If her knees aren’t getting dirty, she’s not really gardening

Sydney Craft Rozen, Impetuous Gardener

The tale of Peter Rabbit was our grandchildren’s favorite storybook when they were little. They’d curl up beside me on the couch and listen to the adventures of the naughty little bunny, who escaped from Mr. McGregor’s vegetable garden and ran home to his mama.

I read them the toddler-friendly, Puppets Storybooks version, which did not include the fate of Papa Bunny, who had been captured and baked into a pie for the McGregors’ dinner.

In our story, Peter’s widowed mama scolded him for trespassing and then tucked him straightaway into bed. His sisters, meanwhile, who were good little bunnies, ate bread and milk and blackberries for supper.

I figuratively stood in Mr. McGregor’s dirt-caked boots earlier this month, and found a darker personal significance to the story, beyond simply cooing over the cuteness of the little brown bunnies.

Peter Rabbit’s cousin recently discovered our backyard vegetable garden and chomped the leaves off my newly planted artichokes. I expected him to head for the lettuce bed and the pea patch next.

I had no luck with diversionary tactics like pointing out the tasty clover in our grass, or setting out tempting bouquets of fresh dandelions.

By then I’d also developed a bit of sympathy for Bugs Bunny’s bumbling stalker, Elmer Fudd. “I’ll get that wascally wabbit someday,” Fudd fumed, shouldering his shotgun and sputtering as the cartoon’s credits rolled.

The only weapon I will ever use against a critter is a menacing squint and some muttered Italian maledictions, which I learned from my grandmother. Knocking on the window startled the little gourmet, but I couldn’t stand guard all afternoon, waiting for that wascally wabbit.

My husband, Lee, started calling me Elmira Fudd.

A reliable chief garden staffer could have warned off the rabbit, without even leaving his napping spot on the patio. A flash of Benjamin BadKitten’s imposing bulk and a few twitches of his bushy tail could have sent Peter hopping off down the bunny trail.

But readers of this column know I don’t have a reliable chief garden staffer. I have only BBK, who for years has been working remotely from his home office on the bed.

I would have asked Lee for help with a bunny blockade, but he was busy building me three new backyard beds, perfect for growing zucchini, cucumbers – and pumpkins. Finally this will be the Year of the Jack-o-lantern in the Rozen garden.

I decided to make my own rabbit-proof barrier to protect not only the artichoke plants but also the baby lettuces and sugar snap peas, which are thriving nearby.

I surrounded each vegetable bed with a skinny, three-foot tall sandwich of double layers of decorative wire fencing and a sheet of fine-meshed plastic lattice between the two layers.

My brilliant solution had a small glitch, though. I couldn’t make latching doors in the double layer of fencing without also cutting holes in the lattice. Any self-respecting rabbit could find those holes and wriggle through to the green buffet.

Without the latching doors, the only way I can weed the two beds is to lean over the top of the fences and reach my hand down to the soil.

A fence three feet off the ground probably doesn’t sound like much of a stretch. But I’m five foot two and by the end of the summer, I’ll be limber enough to teach power yoga.

The barriers have been up for nearly two weeks, and I’ve seen no evidence yet that the bunny knows how to pole vault over the fencing.

A scene from the Peter Rabbit storybook keeps nagging at me, though. During Peter’s timeout in bed, Mama Rabbit rewarded Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail with their favorite teatime treat: blackberries.

We’re growing blackberries in our side yard, and I’m counting on using them for homemade pies – unless Peter raids the patch. Maybe I can make a deal with the bunny: Keep your paws off the blackberries, but you can eat all the zucchini you want.

Sydney Craft Rozen is already feeling pumpkin-related pressure this season. A brand-new raised bed, with excellent soil and ample sunshine, will wipe out the excuses she normally uses to explain her annual squash fiasco. Email her at scraftroze@aol.com

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