Gardeners don’t like squirrels, for the most part. Yet here we are, on the eve of Squirrel Appreciation Day, trying to muster, at best, lukewarm feelings for the furry little fauna.
By: Horticulturist Chantal Ludder
If you have ever visited the MSV gardens and seen odd patches of corn sprouting from the potted plants and allees, it’s because we feed the geese corn, and the squirrels always get hold of it and stash it away “for later.” If you stopped by the parterre this December and saw the odd array of snow fencing weighted down by bricks, it’s because grabby little squirrel hands went through the spring bulb display last winter, and we’re not playing that game again. Every gardener has squirrel stories, of freshly planted seeds dug up, bulbs nibbled, bird feeders wantonly overturned, and lawns drunkenly potholed. Gardeners don’t like squirrels.
Wildlife enthusiasts, on the other hand, love squirrels. And unfortunately, I’m also one of those people. I’ve volunteered on and off at wildlife centers since the age of fourteen, and I have personally helped to mend, raise, and release many, many of these little fellows over the years. Yes, that was me at the park unlocking a cat carrier. Yes, it was full of squirrels. Hold your hate mail.
Squirrels are exceedingly charming. Clever and omnivorous, they will eat a wide array of native nuts and seeds. We ‘re all aware of how squirrels sometimes forget caches of nuts over the winter, which sprout, become trees, and help forests grow. Fewer of us are aware of how they spread fungi (think truffles) throughout the forest, and fewer still are aware that their omnivorous diets can include insects, eggs, and small animals. In turn, they’re a great food source for larger animals (think majestic red-tailed hawks). Squirrels fit perfectly into our natural ecosystems, and it is a joy to watch them scamper around, helping the world turn.
The problem is that the MSV gardens are not a natural ecosystem. Your garden is not a natural ecosystem, and that leaves us all completely at odds with squirrels. What we plant, they dig. It’s what they do, and we need to acknowledge that we share our gardens with a vast array of obstinate wildlife, let alone squirrels.
For me, Squirrel Appreciation Day is a reminder that squirrels make for better gardeners. I have a wider knowledge of plants, because I so often need to know if squirrels are going to mess with them, and have an alternate option in mind if they do. I have stronger planting and overwintering techniques. I have a greater appreciation of hawks, and a keener awareness that what I spray in the garden will go straight up the food chain. So whether you’re a gardener or wildlife enthusiast – or a jumbled mix of both, let’s all celebrate Squirrel Appreciation Day by wantonly knocking over our neighbor’s birdfeeders and digging up their crocuses.
(Don’t do this, obviously. Clearly don’t do this.)