Difficulty or Opportunity


Three Rules of Work: Out of clutter find simplicity; From discord find harmony; In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.  ~Albert Einstein



Every spring as the snow retreats, I cringe to see the damage.  Not from the frost or snow or frigid cold.  Not even from the rabbits or deer although they can be devils (I wrap many young trees and bushes to keep them at bay).  No this damage is from an elusive, small intruder.  And for such a small critter, just one or two can wreck a garden in no time causing massive destruction.

Who is this varmint that is the bane of my existence….why the very fast, very hard to get rid of vole.  Voles burrow underground during warm weather and have an extensive labyrinth of small holes throughout the garden.  These mice-like rodents feed on roots and small plants and multiply like rabbits.  This is a problem in my veg beds, and last year they mowed down all my beans.DSCN5134

But it is in winter where I see just as much if not more damage.  Under cover of snow, these pesky critters dig troughs through the grass sawing it off below the root level and using the grass for snug nests.  They dig up the beds chewing all plants in their path to below their crowns virtually dooming them.  And one of their favorite targets are small bulbs especially crocus.  They dig up the bulbs and use these in their nests too as pictured right.  They have even chewed off the buds of crocus and used these in some nests I have found in the garden.

Now most people would think…OK so get a cat, set traps, get rid of them however you can.  But I have a dilemma which runs deep within.  I do not like to harm critters.  Let’s face it, I have made my garden in their territory.  So what to do….

The following is Part II of my March Garden Journal as I highlight the front gardens.  I am linking in again with Helen@The Patient Gardener’s Weblog for her End of Month View.




Here’s what the front garden looked like as the snow was still melting on March 31st.  All looks well.  There is no way to tell what lies beneath until the snow melts more.  And when it did, a few days later, I saw this….





Our sod lies dormant,  and while it looks a mess, it will green up and bounce back quickly. What won’t bounce back fast are all the troughs dug by the voles chiseling out the grass by going deep into the roots.  This will have to be filled with some soil waiting for the surrounding grass to grow and fill it in.  I am not as concerned about the grass, but this used to send me over the edge when I’d see this damage.  Now when I see this, I know the garden beds will have damage as well.





 This small front garden is on the side of the walk closest to the house.  It looks good….not much damage….




DSCN5022This lavender has lots of damage around it.  You can see where the branches are chewed off as the voles tried to move it out of their path.  Thankfully it was too big and it will bounce back.




DSCN5021Next to that lavender is this perennial, a sea thrift I believe.  You can see where they mowed through it cutting the plant in half.  This too should grow back.  There were a few perennials that looked in bad shape, but I am hoping they won’t be lost.

So what about the other side of the walk where the main vole nest is located…..




DSCN4799This was my first inkling of any damage as the snow melted away from the porch.  The ground was churned up with holes and tunnels.  But I was not prepared for the full impact of the damage under all that snow.





This used to be a lavender.  It was right next to the first bit of damage I saw in the picture above.  It is all chewed up its bits and twigs left strewn where the plant used to be.





As I moved along there were no plants to be seen just more holes, tunnels and destruction.  Many phlox, gaillardia, daylilies and columbine are gone.  Chewed right through as the voles searched for the small bulbs they treasure.





In the center of the white structure was a Crystal Fountain clematis.  It has been sawn off at the base with one stem remaining.  It may grow back, but I don’t hold much hope for it.





The boxwood were hacked at to make room for nests underneath the branches.  Luckily these grow back and can take the indiscriminate pruning.





This area contained all sorts of bulbs and perennials.  Scabiosa, columbine, coreopsis, geranium, verbascum, penstemon.  Most are nowhere to be seen just more carnage.  This was a lot more destruction than I have ever seen in our 9 years here.  So could there be more …..you betcha!





Here’s the messy side garden that is mostly sunny and dry.  And this is a stronghold of the voles although there is less damage here among so many native plants this year.




DSCN4920This grass was reduced to a quarter of its size as the voles sawed through it.  But I know it will rebound.




DSCN5027 But what are these holes?  They are the Crocus tommassinianus.  Hopefully not all were dug up.  And I found similar holes in other areas of the front lawn where the same crocus were planted.




DSCN4899 This front kidney-shaped bed had similar tunnels and holes but less damage.  It seems they left the lavender, sage, alliums and echinacea alone.





And similarly, this small bed near the road seems to have been spared.  Daffodils, lavender and echinacea.





So what are my options.  First I scooped up as many of the hundreds of bulbs the voles had amassed.  They fit in this pot there were so many.  I will try to pot them up and see if anything grows.  I surmise that besides the crocus, there is scilla, grape hyacinth and Glory of the Snow in the bunch.

Ok I might be able to save the bulbs, but what to do about the voles.  Well they don’t seem to like daffodils or iris reticulata so I can plant more of these as well as snowdrops which they also seem to ignore.  The rabbits and deer also don’t eat these so that is a plus.  Then I will have to wait to see what grows in the front gardens, and what is missing.

This winter, I found a new deterrent that is not harmful to the voles or plants.  They don’t like the smell and move out to find another spot.  I specifically will be using this around the veg beds first.  It’s called Shake Away Rodent Repellent.  I’ll let you know if this repellent is successful.

Once fall rolls around, I hope to have some ideas for reworking the areas decimated.  More than likely, I will look for natives that can be planted in these small beds as I have found voles tend to steer clear of the natives in my gardens.  But only time and hopeful garden designs will tell if I can regenerate the beauty of the garden beds while living with these most frustrating creatures.

If you have perused to the end of this long post, I appreciate your readership.  This year it will very important to document my observations and challenges in the garden as I look to make further changes to the multiple garden beds.  And as always I love your comments as I learn so much from other gardeners.


Do you have certain critters that get in the garden and just drive you crazy?  How have you dealt with them?





“The natural flights of the human mind are not from pleasure to pleasure, but from hope to hope.”  ~Samuel Johnson





Next up on the blog: Monday it will be time for our first spring Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day.  I am sure the garden will be springing to life this week as warm weather is coming.

I hope you will join me for my posts once a month at Beautiful Wildlife Garden.  

I can also be found blogging once a month at Vision and Verb.  I hope you enjoy my latest post.

As always, I’ll be joining Tootsie Time’s Fertilizer Friday.

All original content is copyrighted and the sole property of Donna Donabella @ Gardens Eye View, 2010-2014.  Any reprints or use of content or photos is by permission only.



37 Replies to “Difficulty or Opportunity”

  1. what devastation! were they hungrier this year with a bad winter or is this how it always is? Gardening without destroying pests can be soul destroying, from aphids to rabbits. On the plus side, I read that voles disperse mycorrhizal fungi! I hope your repellant works. Lion poo pellets are marketed here to deter four legged pests :/
    p.s. do hope some of those bulbs are viable and potted together for next year in a container planting called ‘survivors’

    1. Sadly no Laura as they don’t eat the bulbs but they do eat the roots of some plants. We just had 4 months of cover with no melt so they were able to stay hidden longer. I like that they give back to the soil so it helps to accept them more.

      Wow lion poo pellets would certainly deter animals. Here they use coyote urine which stinks although not sure it deters the varmints.

      I am planting the bulbs this week and know many are already growing outside the soil as they have been buried beneath the cold snow all winter. It will be interesting to see what does grow this year as I am unsure of what all the bulbs are.

  2. We’ve had problems in the past with voles as well. Also chipmunks, too. And I don’t have many bulbs planted either. But just the mess from the destruction and tunnels is heartbreaking. I know what you’re dealing with. Let me know if the deterrent works.

  3. Oh my Donna and after such a long Winter – gardening is tough! I say put up an Owl box – they LOVE voles – hey, doesn’t the Fox also like voles? Notice I didn’t capitalize vole but the other two creatures deserved it – ha. Well, as you know, the rabbit is my new army of destruction. I just saw two hopping through the Potager as Mojo sat by the door – so much for dogs. I will be installing a rabbit fence around the Potager as I, too, love all the little creatures including the bunnies and have created the perfect little haven for them. I am actually looking forward to seeing the babies frolic in the last of the lawn – provided my veggies are safe. I won’t plant anymore bulbs but for daffodils from now on. I have had luck with the Woodland and wild species Tulips – maybe you would, too, with the voles?

  4. Kathy, I just found a rabbit making a nest inside the fence….I don’t let the rabbits nest in the back garden. It appears safe, but isn’t so I coax them to go to the meadow or wild area. The woodland and wild species tulips usually are done in by vole or deer especially. I may try them in a couple of spots again where I know the voles don’t usually go.

  5. Oh Donna, I was blown away by the amount of destruction voles can do–we don’t seem to have them around here. Now, MOLES…another story. Reminds me of my story ” Between Ghandi and Schwartkopf” where a neighbor on one side stalks the moles with a shotgun and the neighbor on the other side plants extra for them! I’m in the demilitarized zone-:)) no resolution in sight, so I can sure empathize.

    1. Susie your story made me laugh so hard. I have a repo house on one side that is wild but the voles don’t stay there…just mostly grass and I have the vole zapper on the other who has electronic devices that scare the voles to me.

      This seems to have been a bad year for them because even the zapper has had some damage but nothing like mine. I have what they like…a nirvana garden for wildlife. I just need to keep them out of the veg beds and away from some bulbs…we’ll start with the veg beds for now and see how we do.

  6. Oh, this must have been so disheartening to see. I used to have bunnies and groundhogs to deal with when we lived in Massachusetts. They ate a lot but nothing like what you’ve shown from the voles. Now that we’re in the PNW my pests are raccoons and crows. The crows try to pull up recently planted seedlings, so I protect them with hardware cloth cages. I have tried animal repellent pellets for the raccoons, but so far for the most part they have just been playing in the stream, where they knock over my ornaments and sometimes pull up plants and chew on them and sometimes strew them about the garden. The stream is on the opposite side of the garden from the veggie beds, which so far they are ignoring. I’d like to spend more time in my back garden after dark, but I once met a pair of raccoons out there in the dark, and that was a bit frightening (probably for both of us.) I hope your repellent works. Good luck, and take heart!

    1. Oh Alison you also have your hands full…I think more so than me. Your story helps me know that we all have these critter issues…and that this may be more of an opportunity to figure out the best way to deal with or live with the voles and plant out a new front garden.

  7. oh Donna how awful and what a shock! could you put your bulbs and the root part of your plants into wire cages? they would hidden in the soil, I used to think these small creatures hibernated through winter until I had harvest mice in and burrowing under my house one winter, after waiting so long to see your garden I can imagine how disheartening it must be, I hope when you have cleaned up and the warmer weather starts plants into growth there will be much recovery, Frances

    1. Perhaps the only way to keep the crocus is the wire cage Frances, but then they chop off the blooms for their spring nests….I think many of the plants may recover…and if they don’t, then I will plant something new. More excuses to plant new plants that way too! 🙂

  8. Oh Donna, that must be heartbreaking to see. A friend had voles in her garden here, and invested in a zapper. It has kept them under control, although not eradicated them entirely. I wish you lots of luck with that repellent, and hope those plants that were damaged bounce back. (My Mum is going to try lion poo to deter cats and squirrels… no idea where it comes from!)

  9. I hope they bounce back too Cathy. You are the second person to mention lion poo…my goodness that is something.

  10. That must be miserable to find so much hard work undone. We have voles here, which mainly are a nuisance in my veg garden and Moles made long tunnels under the lawn which collapsed, in trying to humanely catch one though I made an even bigger mess by digging up even more of the lawn. So far no rabbits or deer. I guess only planting what your visitors do not eat would be the least stressful route!

    1. It is hard to deal with the ones who remain underground most of the time Julie. We shall see what lives or dies in the garden due to voles, but regardless I hope finding plants they don’t like will reduce the work and cost.

  11. I looked at this and was surprised that I have much less damage although I see voles. Then I remembered that we also have owls, hawks and coyote. They must keep them in check. Then I realized that this shows some natural balance which doesn’t exist everywhere. I am sorry Donna

    1. So true Michelle. We have some hawks, owls, fox and a rare coyote. But in winter the voles stay under snow and the only one who hunts that way is the fox. He stays out of the front yard and the back yard is fenced. He could jump the fence but he is too smart and hunts the meadow and woods.

      I think if we were closer to a thicker woods perhaps more birds of prey would hunt them. So I must figure out a way to live with them except in my veg beds…there I draw the line and that is why the repellent. We shall see how it all plays out.

  12. Wow, that tunnelling picture tells the story! We have some voles here, but chipmunks and rabbits are more of a problem for me. Chipmunks do the same thing with the bulbs. Rabbits are the bane of my existence, so I have to say I’m not too sad that their numbers seem smaller this spring. Your advice to plant more natives and Daffodils is great–that’s what I’m trying to do, too.

    1. I think it is the only way we can both live together without the gardener being soooo frustrated all the time. The voles are now mowing down the crocus they find blooming for their nests…and the rabbits are trying to nest inside the fence….that I draw the line on if I can stop them as it is not safe. Spring is a busy, crazy time but I love it….hope it works out for you Beth.

  13. That’s horrible! Such greedy little creatures! Our voles were quickly routed out and killed by our dogs. They did quite a bit of damage the first few years but now are nowhere to be seen. A dog is much easier to find than lion poo!

  14. Oh my goodness, Donna, those critters really dug so much of your garden. Hopefully the repellant will work and chase them away. Good luck with reviving your garden back to its beauty. I’m sure you can do it!

    1. Thanks Loredana. It is heartbreaking to see what they have destroyed, but I will get to design and plant an even better garden in its place…perhaps one they won’t be too eager to chow down on.

  15. Our neighbour’s pet angora rabbit, has taken to escaping and mowing the edges of our driveway. So long as Zeus stays outside the garden walls …

    1. Ah the critters we deal with Diana….I am trying to keep a healthy balance here but boy the voles are keeping up destruction.

  16. So very sorry to see all the damage that the voles have caused to your garden. I hope that the product you have found works and that you can salvage many of your plants. We have them throughout the orchard and a couple of years ago they destroyed my vegetable garden. They had made so many tunnels in the garden that it was hard to walk through it. I haven’t had a garden in New Hampshire since then but am going to try again this year. I also have to contend with deer, porcupines, groundhogs and skunks. My yard is covered with holes from the skunks looking for grubs. 🙁

    1. Oh Karen that is awful….between the deer, rabbits and voles here I am constantly keeping all at bay. But yours is so much worse. Let’s hope we both can garden through it.

  17. Good grief Donna, the wretched blighters have done a right number on your poor front garden! I admire your attitude to it though, planning to plant more of the things they leave alone and looking for others. it isn’t on the same scale but we have a large number of cats using our front garden as a main thoroughfare. I would dearly love to plant nepeta, but I daren’t, as unless I used a cat deterrent – which seems unnecessarily mean – I know they will all just roll around in it. So no nepeta for me. Good luck in your ponderings and your search for vole-proof plants. Being able to have narcissus and iris will help, I am sure, but you will need a lot more than that to make your heart sing when you look out.

    1. Janet we are also using an electronic deterrent for the voles…but I will not plant crocus. I hope these will keep them at bay but you have to take them up when it finally snows a lot. Well any help I will take especially in the veg beds where they did damage last year. I did spray something on my plants by the mailbox to deter the dogs and their owners. It is an unpleasant smell for cats and dogs but doesn’t harm them. I am a bit behind with reading blogs but will be visiting yours to catch up the next few days. I am so busy and exhausted from gardening almost every day. So much to do, but I am in heaven.

  18. Your garden did sustain damage this past winter. I am glad we do not have voles and moles, but we did get rabbit damage. My lavender looks horrid. I hope it bounces back.

    1. Some of my lavender is dead, some looks awful but coming back and some is just fine….fascinating as they are in the same area. Yes the voles were relentless but we may have found a solution.

  19. Wow, you do have voles bad. If it’s any consolation, I think my lavender is dead and it appears untouched by anything. Voles once made off with 150 species tulips that I had planted. Now I use grit around anything I think they will find tasty.

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