Fluffy bunnies

by James Alexander-Sinclair

On the RHS website (and in innumerable books) is a list of plants that are supposedly rabbit proof. The problem with many of these is that nobody ever bothers to consult the rabbits.

RabbitOn the RHS website (and in innumerable books) is a list of plants that are supposedly rabbit proof. The problem with many of these is that nobody ever bothers to consult the rabbits. No pollster ever knocks on the door of the burrow: "Mr and Mrs Bunny? I wonder if you could spare a moment to answer a few questions?" "Be quick about it we are supposed to be at it like rabbits - part of the job description". "Do you strongly dislike/quite like/ dislike/ strongly despise any of the following plants..." etc, etc

It seems that the only way a rabbit can be sure is by biting the plant (and then, if it not to his taste, spitting it out again). If you have a reasonable population of foraging rabbits and they all take a bite then there is not much plant left.

I did a big shrub planting for a client in the spring and for various reasons there was a hiatus between planting and erecting a fence. I have just walked round to see what had been nibbled and can report that there are three distinct groups. Firstly things that they did not touch: a short list consisting of Taxus baccata (yew), Cornus alba (Dogwood), Euonymus europaeus (Spindle) and Buxus sempervirens (Box). Secondly things that they adored: Prunus lusitanica (Portuguese laurel), Roses, Hydrangea paniculata, Hazel and Holly. Thirdly almost everything else that they have eaten some of but not all: fussy beggars. Amongst those nibbled were Hydrangea quercifolia, Sarcoccoca confusa (only one out of about fifty), Hamamellis mollis (witch hazel), Parrotia persica (Persian Ironwood), Viburnum davidii, Viburnum burkwoodii, Philadelphus and various others.

The only sure way to keep the things out is to erect a proper rabbit fence - which should be made from 1m high wire netting with the bottom 15cm bent outwards and buried to prevent tunneling. Failing that then you have to look after your plants until they are big enough to take care of themselves - easy if they are trees or shrubs but not so easy with herbaceous stuff.

If anybody has any other ideas then I would love to hear them. Personally I think we should eat more of them. Perhaps Nigella can be entrusted with regenerating the popularity of rabbit stew. There are lots of recipes on the BASC website and Rick Stein has a good one but the former lacks popular appeal and Rick - in spite of the cheery grin - doesn't really have the cleavage to do it justice.

We also have a problem with adolescent Moorhens (the hoodies of the the waterbird world) destroying beetroot. Sadly, no matter how many of our vegetables they consume, I am pretty sure that they would taste revolting.

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Gardeners' World Web User 17/10/2007 at 11:30

I also find it amusing when TV gardeners recommend we should use plants which slugs and snails dislike, such as hairy prickly plants and strongly flavoured herbs. They have eaten all my echinacea, in fact they love the flavour and it is the first to go. They have eaten thyme, sage, marjoram and feverfew (perhaps they had a headache after all those strong flavours?) I've come to the conclusion that if there are enough of them they will eat EVERYTHING AND ANYTHING! They even strip the bark from decorative willow arches, trellises and supports. However, they don't appear to relish conifers or lavender. I must say I have to admire their tenacity!

Gardeners' World Web User 17/10/2007 at 13:32

I have been given this recipe by an Australian friend, for a home brewed potion, said to deter rabbits, and also Possums, if you should happen to be bothered by those too.

Recipe:- Chop 4 large onions, 4 hot chillies and 2 garlic cloves. Cover the lot with warm soapy water, and leave to steep for 24 hours. Strain off the liquid and add 5 Litres of water to the concentrate. Stores well for up to three weeks in a screw top jar in a cool dark place. Spray your plants with this, and it's bye bye bunnies, it's also great against aphids.

I hasten to add, that l personally, have never tried this recipe, although my friend swore by it, l admit l erected a fence, which has worked, and l am now bunnyless!

Gardeners' World Web User 17/10/2007 at 23:00

There seems to be an increased interest in the culinary delights of rabbits perhaps we should invest in more shotguns and shoot them. We could then eat them with our home grown veg.

Gardeners' World Web User 18/10/2007 at 07:04

Our pet rabbits' hutch is always open. so they run free over half the garden and the large patio area. Besides their usual pelleted food, they have loads of grass to eat, are given bundles of fresh hay every day, along with cabbages and the odd carrot, but they still choose to eat everything else in the garden - yes, even those things that apparently they don't like.

Sometimes I ask for trouble, though, as I forget about the rabbits and do something rash like bring some plants back from the garden centre and leave them on the patio for a few minutes whilst I rummage in the potting shed, only to come back out and find there's no plants left! I lost lots of fuchsias that way last year. They do love their fuchsias - and bulbs, especially crocus, although they're not too keen on daffodils.

I know it's our fault for letting them have their freedom in the first place, but we didn't want to keep them caged and they really are VERY happy, running around and playing (and nibbling my plants!). It helps that they are incredibly cute as well, especially when they sit up and wash their ears which makes them just look like Thumper from Bambi. I love my garden as well, though, so I'm going to have to have a re-think. I don't think the answer is rabbit stew though!

Gardeners' World Web User 18/10/2007 at 16:39

I have a fair bit of knowledge when it comes to these fluffy vermin. Chicken wire/nets may seem a good idea to keep them out, but rabbits are very good at burrowing under these things. Sinking the wire a few inches into the ground would help and using a thicker wire, as they do tend to have a go at chewing through as well. Also, if your getting rabbits in flowered area's, they could burrow in and next thing you know, there's a whole family. I must admit, there's been a massive increase this year in the rabbit population and could get worse.

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