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SHARING SECRETS: Garden Visitors

Have you had any fun or surprising non-human visitors to your garden this year? What have you done to encourage—or maybe discourage—visitors?

Charlotte Getz: Rabbits visit daily and eat leaves of flowering plants, but not the flowers. Gazania is a favorite plant, as well as grassy weeds around stepping stones. Doves live in our yard and eat the fallen seed from our two bird feeders. An occasional hawk will visit the yard and drink or bathe in our three-tier fountain. All the birds like the fountain, especially when the motor is on and water is recirculating through it.

This gopher snake was one of Pat Venolia's recent garden visitors.

Pat Venolia: I had visitors, one day apart, in April 2018 and invited them to stay, as long as they didn’t surprise me or wrap around my leg.

Candace Kohl: Rattlesnakes!! Four of them at different times and locations in the garden this year. I wish I knew a way to discourage them and would be grateful for any suggestions. In the meantime, I watch my feet and don't put my hands anywhere I can't see.

Carolyn Conway: Nothing exciting here. The usual rats (we're surrounded by ivy-covered slopes) and an excess of rabbits. I learned that two flats of mondo grass can disappear in a few nights when rabbits discover the tasty treats. Traps for the rats and I'll wait until the rabbits leave before planting more mondo grass.

Susan Oddo: In our third year of adding in a butterfly garden with a substantial amount of Asclepias, we have seen a big uptick in monarchs, especially this year. Not an easy plant to grow, though. I often say the only plant we find it hard to grow is a weed because our first few attempts to get the Asclepias to take were not successful. Once established, they are remarkably hardy and come back every year more vigorous than the last. Out here in Elfin Forest, we have an abundance of wildlife visiting the garden, but this year the bunnies have been particularly pervasive—and annoying. They love the tender succulents and are hard to discourage. If anyone has found a foolproof way to keep them on their side of the fence, we would like to know what it is. We have tried all the natural suggestions and so far nothing has worked.

Linda Chisari: We have had orioles, towhees, rabbits, and our golden retriever, all competing for the fruit from our Marina strawberry tree, Arbutus unedo ‘Marina’! They do a good job of keeping our sidewalk cleaned up. We had a beautiful bobcat on that same sidewalk at about 6:00 AM one day. We love all of these critters and don’t try to discourage them!

Cindy Sparks Bruecks: I'm away for the summer, but had two great visitors in my brief times there. First was a beautiful orange dragon fly. I know they want water, and when I'm away I don't have any standing water for them, but there he was anyway. Second, I had a little fox. I was amazed. Looked sort of like a grey fox but he had different colors on him, and he stayed only briefly, being very wary. I suspect he was interested in the chickens next door. The best thing I can do to attract him is to keep the dog contained and quiet. Heaven knows who or what might have visited had the dog not been there.

Cheryl Leedom: Over the years, I have worked to create habitat in my half-acre garden near Lake Hodges in Escondido, with lots of hiding places for critters, water sources, natural food, and food I supply. It has paid off with many visitors to our garden. We get local and migratory birds who come to our feeders year-round. Quail families are a regular in the spring and summer, coming to feed on the quail and dove food I broadcast on the ground. Orioles come for the nectar and meal worms. Hummers come for the Hot Lips sage (Salvia microphylla 'Hot Lips') that Steve Brigham called “cheeseburgers for hummingbirds.” Boy, was he right! We get an occasional great egret coming to hunt for lizards and other delicacies. I feed the jays and crows peanuts in a suspended gourd feeder that I made that is easy for the jays to access and a little more difficult for the crows, so it levels the playing field. Crows are incredibly smart and it’s fun to watch the youngsters learning to access the feeder. Both the crows and jays are not shy about letting me know if the feeder is out of peanuts! Rabbits are a regular too. I know they’re a bother for many gardeners, but they only seem to eat our weeds (honest!), especially the tender greens from the sprouted bird seed, under the feeders. We think there must be a warren somewhere in the garden because we see babies and adults. The occasional red-tailed hawk or sharp-shinned hawk visits the garden and I’ve seen crows chase them. Squirrels “plant” sunflower seeds all over the garden, contributing more seeds for the birds and leaves for the gold finches. Apparently, the leaves are quite a delicacy for them because they will go into a feeding frenzy when the new leaves come out, leaving only the skeletons. A large stand of milkweed brings monarchs for most of the year. We have a game camera set up in the garden to see who visits us at night and we’re often visited by coyotes, raccoons, bobcats, and the occasional skunk. We have quite a lot of activity out here and we love every minute!

Sue Lasbury: Yes, we have a wide assortment of wildlife coming through the garden. We love having the western fence lizards (Sceloporus occidentalis), and we have quite a few. I was told by Master Gardener Al Myrick that they eat ants. Ants are a huge issue in our garden, and now that my lizard population has grown, I do see fewer ants. We also have a rabbit who has been living out back for months and nibbles on a variety of plants. Although, recently we were taking care of a friend’s dog for a short time and since then, no bunny. Sure hope s/he returns. Some very large creature, probably a coyote, has taken to regularly lying in a large, protected area where Alstroemeria grow, which means those beautiful flowers have been completely squashed down. It looks like a cool, comfortable place to spend the night. We live near a large canyon and see coyotes on the streets in our neighborhood after dark. Other wildlife seen include opossum. Not a fan. We seem to have an extended family ensconced in our greenery. We’ve trapped rats who like to take big bites out of our nearly-ripe tomatoes. And finally, years ago we did have a raccoon in our Brisbane box (Lophostemon confertus).

Cathy Tylka visits with friends in her Puerto Rico back yard.

Cathy Tylka: Ok, this is in Puerto Rico, but it's a territory of the US of A and part of my back yard. Very tame and enjoyed the moment.

Tynan Wyatt: We've had a very bold skunk who is quite taken aback if I go outside my front door past 11 PM (obviously, it's his yard at that time). Several monarchs and over twenty of their caterpillars, and still coming! A neighborhood cat that prefers a well-mulched flower bed to a cat box for leaving presents. A resident ruby-throated hummer who appreciates the copious Hoya nectar for dining and spider webs for nesting. And at least one very fast skink that scares the daylights out of everyone when he shimmies like a snake at our feet. We are excited for all the company and more to come!

Barb Harrington: I have lots of milkweed and monarch butterflies can always be seen in daylight hours. The fennel got away from me this year, but I don’t want to yank it out until winter in case I can get some swallowtail butterflies. I am currently buying grape jelly by the case for my hooded oriole family.

Dayle Cheever: Living in the heart of Ocean Beach, I am continuously amazed at the diversity and regularity of wildlife visitors to my garden. We host a wide array of birds with a seed feeder and a nectar feeder and a pesticide-free ornamental and edible garden. Finches, jays, doves (both mourning and Asian ring-necked species), sharp-shinned hawks, Rufus and Anna’s hummingbirds (one Anna’s nested in our bamboo and we named her Sassy), sparrows, bushtits, phoebes, a hooded oriole nesting family this year, regular visits from the Ocean Beach ‘air force’ (wild parrots of several types), and the occasional oddity like a canary who showed up one morning

Two baby Anna's hummingbirds await breakfast from their mother, Sissy, in Dayle's bamboo.

for a short visit. We like to provide as many places for birds to perch as possible and keep fresh water available year-round from a couple of sources. It seems that sometimes the birds enjoy the water as much as they enjoy the food. In the non-avian category, and especially now that our dogs no longer roam the backyard, we have regular visits from skunks, opossums, raccoons, and rats—who are nice enough to stay outside, mostly. We have virtually no slugs or snails left in the yard as apparently skunks and opossums love to eat them. We do find small excavations scattered around the yard where some nocturnal visitors have gone after a buried treasure. Some neighborhood cats visit to watch the birds and our cat watches ‘bird tv’ from inside. I must admit that I can sit with my morning paper and a cup of coffee and watch ‘bird tv’ for hours myself. Amazing what a retirement mindset can do for you.

P.S. Thanks to all of you for your contributions to the Sharing Secrets column these past few years. I have learned a lot and enjoyed your responses.

[Editors note: This is Dayle's last column as Sharing Secrets Editor. We will miss her! If you are interested in taking over the column, please contact us at]

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