Recently I helped my friend Eric and sister-in-law Rosana move their possessions into a new summer rental for the next year. They have always been very generous to Juana and me inviting us to their house on Fire Island. As a gardener, the visits have forced me to return to my Long Island roots of dealing with sandy soil and more temperate weather than we experience in the harsher climate of Connecticut.
Over the years, we have given them many plants as our quartet loves to garden. Beach roses, beach plums, hostas, lilies and other donated specimens have been planted and thrived in their yard, which is mostly sand with an almost non-existent veneer of loam. Rhubarb and other heavy feeders have been spectacular failures. Eric is passionate about castor beans, foxgloves, elephant ears and mandevilla. Rosana has her favorites, too, in deep red geraniums and cherry tomatoes.
They have only become happy gardeners, however, when they installed a series of fences to thwart the deer. (The National park service that manages Fire Island has recently approved control measures that hope to dramatically decrease the population. Good luck.) Efforts to establish certain herbs and plants in their unfenced front yard have turned out to be but a salad bar for the native ungulates. Only the castor beans, foxgloves and a few mints have effectively withstood the onslaught.
As all gardeners know, even the best of fences won’t always stop predators. Some years I would get calls from Eric saddened and angry that a piece of fencing became dislodged and a marauding familial group enters and chows down. All that he was left with would be stems of plants and piles of Milk-Duds-like droppings. Like me, Eric would dream of venison sausages and other delectable ways to deal with the problem.
Unfortunately a few months ago Eric and Rosana lost their beach house lease and thus their garden. While they have found a wonderful new house, they can’t take their plants with them. But a strange thing has happened. Last month a small Bambi-like male deer with antler buds started to visit their back yard on a regular basis. Getting ready for winter, it quickly dispatched the hostas and other back yard treats and rather than think like a butcher, Eric has somewhat adopted this cute creature.
I was introduced to Fire Island Bambi when we were sitting on Eric’s back deck, having a beer at the end of the day after our move was finished. All of a sudden I looked up and there was a big eyed creature carefully sizing us up. Eric jumped up to greet and pet his baby, which now sleeps every night outside his bedroom window. He had slices of potato to give it and shamed me into donating one of my apples to its feeding. There Eric kneeled and Bambi gratefully took his feeding and Eric smiled.
While as a gardener I was pretty horrified, I have to admit it was pretty adorable. When I got home I checked my fence just in case.