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First person A summer garden brings fall reflections

After years of half-hearted attempts, last Mother’s Day I reignited my enthusiasm for gardening. My children are now grown, and I suppose I longed to fill the void with a pursuit that appealed to my maternal inclinations.

Gardening seemed just the ticket: Take small, vulnerable living things, nurture them, and watch them grow and thrive, bringing joy and satisfaction to their caretakers. What could be better?

The plan: Replace the eyesore that had been our overgrown vegetable garden with a beautiful perennial garden. My husband and I ripped out the ugly, rusted fence and yanked up the weeds. With high hopes I headed to the local garden center, returning with a dozen or so perennials of varying heights and bloom times. I sketched out a plan and we planted our new garden on what was a productive Mother’s Day. I was prepared to devote a lot of attention to these young plants, which would rely on me to protect them and help them grow.

Every day I looked after them, watering, weeding and doing my best to meet their every need.

The money, time and labor we put into this effort started to pay off. Our lovely little garden looked immensely better than that old fence and pile of weeds. And it was only going to get more lush and beautiful as it grew. Which it did. For a few weeks.

My lovely magenta coneflower was on the verge of blossoming. Some of the fauna (rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, birds, deer and undoubtedly more unseen animals) who frequent our yard noticed, and immediately pounced. They ate its flowers and leaves, until there was nothing left but a few tough stalks. They next devoured the lupines, and then feasted on the garden phlox and bellflowers just as they hit their peak.

Like a worried mother, I returned to the garden store for tips on protecting my young wards, and came home with a product with the promising name of “Repels-All.” I dutifully sprinkled it around, forming a protective barrier. Alas, the menagerie was not repelled. Soon, several more plants were unceremoniously consumed. A few were clearly not going to survive, but others still had some life in them.

I made another trip to the garden store, this time armed with pictures of the devastation. The helpful staff suggested varieties that had smells thought to be off-putting to animals, like catmint and Russian sage. I bought some, along with lots of marigolds, which animals purportedly find unappealing. (I sort of do, too, but was willing to try them for the sake of the perennials.) Ha! My menagerie actually liked the marigolds, quickly munching the flowers and, it seemed, laughing in my face.

But I remained undaunted. A few plants seemed to be prospering, or at least holding their own, so I went back for more of those, and also picked up a “deer-resistant” (according to the label) coreopsis. Ha, again! Every bud on that plant was chewed off within two days. I spent more on that one little snack for the varmints than I typically spend on my own lunch.

I took some solace in the fact that my herb garden remained untouched. Sadly, that lasted only until the desirable perennials were depleted. Evidently, rabbits consider parsley an excellent palate cleanser as they await the next course at their neighborhood buffet.

Battered but not broken, I armed myself with a bottle of a repellent that reeked to high heaven. It had the desired effect of making the formerly desirable plants unpalatable. Many began to reach their potential, especially the phlox, which pulled through nicely and produced a few delicate blossoms. While the coneflower, coreopsis and lupines did not fully revive, they appear to still have a spark of life in them, and I’m hoping they’ll come back strong next spring. The Russian sage, catmint and lavender positively flourished, most likely due to their built-in repellent characteristics.

Now summer has drawn to an end. We’ve learned much about what’s effective and what isn’t, when to be nurturing and when to apply some tough love, when constant attention is required and when it’s OK to let things develop on their own. We’ve had some setbacks, and many moments of contentment and little surprises. It’s sort of like raising children, but with a lot lower stakes. I can’t wait to see what next year brings.

Judy Pozar lives in Leverett.

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