From The Soil In San Francisco – Welcomed Guests or Unwanted Pests?

It’s summertime, the time of year during which we socialize often. Neighbors and friends gather for barbeques, families travel to visit other family members, and children congregate at each other’s houses in a summer-long “playdate”. It is the time of year when our gardens are at their peak and we’re proud to have others admire our hard work and creativity. But it’s also the time when guests and gardens sometimes don’t mix well…

We recently had a party at our house to celebrate a milestone in our daughter’s life. The planning was lots of fun and we got creative with the menu and the cake. We don’t throw parties like this very often so we invited several friends and family members we only get to see occasionally — and lots of children were on the list.

I’d planted my vegetable garden weeks earlier and had already been through a “squirrel encounter” (Squirrels, in their quest to bury the peanuts my neighbor provides for them, had dug up most of my veggie starts. To say that I wasn’t happy would be an understatement…if I could’ve buried the squirrels in retaliation I just may have!).

As a result of this I decided to take a precautionary measure or two. I purchased some inexpensive, low fencing to place in front of the veggie garden hoping it would deter any wandering little people. My broom and other tools were put away and a beverage tub was placed in front of my gardening shed – if anyone wanted to sweep or get hold of my clippers they had to be strong enough to move a tub of sodas first!

The party was a success! Our daughter was happy with the food and desserts she’d picked out and thrilled to see so many loved ones. Grown-ups were being social, pictures were being taken, and kids were running around everywhere. It was perfect – well, almost.

At some point I learned that one of my pots had “tipped over”; no one was hurt and my husband had moved it out of the yard.

Much later, after a bit of detective work and an expert interrogation of my children, I learned that two children had wrapped a jump rope around the pot and had pulled it over. There was no malicious intent, just two young children, experiencing a sugar buzz and testing their muscle strength and a bit of physics. Or, at least, that was the story I managed to piece together. How it happened really doesn’t matter; the pot broke, some plants survived, and in the end the party was fun and everyone enjoyed themselves.

The survivors of the roping incident, looking sad in their "too small" temporary home.

I guess that’s the risk we gardeners take when we have visitors to our garden. The guilty party is frequently a child and, I’d like to think, is simply having so much fun they don’t stop to think about the consequences of their actions. In some cases it’s possible they haven’t been taught to be respectful of a garden area.

Over the years we’ve had children pick fruit that wasn’t ripe, flowers that were just coming into bloom, and leaves that were bright green and tender. I’ve had a parent “help” a child do “he loves me, he loves me not” with a rose still on a bush.

The "culprits"
Hebe with a hole in it from one too many games of handball...

Flying balls of all sizes have crushed some plants while keeping others “bonsai” size. And I’ve had children run through my gardening beds during rowdy games of manhunt, follow the leader, and hide & seek. The only time I’ve been really bothered is when a parent says nothing when a child is being intentionally destructive.

So what can we do other than sigh and hope the destruction isn’t too bad? Most of us love to socialize and there really aren’t too many things better than enjoying some good barbeque and a margarita on a warm summer evening in one’s own gorgeous garden. Having friends and/or family there just completes the picture!

My recent experience just reinforced what I already felt. First and foremost, if no one got hurt then all is well. Next, gardens aren’t supposed to be perfect. If they’re done right, they are a reflection of who we are, of our lifestyle, and, for me at least, they are always a work in progress.

If a child picks all your flowers maybe they’re just saving you some work deadheading. If a plant (or two or ten!) gets trampled by little feet, perhaps it’s just the chance you needed to try out that new and improved variety at your local nursery.  And if a pot gets tipped over and broken then maybe you won’t feel guilty buying that slightly expensive but gorgeous aqua blue pot you’ve been admiring…as well as the green one that looks really amazing sitting right next to it…

Have about you? Have you had unwelcome experiences with garden guests?  What techniques have you employed to “protect” your garden from guests?  Have they been successful? If inclined, share your secrets or stories as we all might benefit a bit from each other’s experiences.

A Bit About San Francisco Garden Gal:

I’m Karen, a native of the San Francisco Bay Area.  Summers here can be cool or hot, winters may be rainy or dry…it all depends on the year, or sometimes the week!  The coastal influence contributes to the lack of predictability  but on the other hand keeps things interesting making me appreciate nature’s tenacity and beauty.  I’ve been gardening since buying a house that had a backyard consisting of two sheds and some white rocks. My goal until relatively recently was to have the “perfect” yard and then sit back and enjoy it.  It’s taken many years and even more plants to realize that gardening is an endless endeavor and that many of its most exquisite shows are fleeting.  And this I’ve decided is both its frustration and its allure. I look forward to writing occasionally about whats going on gardening-wise in the Bay Area and sharing my experiences.  I’m one of Andrea’s biggest fans and excited to be contributing to my favorite garden blog!


4 thoughts on “From The Soil In San Francisco – Welcomed Guests or Unwanted Pests?

  1. Thanks for the wonderful comment you left on the “morning glory’ post. This story is familar has I have raised two boys who played soccer in the garden. I usually ended up looking the other way or not even looking! lol. I think dogs are probably the worst culprits. Fun post and enjoyable and look at those new pots…

  2. Yes, I agree dogs are some of the worst but I think they must be ok for some people because I always see lots of gardeners with dogs at nurseries. I would be too afraid to take a dog to a nursery thinking they could easily break nursery stock on accident. Overall when it comes to children in the garden I agree with Karen but it is hard to take when a little person visits that has never been taught to be respectful of other people’s homes AND gardens!

  3. Children can easily get carried away and act without thinking things through. Just the other day my husband confessed that, as a child, he brought home flowers to his Mom that he had picked from someone’s garden on the way home from school. It got me wondering, how would I feel if a child came along and picked the flowers in my garden. I thought about and decided that I wouldn’t be angry. Like you I think a garden is meant to be enjoyed. I would not begrudge that child the joy of picking a pretty bouquet to take home to his Mom. And who knows, in picking those flowers that child may discover a life long passion for beautiful flowers.

  4. Good post. We recently had 5 neighbor children “enjoy” our garden; all 9 years old or younger. It was a good reminder not to get too hung up on the garden being perfect. Our dog and chickens also offer reminders of that, daily.

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