It was a rainy spring morning. The cold spell wasn't good for my burgeoning watermelon and cucumber seedlings but, that's okay. I'm not one to complain about rain. California needs the rain. My water bill likes the rain. Heck, I like the rain. The dark dots on the sidewalks, the rich brown color the earth turns when soaked, the bright green of the plants and seedlings that stand in contrast.
I opened the shutters and gazed out happily at my front yard vegetable patch - the "Victory Garden" that I've planned and slowly carved out of lawn and bland bushes. Despite the weather, the grape vine continued its slow ascent up the trellis. The petite leaves of the pomegranate winked at me from the corner fence. Tomatoes stretched and peppers peeked. Ah, it was wonderful. Exactly what I imagined it would be.
The collard greens were emerald green in the rain and
growing bushy and beautiful nibbled to the ground!
I threw on my shoes and slammed the front door behind me. What the heck!!! The collards had been bushy and beautiful, just yesterday. I had admired. Had knelt down to get a better look. Had even planned a menu around them! Now all but one of them were a shell of their former selves. Mere stalks remained, poking out of the ground like headless soldiers.
I knew immediately who the culprit was. The deer!!! The deer who wander through my very densely populated, close to down town front yard a couple times a year. The self-same perpetrators who devoured my pumpkin and sunflower seedlings last year. Who forced me to resort to covering the vegetable seedlings with chicken wire that I would run out and remove every morning. The ones who gnawed on the morning glory swinging up my porch post two years prior.
Like an good garden warrior, I had strategized in advance. I'd paid close attention to my opponents' habits. They stayed away from the flower bed with lavender on the edge. They disliked borage and had no taste for Shasta daisies or foxglove. I'd paid something more too. Money to an edible landscaping consultant who suggested the fence and arbor we built as well as the placement of the pomegranate and other deer resistant plants along the edge. Together, we'd set forth our plan of defense. With interplanting and some physical barriers, well, those deer just might pass by my garden this year.
A glimpse at the sidewalk strip - the tomatoes and sunflowers nibbled to the ground - confirmed that my defense hadn't been enough. I hadn't outsmarted my wily opponents . . . yet.
After the first attack, I regrouped. I called upon the weapons on the modern warrior - Facebook and Twitter - seeking advice for defeating these wily plant predators. I doubled up on "aromatic distractors" as one Facebook friend called them - posting lavender, rosemary and sage throughout the garden. I scanned the Internet and brought in the reinforcements (e.g., plants that deer supposedly do not like. Note to self: deer actually do like cat mint. Straight out of the black plastic nursery pot, thank you very much.). I even went on the offense - meaning weapons that are offensive to my enemy. After plopping down $15 for one smelly deer repellent, though, I learned (via a lopped off sunflower, the only plant I didn't spray), that I should have tried a different deer repellent. Or so my friend, who has successfully outmaneuvered deer on far more treacherous terrain informed me.
I'm all about planting vegetables in the front yard. First, that's where my sun is. Second, I think there is something beautiful, poignant even about the edible front yard. The one that stands out from the lawn and daisies. That boasts cherry tomatoes and bright yellow peppers. The one where pumpkins lounge and sunflowers stretch and potatoes pop out from flower beds.
But gardening out in the open presents new and different challenges. Sure, every organic gardener has been on a search and destroy mission: stalking and stomping snails and slugs by flashlight at midnight. Every such gardener has found undercover agents - worms that mask themselves as caterpillars, baby earwigs the devour radish seedlings, finches that shred mustard greens with the efficiency of a black ops team. Every such gardener is prepared, to a degree, to pivot on a stepping step. To switch tactics, pinch the diseased leaves off of a tomato plant or insert companion warriors beside her most treasured plants.
But even the most seasoned organic gardeners might not be prepared for the onslaught that a front yard vegetable garden presents. The deer, for one. And two, and three, for that matter. The dog poop next to the tomatoes or amongst the sunflower seedlings. The errant skateboarder who wheels through the struggling cucumber seedlings. The cute but very large dog who paws obliviously through the squash seedlings poking their way through the soil. The litter that blows into the tomato bushes and hides out under the squash vines or the plastic juice box straws and milk carton lids that get mixed into the lasagna'ed soil.
Such gardeners, those brave enough to plant out front, learn quickly why we call front yard edible gardens "Victory Gardens". It has nothing to do with World War I or II or the battle against Climate Change. No. It only means that one has not only survived, but harvested, after an attack on the home front.