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Gardeners love to share their bounty, critter tales

The summer battle is over as the garden prepares itself for a deserved repose. I say "battle" because of the weather and the critters. Our narrow but deep yard blooms with dozens of herbs and flowering perennials, yet every summer I can count on a period when it doesn't rain enough and then one when it rains too much.

Topping that dilemma, we have a resident woodchuck who burrows himself into a hole under our garage. I only wish my daughter had been as fond of the herbs served during meals as this fat, furry fellow is. He is a particular woodchuck, though, preferring the new growth of annuals, such as cilantro, chervil and biennial dill, for starters. My overgrown perennial oregano and mint don't appeal to this guy, who usually arrives just when the more tender herbs are showing promise for the table.

He was setting his own table with my basil until I moved it to pots along the kitchen side of the driveway. Not that I outwitted him, though. He helped himself to the curly and flat leaf parsley while we were away on a week's vacation.

My neighbor watering the plants couldn't change his mind. Since I can be as vulpine as he, I placed a knife and fork in the way of the feast, which seems to be working in my favor since he hasn't figured out how to use them.

Using the same cunning, I hung up my pots of mangled summer squash. If I could not harvest the veggies, I thought we could have the beauty of yellow flowers. But they keep disappearing, too. I figure it must be our resident squirrels. Our kids used to strew peanuts for these bushy-tailed critters until they began leaving their "calling cards" on our porch furniture.

Besides the squirrels and the woodchuck, we have rabbits. The cute little cottontails do their best work during the winter, devastating rose bushes and raspberry canes. Still, not to be defeated, we are seeing a revival since the rabbits have found some more palatable plants they enjoy.

If they are related to Beatrix Potter's Peter, they enjoy the kale from the cabbage family. However, not waiting for camomile tea before bedtime as Peter did, these rabbits take theirs straight after a helping of some blackberries.

I know I'm not alone in my summer battles after sharing these stories with others. And sharing is something that bonds gardeners -- not only stories, but surplus produce. I like to share my basil as do others via pesto.

Unlike my mother and grandmother, who used to line pantry shelves with colorful jars capturing summer's jewels, I cram my refrigerator and freezer with jars of herbal tastes and textures.

When we share them, we can open up a little of summer's memories. Around the family table, eating a homemade meal brimming with that special taste of the herbal condiments, we can forget the frustration of those summer creatures and just enjoy, laughing about our battles and knowing they'll be back next year. The bounty of the garden as well as the lively creatures link us to nature.

I'm sad to see summer leave -- even though it was a very hot one and I thought I'd never again be cool. However, it will be restful to not have to do battle with the pests and weather calamities in the backyard. As a popular proverb says, "To everything there is a season. . . ."

Barbara Blackburn, of Williamsville, is sorry to see summer come to an end.

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