The Easter bunny - a gardener’s pest.
With Easter goodies now filling the shelves I’m reminded of the cute little bunnies that decimate many plants in coastal gardens. My trials and tribulations with rabbits in the gardens of Cornwall prompted research into a list of plants that I have found rabbit -proof.
In all honesty I don’t believe any plant is completely rabbit-proof, especially when the babies are around as they will have a nibble at just about anything. Thankfully they soon come to realise that certain plants are not as tasty as others. Unfortunately sandy coastal soils provide the perfect habitat for these fertile creatures: with 12-13 kids being produced each litter and a gestation period of just 30 days, a single female can produce around 144 kids in a year’s time!! Think Disney’s Thumper, multiplied…many times…
The lush spring growth period coincides with the young rabbits needing to feed so the main battle is to get your plants off to a good start: if they get the chance to start healthy and strong they are more likely to survive the odd nibble. Some plants will still be stripped bare every time they make any attempt; for me these have included Helianthemum (rock roses), Erodium, Potentilla (cinquefoil) and Millium effusum aureum (Bowles Golden Grass). It is heartbreaking every time I return to find a plant has been gnawed to the ground but I dig them up, give them love and attention and generally they will revive eventually, to find a better home.
Perennials seem to fare far worse than shrubs and trees but it is still sensible to protect these with a cage of chicken wire secured around bamboo canes, or with tree guards. Protecting emergent perennials is almost impossible and I often now use the ‘Grazers’ product. This gives the new growth enough time to get started, hopefully past the point of the first inquisitive nibblers. Apparently chili pepper sprinkled around the base of plants will put them off but I haven’t tried this one yet…
Fruit and vegetable gardens, as all readers of Beatrix Potter’s charming tales will know, are pure nectar to rabbits. At Treverra we solved the issue of rabbits and birds in one fell swoop by installing a heavy-duty fruit cage from Harrod Horticultural over the whole productive area. This may be expensive initially but if you want to seriously grow anything edible you have to cage the area by some means. The plastic netting that was supplied with the cage was quickly destroyed by our furry friends so chicken wire was added using cable ties to attach it to the sides, at a height of 1 metre (not taking any chances of extra bouncy legs) and dug below the ground to a depth of about 20 cm. Laying chicken wire flat under the gravel by doors also prevented them from digging down.
In general rabbits dislike scented plants, herbs, plants that ooze caustic milky sap, prickly plants, plants with spines and plants with tough leathery leaves. Having said that I have had Rosemary stripped to the stalks!! The list below contains some of the plants that I have grown successfully in coastal, rabbit-beloved gardens:
Perennials and bulbs
Acanthus (bears breeches), Agapanthus, Alchemilla mollis (lady’s mantle), Alliums, Anemanthele lessoniana (pheasant’s tail grass), Anemone blanda, Aquilegia, Artemisia, Aster, Bergenia, Calamagrostis (reed grass), Campanula, Chives, Convalleria majalis (lily of the valley), Cortederia (pampas grass), Crocosmia, Cyclamen, Cynara cardunculus (artichoke thistle), Dicentra (bleeding heart), Digitalis (foxglove), Echinops (globe thistle), Erygium (sea holly), Euphorbia (spurge), Eupatorium, Ferns, Gallium odoratum (sweet woodruff), Geum, Hardy geraniums, Helianthus, Helleborus, Hemerocallis (day lily), Heuchera, Hydrangea, Iris, Knautia, Kniphofia (red hot poker), Lavender, Leucanthemum (marguerite, ox-eye daisies), Leucojum (snowflake), Lychnis, Mentha (mint), Miscanthus, Narcissus, Nepeta (catmint), Origanum, Osteospermum, Papaver (poppies), Penstemon, Persicaria, Phlomis, Phormium tenax, Primula, Pulmonaria, Perovskia, Salvia, Sanguisorba, Saxifrage, Schizostylis (kaffir lily), Sedum, Senecio, Sisyrinchium, Stachys lanata (lambs ears), Stipa tennuissima/gigantea, Tiarella, Thymus, Verbascum, Verbena, Veronica, Vinca.
Some others which are generally advertised as being rabbit-proof but which I have not personally yet tried: Abutilon vitifolium, Ajuga (bugle), Alcea (hollyhock), Anaphalis, Anchusa, Astilbe, Ballota, Brunnera, Dahlia, Echium, Epimedium, Lamium, Liriope, Myosotis (forget-me-not), Rodgersia, Rudbeckia, Zinnia.
When it comes to shrubs the rabbits nibbled at most things including a hedge of young Euonymus japonicus (a lovely evergreen coastal hedging plant) and some young Cistus and Potentilla but once these plants were established they left well alone. I think in some cases trial and error is the only way forward.
Commonly listed shrubs resistant to rabbits are: Alnus (alder), Arbutus (strawberry tree), Aucuba, Azalea, Bamboo, Bay, Berberis, Buddleia, Betula (birch), Ceonothus, Chimonanthus praecox (winter sweet), Choisya, Cordyline, Cornus, Cotoneaster, Daphne laureola (spurge laurel), Daphne mezereum, Deutzia scabra, Eucalyptus, Euonymus europaeus (spindle tree), Fatsia, Fuchsia, Gaultheria shallon, Hippophae rhamnoides (sea buckthorn), Hypericum (rose of sharron), Kalmia latifolia (calico bush), Laurus nobilis (laurel), Lavatera, Ligustrum, Lonicera, Olearia, Paeonia, Philadelphus, Pinus, Prunus, Rhododendron, Rhus, Ribes, Rosmarinus, Rugosa roses, Sambuca, Syringa(lilac), Viburnum opulus and tinus, Yucca.
So there is hope; there are hundreds of plants to grow in your rabbit-infested garden, you just need to persevere and accept the odd loss. Choose your plants carefully, maybe even leave them in situ in their pots overnight to see what damage is caused. Think of yourself as living in a rabbit’s back yard and don’t try battling against them, it is a war you will not win!
Thank you to Grazers for the images.
Harrod Horticultural image supplied via Pinterest.