Each morning when I wake up, I make a pilgrimmage out to my vegetable garden to search for cat turds. I’m led to the spot by the flies and the soil that’s been disturbed, and I dig around furiously looking for the toxic deposits—generally buried under a few inches of soil. It’s an unpleasant way to start the day, but the marigolds I’ve planted, the cayenne pepper/mustard/flour concoctions I’ve sprinkled, the chicken wire I’ve erected and the obstacle course of sticks I’ve planted in the soil have done little to deter the neighbourhood felines and their nightly constitutional.
I keep thinking of the classic Bill Murray vehicle, Caddyshack, and the poor demented golf groundskeeper he played, tormented by groundhogs digging up his perfect grass. I am a neurotic Carl Spackler, planning and scheming about how to keep the infernal kitties out of my garden. (All suggestions welcome.)
It’s curious, because when it comes to messing with the school garden, I feel quite the opposite. Not that I’d welcome cat turds. (I wouldn’t wish such a curse on anyone.) But there are two-legged intruders there, and my attitude toward them is far more laissez-faire.
Last year, when vandals dug up our pepper plants and threw them about the school yard, we just planted them again. And when they wrecked the lock box where we kept the key to the garden shed, we bought a new one (and then another new one, and then we came up with an alternative plan for key storage).
This year, someone has already stolen a squash plant, and there will no doubt be some cover-of-darkness, covert harvesting. But rather than get angry or disillusioned with the world, rather than installing cameras or threatening signs, I think it’s our job as school gardeners to find ways to get these people onside. Making the garden a mini-police state would run counter to all our community-building dreams, it would contradict everything we’re trying to do in this space. But how do you get people to become garden guardians rather than vandals?
I don’t have the answer, though, I think the welcome sign like the one kids at our school made can help. So can inviting people in to care for the garden and taste the harvest, or simply asking neighbours and dog walkers to watch over the patch.
But there are other community gardeners who have a few worthwhile ideas. I was fascinated by this Christian Science Monitor piece “From Gangs to Gardens” about a San Francisco garden that turned one city block from the most dangerous in the neighbourhood to the centre of community life.
The author says it all here: “While the plants produced are of course a key motivation for any gardening enterprise, growing food can also – should also – serve other important social purposes, like cultivating a culture of civic engagement and an ethos of community participation.”
Now if I could just convince the cats to do their cultivating elsewhere.