Photo courtesy of Marin Rose Society
Roses were blooming in the garden when we moved to the house in an April of some 27 years ago. They must have been planted by the landlordâs grandmother long before we ever imagined moving to a place called Topanga, which seemed then as distant as the moon. The blooms were a variety of colors from gentle pink, yellows, modest whites, to a bold and brazen red. I so appreciated the roses being here as they lent an enchanted cottage appearance to the home. When visiting with the landlords before moving in, we were introduced to an aging, somewhat senile lady, who, I believe, must have been responsible in her long-gone days of yore, to having planted the flowers. I regret not ever thanking her for the roses.
The blooms were a hardy variety and required little effort on my part to burst forth faithfully each year, fortunate because my gardening skills, as with my driving and housekeeping skills, could be more accurately described as unskilled. Yet, from time to time, I would prune and water the bushes, spraying a bit for aphids while mumbling an encouraging word or two. Then, after so many, many seasons of loyal splendor, they were gone. Disappearing from the light and sun, vanishing beneath the ground, snatched away like Persephone by the dark God of the Underworld. Yet it wasnât Hades himself, but one of his evil and relentless servants toiling to rob the upper world of bright and beautiful growing things, leaving plants withered and dead or just sadly, utterly absent.
The evil imp is a small but pugnacious rodent of the species Thomomys and a member of the Geomyidoe family, also known as Bottaâs Pocket Gopher from Hell. It is obviously a relentless, heartless creature, caring not a shake of its wicked whisker, for causing devastating destruction of flowering fauna and gentle grasses; in fact, I suspect it delights in reducing a Topanga yard to nothing but barren ground covered with the dirt mounds that are its callous calling card. It may as well raise its head from the burrow and tauntingly sing, ââThis land is my land/no longer your land/from the old white fence to the hillside view/this land was made for me not you! Ha, ha!â
I attempted replanting roses, but they too were torn asunder. In another part of the yard, we planted glorious colored bougainvillea within their pots to deter the gophers. Itâs hard enough for bougainvillea in the Canyon as itâs too cold for their tropical vines to flourish in winter, but I had hopes. Those hopes were cruelly dashed as we helplessly watched them gobbled from beneath even through their pots, and frozen from above until only a scraggly lone branch with a single bright orange flower remained. For a few years I actually nursed it along and whereas it didnât exactly thrive, it continued to gallantly, with great effort, produce a few flowers every summer. Then one day, I saw it lying prone on the ground and went to its aid only to find the stem chewed through. I picked it up and cradled it as an old friend. I may even had shed a tear. First the roses and now this! It was time to get serious.
We had tried a variety of environmentally friendly, non-lethal gopher deterrents in the past. We attempted flushing out the burrows with the hose. That didnât work. Ironically, it caused more grass to grow, only increasing their food supply. I sprinkled tabasco sauce around the openings, but I think the rodents rather enjoyed it as an exotic complement to plain grass. Perhaps we should have offered margaritas as well, in hopes an inebriated rodent might become confused, losing its way somehow and waking up over at Bonnell where there is a thriving colony. However, with our luck, the whole hoard would end up partying in our yard, along with their special invited guest band, The Ground Squirrels.
In researching how to be rid of this pesky pestilence, I read that gophers do not like peppermint. Coming across a bag of old candy canes, I spread the joy of the season by sneakily inserting the unwrapped candy into all the gopher holes I could find. I admit to having felt a bit of Grinch-like delight in executing my evil plan, but it came to naught. The candy canes disappeared; the gophers remained. The Beleaguered Husband actually bought a commercial peppermint spray dispenser and while dousing the tunnels caught one of the culprits right in the act of popping his head out and diligently gobbling up all of the grass he could stuff into his greedy mouth, almost as if to say, âNuts to you, old man and the surfboard you rode in on!â
Mike hit him right in the face with a squirt of peppermint which seemingly had no adverse effect, whatsoever.
Not being quite ready to employ natureâs own deterrent, live gopher snakes, our latest method of defense is the solar powered, ultrasonic yard stake that releases a continuous mechanical, annoying beeping sound that will deter, supposedly, âgophers, moles, voles, and armadillos.â May God save us from a plague of them all, especially the dreaded Topanga Armadillo.
Personally, I find the beeping sound akin to being repelled by playing a continuous loop of Barry Manilow and irritating enough to make me move on, but I had little faith it would vanquish the varmint.
Surprise!!! Can it be? I am seeing no fresh gopher mounds. Can we have won? Is victory ours? Shall we raise the flag yet show compassion for the toppled? Graze free, just somewhere else, dear gophers.
Spring is coming. I will plant roses and hope that, some many years from now, a lady living here might enjoy them and smile softly to see roses blooming in Topanga.