There is a critter problem in the Fairegarden, namely Voles. Those little cute (not!) charcoal grey furry creatures love to tunnel behind the stacked block walls that hold back the steep hillside in our back gardens. Coexistence has been tried, we are a certified Wildlife Habitat after all.
The pink and white astilbe had completely filled the lower wall planting area behind the garage, despite the tunnels. Over the years bags of soil were added to fill in the huge gaps created by the digging. Rocks were strategically placed to try and block the tunnel access, but to no avail. A sonic noise emitter was placed near the tunnels. They ignored the beeping but it nearly drove me insane. Finally the battery wore out on it, thank goodness. When younger, Kitty would deposit the occasional present of a dead vole at the back door, but he is too well fed and indoors for much of the time now. The grey varmints could be seen scampering across the rock steps going from the long wall behind the main house to the wall end of the garage. Foam insulation was sprayed in the vole doorways to deter them, but new holes appeared soon afterwards. The frustration was building in the gardener. In 2010 there has been yet another drought, no rain for weeks on end and what little precipitation did fall was inadequate to keep the astilbe green and lush with the extensive system of hollowed halls underneath its roots. Stronger action had to be taken. It was time for the nuclear option.
No, not weapons of mass destruction, but all out war nonetheless. The astilbes were dug out, divided and planted elsewhere. The plan was cogitated upon for weeks, doing the math, measuring several times to get it right. The materials were purchased. It was time to begin the assault on the Vole Kingdom. What was needed was a blockage that would allow plant roots to grow through but that would not allow the voles to dig. The Eureka Moment came as a seed protector cage was constructed for the raised box planter in the millionth attempt to grow the black poppies from seeds. Leftover hardware cloth from the compost bin building was shaped into a box with a lid to protect the seeds from being disturbed from above by cats and squirrels and below by the ever present voles. That is exactly what was needed behind the wall, a giant cage of hardware cloth. The space was emptied of soil. There would be a layer of sharp drainage gravel under the cage so no gaps from yet more tunneling would dry out the soil inside. We cannot get rid of the voles, but perhaps we can stop them from messing with our plants!
Caution! Do not place the soil in garbage cans! It would have been better to use a tarp. When it came time to replace the soil, it was nearly impossible to get the heavy clay out and back behind the wall. The garbage can fell over and spilled the dirt out into the gravel path anyway. Onward.
The excavation was made one foot deep and squared off for maximum growing room. Two to three inches of the sharp gravel was laid as a base layer. It took eight bags for the twenty plus foot length of the wall.
The quarter inch hardware cloth came in three foot wide rolls. It was bent to fit into the trench. The soil was replaced. It was a mix of lumps of hard red clay and the bagged humus and soil conditioner that had been added over the years.
Luckily there was just enough soil to fill it back in, although it is a little low at the far end. We just couldn’t wait and planted the Scotch moss, Sagina subulata ‘Aurea’ that had been purchased already before trimming the metal. That trimming was the most daunting part of the task for each metal wire had to be snipped seperately with the wire cutters. Slow and steady wins the race was my mantra while bent over in an awkward position. Snip, snip, snip.
Finally it was done. At each end the cloth was bent over the top for a foot and a half, hammered down flat and covered with flat stones. The Garden Gnomes are at one end sitting on a board over the wire cage, with stones making an attractive skirting. There was a warning about these Gnomes, but we feel safe with Barrow and Wingnut. St. Fiacre might be moved back to keep a watchful eye on them. The bits of metal will be hammered down after the soil has settled.
The vision for the planting, vole damage free, is for bulbs to arise through the evergreen ground cover. At the Gnome end are five groups of three Allium karataviense, a plant that stole my heart as I was visiting the gardens of England last May. To see the posts about this trip, click on the sidebar page, England Trip-Two Innocents Abroad. This Allium was seen at the Hampton Court Castle.
On order, to be planted soon are 100 Allium bulgaricum. We love this bulb and have grown it before, as this photo from 2007 shows, but it never returns. We are hoping the well drained caged soil will keep it happy this time.
Also on order are fifty Fritillaria pontica, similar to the Fritillaria raddeana shown above from 2009. We have had good luck with some fritts, not so good with others, Rad has not returned when planted elsewhere. If there are failures, it won’t be because of the voles, anyway.
At the wall end closest to the main house, the Bongo Congo family sit atop the stone covered wire caged end. The hope is that they will offer some protective karma as well. The story of the sweet family, created from hypertufa and leaf casting can be seen by clicking here-A Little Whimsy In The Garden.
In the spring, when the bulbs emerge, there will be a follow up done. The anticipation of that event will provide many an hour of happy contemplation over the winter months as we await to see if this project is a success.
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