Like a lot of people who plant flowers and vegetables as a way to soothe the soul, I have a love-hate relationship with certain animals.
I used to think it was great fun to have a family of groundhogs at the farm, until I discovered they were decapitating the flowers in my cutting garden and feasting on my veggies. I did not start these plants from seed and nurture them under lights in order to serve organic entrees to groundhogs.
Thanks to David, who helps us manage Gender Gap Farm, the groundhog population has diminished. No, I haven't joined the National Rifle Association, but I have joined the Hard-Hearted Gardeners Association. I have lost a fortune in vegetation to squirrels, voles, groundhogs and deer, who enjoy the farm and its bounties as much -- or, in fact, more -- than we do. The balance of nature has been clearly out of whack.
Deer abound at the farm. At nightfall, they emerge from the forest and dine in the meadow. My husband and I love to sit on the deck outside our bedroom and watch them. We've counted as many as 12 at one time.
Several weeks ago, we planted periwinkle along a bank by the guest house, and two pink dogwood on either side of the entrance to the guest house. The project was somewhat tricky and we had it professionally done. We are not talking about a flat of vinca minor and a couple of $18.99 dogwoods hauled from a home improvement center.
We got down here late Friday afternoon, after an absence of close to two weeks because my husband had major surgery. He got clearance to travel, and we arrived here ready for serious recuperation. David had told us on the phone that everything was fine, but "something" was getting in the garden.
I immediately thought of groundhogs going after the 14 ambrosia melon plants I had hurriedly transplanted into the cutting garden before we'd returned to McLean and the uncertain fate of the operating room. David came over later in the afternoon of our return to show us what "something" had done. "Something" had eaten all but one of the variegated hostas in the new raised bed between the main house and the guest house. "Something" had also feasted on the foliage of all my Sedum "Autumn Joy," a plant, like the hosta, that is admired for its foliage rather than its flowers. The two make an elegant combination, and apparently a tasty one.
But that wasn't all of it. After surveying that damage, David took us to the new dogwood trees. Leaves, buds, and branches had been nibbled down to the trunk on one side of each tree. Moreover, David had found deer tracks. Having just received the landscaping bill, we were not amused. Sagely David, an avid deer hunter, observed that incidents like this have a way of changing the values of people who think it is wrong to shoot deer.
Then he told us that the day before, when he was mowing the meadow, he'd come across three beds of baby deer. He'd mowed around them and waited until the mothers had fetched the fawns before mowing those areas and raking the hay. One bed, he said, was at the top of the meadow, just a few feet from the cutting garden.
This news sent me to my gardening books for advice on protecting vegetation from deer. I'd read it all a dozen times, and reading it again yielded nothing promising. I came up with the idea of spraying the dogwood with insect spray, but decided that might poison deer in a death I would not be party to. Vigilence was the best solution, and if we saw a deer nibbling at the dogwoods we could fire a shot into the air and scare it off. My love-hate relationship with deer was teetering dangerously toward the negative.
I went out to the cutting garden to take stock of deer damage I fully expected to find there. I walked past a proud stand of shasta daisies I'd grown from seed last year, and saw, to my delight, that a number of my sweet williams had survived a shaky transplantation. I leaned down to get a better view of one of the clusters, which was low to the ground and partially hidden by the daisies.
And there, on the other side of the sweet williams, underneath a canopy of daisies, was a tiny fawn -- medium brown, with white spots, enormous ears and huge brown eyes that looked somewhere between sleepy and surprised. I, newest recruit in the Hard-Hearted Gardeners Association, silently went "ahh, that's so precious." Then I tiptoed out of the garden, back to the house to tell my husband what was going on. I fetched the camera and we went back to the garden, where he got half a dozen pictures of the fawn surrounded by flowers.
The fawn's nose twitched a good deal, but it seemed perfectly content until I decided to try to get close enough so that we could have a picture of me, the flowers and the fawn. As I got to within two feet, it jumped up, and bolted across the front yard, off in the direction of the woods and the creek. It was no larger than a medium size dog and sturdy on its feet but hardly old enough to make it on its own.
Would its mother be able to find it? My husband was sure that she would. Deer, he assured me, have a terrific sense of smell.
That evening, I was sitting out on the back porch when I heard something moving through the woods. I got up and looked off in the direction of the noise. There, working their way up from the creek, were a doe and the fawn. I called my husband, and we both went out on the steps of the porch for a better look. The doe saw us, but she wasn't afraid. We went back inside the porch to let them be. From there, I watched as the doe licked the fawn, and then they turned and headed back down to the creek in the twilight.
The afternoon of the fawn had a happy ending.