Eudora Welty Pens a Gardener’s Plea

Someone forgot to wipe his chin when he left the flower bed!

Having praised the creativity, intelligence, and playfulness of our squirrels, it seems only fair to give equal time to an opposing opinion: that the creatures roaming our neighborhoods are sneaky and destructive, not to mention determined to wreak havoc on our gardens and our homes.

Gardens are especially vulnerable, as American author Eudora Welty knew. Like Emily Dickinson, Welty loved her gardens as well as her writing. The garden at her home, designed and created in 1925 by her mother, Chestina Welty, is maintained today by garden restoration consultant Susan Haltom and a group of volunteers who have brought the garden back to its 1925-1945 glory.

A book detailing the garden’s history, One Writer’s Garden, includes a parody of William Blake’s poem “The Tyger.” Welty wrote the parody herself, attached it to a stick, then posted it in her garden as a warning and a plea. Even as a squirrel lover, I have to admire the humor.

Squirrel, squirrel, burning bright,
Do not eat my bulbs tonight!
I think it bad and quite insidious
That you eat my blue Tigridias.
Squirrel, Sciurus vulgaris,
Leave to me my small Muscaris;
Must you make your midnight snack, mouse,

Of Narcissus Mrs. Backhouse?
When you bite the pure Leucojum,
Do you feel no taint of odium?
Must you chew till Kingdom Come
Hippeastrum advenum?
If in your tummy bloomed a lily,
Wouldn’t you feel sort of silly?
Do you wish to tease and joke us
When you carry off a crocus?
Must you hang up in your pantries
All my Pink Queen Zephyranthes?
Tell me, has it ever been thus,
Squirrels eat the Hyacinthus?
O little rodent —
I wish you wo’dn’t!

Comments always are welcome.

55 thoughts on “Eudora Welty Pens a Gardener’s Plea

    1. I wouldn’t be surprised. I suppose there are other critters who dig up bulbs, but the first time I remember my mother being really angry was the day she caught a squirrel carrying off her new tulip bulbs.

    1. My comment inexplicably posted in mid-sentence.

      It’s clear from this just how Eudora
      Looked at her eaten plants in horror.
      Imagine how the fiendish Ms. Welty
      Wished the squirrel reduced to pelty.

      1. I realized you’d somehow been stopped from finishing your thought, but I was having a great deal of fun trying to find a proper ending for it. Yours is better than mine, by far!

  1. I think that plea needs to be posted in my garden too – but will they read it? Hehe! (I didn’t plant any new bulbs this autumn but I have seen them with what appears to be cyclamen tubers, argh!)

    1. Bulbs, tubers, whatever: if it’s buried, I think squirrels consider it fair game. As for them reading a poetic sign, the pen may or not be mightier than the sword, but it definitely isn’t mightier than a determined squirrel.

    1. That’s a new one. We have spay and neuter programs for feral cats, and I hear there are scientists working on the same sort of program for mosquitoes (if only!), but I can’t remember ever seeing a ground squirrel. It seems I should have; I just learned we have five species here, with two of them fairly common. I’ll have to start watching for them.

  2. Good poem, and I like Steve’s, too. My dad is a gardener, and resorted to putting flower bulbs in wire mesh sleeves, and sometimes tin cans punched full of holes, to slow down losses from squirrels, etc. One winter the voles ate a bed of lily bulbs and he was fit to be tied. They all seem to leave daffodils alone, though.

    1. I don’t think anyone’s more creative than a gardener trying to protect new plantings from the predations of The Creatures. It is interesting about the daffodils. Now that I think about it, there are places north of here where daffodils abound; they seem to naturalize very nicely. Clearly, they’re being left alone, or they spread so enthusiastically that the critters can’t do much to eliminate them.

  3. HaHa, good one! While squirrels can provide us lots of entertainment — especially on these frigid days when we’re stuck indoors — they can be little nuisances, too. When they sit up on a tree limb, flick their tails, and “scold” Monkey, he goes nuts!!

    1. They do scold, don’t they? It took me a good while to figure out that the gray squirrels here had a different ‘scold’ than the Fox squirrels. The Fox tend toward a sharp chatter, while the Grays can sound for all the world like a cat meowing. In fact, some people call them ‘cat squirrels.’ I can imagine Monkey’s response. I watch the dog walkers around here trying to control their charges when a squirrel’s up in one of the trees, seeming to taunt the dog.

    1. I had to look up voles, to see if they were rodents. Indeed they are, so it makes sense that they’d behave like rodents. Then I had to look up pocket gophers, and I learned there are thirty-five or so species of gopher — but that they’re in a different genus than ground squirrels. I suppose if I were a gardener or a landowner I’d be far more aware of these critters!

    1. Isn’t it a fun poem? Turning frustation into parody’s not a bad way to cope, that’s for sure. As for the photo, it reminds me of the times I tried to convince my mother I hadn’t eaten the cookies, when I had chocolate chip debris all over my face.

  4. What a fun poem and post! I think many of us have a love/hate relationship with squirrel. It’s sometimes hard to resist their charm, except when it’s not.

    1. And there it is, in a nutshell (!) so to speak. I think most people have that love/hate relationship with the critters. I’ve rarely found anyone who’s indifferent.

  5. Growing up, we had a little black and white beagle sized dog named Bridgette, who was a magnificent rabbit hunter. She was also the only family member who would eat pickled herring with my mother (“Bridgette knows what’s good.”) You’re wondering what this has to do with squirrels at this point. That picture brought to mind one day when Bridgette had been out in the woods a long time and came back asking to come in. Opening the door, my mother said, “Where have you been? You look like you’ve been out sticking your nose in dirty holes.” Undoubtedly, she had been… I don’t mind the squirrels too much, but they are destructive in planters and flower beds and vegetable patches…Fortunately, the local hawks keep the population at a manageable level.

    1. I love pickled herring, but I’ve never imagined a dog eating it. On the other hand, I sometimes see our grackles eating small bait fish, so there’s that.

      Your tale of Bridgette showing up with her dirty nose reminds me of the white ibis I see around here. It’s easy to known how deep they’re been having to probe for their grubs or crawfish by how far up their bill the mud is clinging. As for dirty faces, my mother often knew when I’d been in the chocolate chip cookies by the smears of chocolate on my face. Of course I’d stand right in front of her and insist I’d not been eating those cookies!

      I’ve finally spotted my resident hawk: a young Cooper’s. I think I know why the mice suddenly have disappeared from the neighborhood.

    1. Isn’t that just the truth? It’s certainly a truth everyone around here has been remembering, how that the cold has come. There are plenty of critters who are deciding that nice, warm houses beat cold bushes every time.

  6. My dad had an ongoing war with the squirrels and his satellite antenna. They built a nest in the “internal workings” of same and ruined its ability to follow the satellite. He was always taking pot shots at them with a pellet gun. He upset mom when he took the nest and the baby squirrels within and threw it in the dumpster. She really got upset when the mama squirrel came looking for her babies and couldn’t find them.

    I had my own skirmishes with them. They got up into the Suddenlink box up on the telephone pole and gnawed at the internet wires to the point where it would cut in and out. Yrs trly had to raise Cain with the Suddenlink folk and finally after nearly six months of going round and round, they took me seriously, came out and did something about it. No more trouble with the internet. That was in March. In April, I finally got a package that only had internet and one phone, and only cost me a hand and several toes. In August, I moved.

    1. I’m a little upset just reading about your dad’s disposal of the babies, so I can imagine your mom’s response. Well, desperate times, desperate measures, and all that. It’s been amusing to read the accounts of everything from cats to birds taking up residence on the satellite dishes that are part of the Starlink system. Apparently the dishes generate some warmth, and in cold country, what critter could be blamed for taking advantage?

      It’s not just squirrels, of course. One year there were problems with one of those big green boxes at one of my former apartments. When the technicians finally came to check it out, they discovered that fire ants had set up shop. The entire box was filled with them, and they’d disrupted service for a lot of disgruntled residents.

  7. That’s a very pretty squirrel in your photo, and the poem is delightful! Fancy being able to direct her frustration into such creativity .. I’m massively impressed.

    1. Eudora Welty was impressive in any number of ways. I’ve often thought it would be fun to do a road trip through ‘Southern author’ territory (Welty, Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor) and I’d sure stop by her house: though less for the gardens than for other reasons.

  8. I adore that fabulous face — looking right at you and all messy and adorable! (He’s a lot like a toddler.) Love the Welty poem — I’d never heard that one and it’s a good spoof. In fact, I relate even more to this than the original!

    1. “Lot like a toddler” is exactly right. It took me a long time to figure out how my mother knew I’d been into the cookies again; the chocolate chip residue on my face was a sure clue!

      I’m a great fan of parodies, and I always get a kick out of ones penned by truly accomplished writers. Having fun with words is important; there’s a time for anyone to work at their art, but there’s a time to play with it, too.

  9. Hahaha! I love that poem! I love squirrels, but I don’t plant things they love (any more anyway – we did used to get VERY ANNOYED in Ohio especially if they broke off my sunflower heads).

    1. Knowing how my squirrels adore sunflower seeds, I can image they’d make a run for seed heads. Did you plant the really tall sunflowers with the large flowers? Those would be even more tempting. If I were a squirrel, I’d make an effort to get to those.

      They can be annoying, but I’ve finally found that if I provide shelled peanuts in an area separated from the other feeders, it helps. “Helps” is the operative word, of course. It doesn’t solve anything.

  10. No matter one’s feelings about our furry tree-dwelling friends, you have to applaud Ms. Welty’s literary approach at mitigation. I think Mr. Blake would approve of the parody.

    1. There’s no question that her parody rivals much of the garden ‘art’ that I’ve seen. Although I don’t garden, I do feed birds, which can prove equally frustrating. I mitigated my own frustration by deciding that ‘if you can’t lick ’em, join ’em” was the best approach to squirrels. Now, they get a full complement of peanuts every day, and I get better-than-tv entertainment!

  11. Yes, indeed, these little creatures are also capable of much mischief, though I’m sure it’s nothing personal. My folks have also found they can empty a bird feeder very quickly. Thankfully, after many years of experimenting and searching they’ve managed to find a feeder the squirrels have yet to get into (for now, at least).

    1. Of course it’s not personal. It’s just their nature: they’re puzzle solvers at heart, and bird feeders are nothing but puzzles extraordinaire! You might tell your folks to be on their guard, though. The lock on my pet squirrel’s cage had to be changed from a combination lock to one that used a key. The little guy would work and work the combination until he got the lock open. I wouldn’t have believed it, but I saw it!

  12. If I were to write a gardener’s plea it would probably be about the iguanas making a salad bar of my bougainvillea hedge.

    O green lizard —
    I wish you wo’dn’t!

    It is also bad that they burrow around my seawall. Not that I don’t appreciate their primitive characteristics or find them fascinating. Still…..I wish they wouldn’t!!!

    1. Now, there’s something I can play with!

      “Frozen lizard, dropping down,
      don’t you know you bring a frown…”

      Around here, the armadillos and feral hogs deserve a verse or two, as well. They’re ‘interesting,’ but the havoc they create isn’t much fun. On the scale of annoyances, the squirrels are pretty far down the list. Of course, hogs can be turned into sausage, and I know people who consider squirrel and dumplings a treat, but I’m not sure igauna’s on many menus!

      1. Well some call them chicken of the trees. I think they can be eaten. Now squirrels offer a different battle if you have mangos. Gotta harvest them before the squirrels take a few bites.

        1. That’s interesting, about the mangos. I only recently learned that their skin contains Urushiol, the same oil that makes poison ivy so nasty. That helped to explain my allergic reaction to mangos. Apparently if you avoid the skin and the flesh just underneath it, you can avoid the oil.

          1. That is true. My mom was very allergic to mangos and the plant is in the poison ivy family I understand . Mom, however, could not bring herself to eat the peeled mango to test the idea . I love mangos.

    1. I read that a couple of species of squirrel were introduced in the mid-1800s (as I recall), but one species went extinct, and the other is only seen in a zoo at this point. It’s lucky, really, given the damage and non-native species have done around the world. I have a possum that visits me occasionally, and it certainly doesn’t do any damage; it just strolls on through, helps itself to any birdseed or peanuts that might have hit the ground, and then goes on its way.

    2. I can testify that possums love roses and petunias, and are very destructive to gardens in South Australia.

      1. Now I’m wondering if I should keep blaming the squirrels for the damage to my Kalanchoe, or if the possum who cruises by might be eating more than the left-over peanuts.

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