with it. The concoction was so hot I had to wear a hazmat suit. What happened? Hordes of sow bugs consumed every plant down to the ground. Haute cuisine! Next I tried growing them on bales of hay, hoping they’d be too high for sow bugs. Climbing the bales must have improved their already voracious appetites, because the plants disappeared over a single weekend.

Thus began my personal war on sow bugs. I noticed they proliferate in the compost heap and don’t like dry soil, so I tried a dry perimeter path around the garden in hopes that would keep them out. I used soaker hoses that only water where plants are and had some success. Then I had another idea.

Most birds eat insect eggs. I knew that, but hadn’t thought of it in a gardening context before. Birds had been avia non grata because they ate my seeds as soon as they were sown, so I covered the beds with mesh raised on hoops to keep them out. Unfortunately this covering provided protection for the sow bugs who emerged from the compost to enjoy fresh salad, so it occurred to me to wait a week after spreading the compost before sowing my crop. Perhaps, I thought, that would give the birds enough time to reduce the sow bug population to manageable levels.

Out came the bird feeder last winter to habituate a steady clientele at Mary’s diner, and some of the birds I fed all winter hung around. I noticed an intent robin hopping around yesterday and brought out the binoculars to have a look. She cocked her head and bolted her beak into the soil, retrieving what looked like a slug! She poked it several times and then swallowed it whole! Lovely, clever robin. A friend and colleague I shall remember in my will, provided a cat doesn’t get her.

Encouraged, I bought some more strawberry starters, spread my compost and waited two weeks before planting. That was five days ago and the strawberries have sprouted leaves, but since it’s started raining again I notice that my spinach and cabbage leaves are getting eaten. It may be that robins don’t work in the rain, or perhaps Mrs. Premise needs a bell.

David says that the birds will have to take their chances, because belling the cat will give the rodents too much of an advantage. When he’s right, he’s right.

Please contact with questions and suggestions since I need all the help I can get.

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