More Threats to our Wildlife Gardens


by Susan
"Most Ironic Run-in with the Law" goes to…

We all loved the story of Jean Dickson’s wildlife garden in
– especially the happy ending – but here’s one with a special twist.  Maryland lawyer, wildlife habitat gardener and author M.A. Sheehan was holed up in a cabin in West Virginia writing a book about her habitat garden when it was hacked to the ground by the Man.  No matter that it’s a backyard garden that can’t even be seen from the street.  A notice had been left on her door but the neighbor taking care of the property didn’t see it, so action was taken. 

A law in her town of Hyattsville outlaws "weeds" that are taller than 12" and defines weeds in the weirdest of ways – to include grass, brush and growth, but exempt a long list of items, including shrubs and even "plants".  Go figure.  Just another example of a badly written law that’s open to interpretation and misinterpretation.  At least in this case the gardener IS a friend of the mayor and was able to reach some sort of financial settlement (under a gag order, so we’ll never know the amount).  Who knows – maybe her run-in with the law provided the perfect ending for that book.  It sure adds a nice touch of local color to the column I’m writing about landscapes and the law for a couple of Maryland papers. 

Letting our invasive exotic loved ones loose on nature
E Magazine recently ran this story about a small problem in our wildlife gardens – our beloved pets.  Nobody wants to be told to keep them indoors – I’ve been there – but the American Bird Conservatory’s Cat Campaign has suggestions for making them happy indoors.  Mine are happy indoor cats but if yours are already hunters, good luck with that.


  1. I love cats, but I don’t own one, and I don’t want them stalking the birds that I’m feeding. In addition, I don’t appreciate the presents they leave for me in the garden. If I choose to not own pets, why should I have to clean up after the neighbours’ pets?

  2. We have five cats, one recently adopted off the street, and except for one who has agreed to a harness and leash and supervised walks around the garden, they don’t go out. Not only do they not care, the one who does go out is extremely frightened of trucks on the street and will beeline straight back to the house if he hears one. (I never thought a 15-pound animal could drag a human — wrong!)

    I have never understood why people insist on letting cats out to roam, especially in urban environments. When I see neighborhood cats in my yard, I “escort” them somewhere else.

    Dogs aren’t allowed to run, and cats shouldn’t be either. It’s time for a culture change for cat owners.

  3. My felines never leave me scat presents in the garden. Must have trained them to go to the neighbors. The dead volves and chipmonks ore no fun to find. Course, I never lose bulbs and hostas to critters. The neighbors thanked me for the end of the pigeon problem. I love having my furry companions as I garden. Outdoor cats vs indoor cats, let the battle begin.

  4. I feed birds AND I have three indoor-outdoor cats. When the cats were in their hunting prime, they managed to catch and kill fewer than 6 birds per year–between the three of them. Granted, one of the cats is and always has been completely clueless when it comes to hunting, but still–three cats should theoretically pose a greater threat to the local bird population. These three seem to prefer mice, who can’t fly away. We find mouse corpses at least weekly, and I’ve no quibble with that. The mice come from our neighbors’ infested property. With the risk of hantavirus fairly high in my area, I’m more than pleased to find mouse corpses instead of mouse droppings.

    I know that some cats are fierce predators; I even had just such a cat. On the other hand, she had been a feral stray when we found her. Had we not taken her in and fed her, her inroads on the local bird population would have been far higher. A formerly feral cat inside for half the day is a feral cat who isn’t outside catching birds for that half day.

  5. We’ve got six cats and five of them are indoor kitties. One has some emotional and territorial issues and does best with a combination of kitty meds and some outdoor time. I worry about him, though, since we’re on a busy street.

    One compromise that I hope I can afford soon is cat fencing:

    By containing the cat behind a cat-proof fence, kitty is protected from most outdoor dangers and at least has limited access to birds and other wildlife.

  6. Oh, and one more thing I’ve done to assist with the cat-and-bird problem is to feed strays, then trap and spay or neuter them as I can. I’ve gotten all the females in the neighborhood that I’m aware of spayed, have taken in two litters of kittens, and next I’m going after the toms. There’s a cat shelter in town that gives out discount certificates, and a vet across town that will take ferals for spay or neuter on a walk-in basis. TNR (trap, neuter, release) followed by feeding and care (so more cats learn to come for the food and can be caught) has been statistically shown to be the most effective method of dealing with feral cats. But it does require community cooperation.

  7. It’s amazing to me how strong the cult of conformity is concerning yards. We moved onto 10 acres last winter, out in the country in Kansas, and quit mowing all but an acre or so around the house itself.

    We’re in a prairie state, out away from town. We mow winding paths through the grass (so that we can enjoy it without battling too many chiggers), carefully mow along the edge of the driveway to keep it looking neat, and we are vigilantly working to remove problem species such as massive stands of poison ivy and Johnson grass. Last but certainly not least, we plan to either actually burn or mechanically burn to maintain the grass and keep brush from moving in.

    We’ve been delighted to find out that some of our acreage still has excellent stands of prairie grass on it: big bluestem, little bluestem, sideoats grama, Indian grass and some affiliated wildflowers.

    So what’s the problem? Several of our neighbors have been strongly hinting that, since we’re new to the country (we’re not, just new to this area), we must not know how to “properly” take care of country property. They are apparently upset that we are not mowing our 10 acres of grass to lawn height, like they do.

    It’s bizarre. We’re 5 miles from the nearest small town and 10 from the nearest bigger city, surrounded by wheat fields, pastures…and country yards, where the main form of “decoration” is several acres of grass mowed to carpet height.

    Recreational mowing seems to have attained almost a religious status here.

    Thank goodness this IS the country and there aren’t official yard inspectors to enforce capitulation to the sterile lawnscape police.

    By the way, I sure am enjoying my recovering prairie. We have a redtail who hangs out in the draw, pheasant and quail in the tallgrass, occasional coyotes passing through, and a plethora of songbirds visiting our feeders. We even saw a snipe along the edge of the lagoon last weekend.

  8. Recently, I chucked all that mess and decided that I would get not one but two cats. Not having time, space nor energy for the needs of a dog was no reason to remain without a pet. I went to the humane shelter where I found Scout and Atticus, and I can’t tell you how happy I am that I did. They are house- trained (but I’m well aware that there will be hairballs from time to time, and stinky litter pans to clean regularly); they cuddle with me and with each other; they run and chase each other through the…

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