My attitude to gardening isn’t so much laid-back as completely supine. If a sunflower seeds itself in the rockery, I leave it to do its thing in peace. If a poppy sprouts from that crack in the patio I never got around to filling in, then I grow a poppy in my patio. Moss, daisies and dandelions in my lawn worry me not – after all, they’re all green when they’re mown.
My laissez-faire attitude extends to the local wildlife. I feed the birds. I knock holes in the bottom of my fence panels so that the hedgehogs can rampage around unhindered. I even smile benignly upon the rats in the meadow, the wasps building their nest around the back of the old pigpen and the mammoth spider in the outside loo.
Recently, however, I haven’t been feeling the love towards rabbits.
I have a garden full of green stuff they can eat. I grow clover around the pond for the bees. I have wild borders and uncultivated tracts absolutely bulging with yummy bunny fodder, but what is it I’ve been finding dug up and nibbled back to a leafless stump every morning? My lovely, jolly marigolds and my ‘hides a multitude of sins’ nasturtiums.
I tried dangling old CDs from strings between bamboo canes, to twist and glitter in the sun and frighten the simple-minded: they sneered at them. I tried festooning the beds with black nylon thread entanglements to startle and confuse and convince them they’d be better off feeding somewhere else: they just blundered straight through them and then, to add insult to injury, left the thread lying invisibly on the lawn so that it snarled itself around the mower blades.
Finally, broken by the sight of my third seeding of nasturtiums being treated like cut-and-come-again salad by the buck-toothed little sociopaths, I let loose the dogs of war. Why keep Jack Russells and not expect them earn their tripe mix and choccy drops? That was my new, murderous mantra. The moment I spotted so much as a twitching nose in the undergrowth, I yelled “RABBITS!” and flung the back door open.
With most Jack Russells, instinct cuts in as soon as they see/hear/smell/even half way suspect the presence of a prey animal; they take off, a little hairy blur of legs and teeth, and deal instant death to any small furry intruders foolish enough to dawdle in their flight path.
My two, however, aren’t most Jack Russells. The Boy Dog gets so over-excited that his nose shuts down and his brain turns to mush. He hurtles out of the door, barking wildly, then rockets off in completely the wrong direction. And even if he does accidentally get anywhere close to a rabbit, he just shoots straight past it – a bug-eyed berserker high on adrenaline. To make matters worse, the rabbits seem to know. Instead of running for their lives, they just hop into the long grass until he’s exhausted himself and collapsed into a panting, slobbering heap on the patio – and then they carry on as if nothing untoward has happened.
On the other hand the Old Girl considers it beneath her dignity to chase anything. Her response to the cry of ‘RABBITS!’ is to stand outside the back door for a few moments watching the Boy Dog going bonkers, then sedately trot down the steps and around to the front of the house to bark at the gate. She doesn’t bark AT anything, you understand. She just barks. It’s what she does. When she finally goes off to the Great Kennel in the Sky, I shall write the words “I bark, therefore I am” on her gravestone.
The locals are so used to hearing me yelling at her to be quiet that one small girl is firmly convinced I have a dog called ‘SHUT UP’. I know this because when she goes past the gate with her mother, she greets the Old Girl cheerily with the words ‘Hello Shut Up’.
Today, it being warm and sunny, I was out in the garden in a death grip with the goosegrass that’s threatening to strangle my carefully nurtured blackberries. The dogs came out with me. The Boy Dog soon became bored with following me around – especially as I wouldn’t let him eat, chase or destroy anything – and retreated to the house to lie in the utility and look mournful. The Old Girl, however, loves nothing better than wrapping herself around my feet so that she can stick her nose where it isn’t wanted and then complain piercingly when she gets stepped on or kicked; and that’s where she was, or at least where I thought she was, when I spotted a furry intruder in the nasturtiums. In broad daylight. Not five yards from me. Eating my garden.
‘Rabbit,’ I said to the Old Girl. ‘RABBIT!’
Nothing happened. I looked down. She wasn’t there. I looked around and eventually spotted her over by the summerhouse, digging up my marigolds.
‘Nooooo!!!’ I screamed at her. ‘Traitor!!!’
She lifted her head briefly to gaze up at me, then, apparently deciding that I wasn’t offering her any food, carried on digging. The Boy Dog appeared at the back door, attracted by the commotion.
‘RABBIT,’ I bellowed at him. ‘RABBIT!!’
And he hurtled off in the wrong direction.