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Dateline Detroit: Surviving the Suburban Jungle

By Judi Markowitz

There’s nothing funny about a hungry bunny
There’s nothing funny about a hungry bunny

There was a time when I thought rabbits were the cutest animals — warm and fuzzy with a beautiful coat. As a kid, I was glued to Looney Tunes and Bugs Bunny was one of my favorite animated characters. I wasn’t the only fan: while chomping on carrots, scampering around, and getting into mischief, Bugs became a cultural icon. In 1985, he was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. And in 1997, Bugs Bunny was featured on a U.S. 32-cent postage stamp.

But the rabbits overtaking my yard in Huntington Woods aren’t of celebrity status and can’t hold a candle to Bugs Bunny—they are a complete and utter nuisance. I can identify with Elmer Fudd, when I’m trying to hunt down those annoying rabbits and any other “vermin” in my yard.

I take great pride in my garden and watch over it constantly. Every year, I wait for the temperature to rise above freezing at night and toward the end of May, I begin to plant flowers and herbs. Through the years, I have honed in on the best greenhouses and markets to purchase inpatiens, petunias, calibrachoas, and whatever is best suited for the west and east exposures of my house. I contemplate color combinations and choose the nicest pottery in which to plant these luscious blooms.

The author's home and front yard.. Rabbits have made many a meal out of the elegant hosta plants.

I have spent over 30 years cultivating the hostas in my front yard. They make a lovely border in front of the evergreens. They are watered and fertilized regularly. I garner a great deal of satisfaction from my efforts. However, three years ago, I noticed that some of the hostas and annuals appeared to be less full than usual and that leaves were missing. Upon closer inspection, it became evident that the plants were being chewed down to the stems. The culprit was a family of rabbits that had taken up residence in my yard. They had a veritable feast— a three-course meal of my hostas and annuals. I was livid. I had no idea what they would be having for dessert, but I knew I had to step into action before another course was served.

My next move was to drive to English Gardens, a landscaping store, to speak with their plant pharmacist, who could hopefully remedy the situation. I asked about the various products that would deter my garden intruders and was shown several. I purchased the one that was recommended — Liquid Fence, a repellent for rabbits and deer.

Once at home, I sprang into action. Following the directions to spray directly on the plants and around the perimeter, I now felt I had the upper hand with these pesky critters. Of course, repeat applications would have to be made every few weeks and the product claimed it would not damage the flowers or plants. One sniff or taste of this noxious compound would send the rabbits hopping to a new location—or so I thought.

The following spring, when perennials begin to emerge from their long winter sleep, I noticed the hostas spreading their leaves and looking sturdy as ever. But when in full bloom, they looked like a punier version or another variety of hosta. All my hard work was down the tubes. I now had mini hostas as a border for the evergreens, and I wasn’t happy.

The author's lush backyard foliage allows skunks, rabbits and other unwelcome visitors to burrow in the bushes

I decided to purchase more annuals to accent the garden and hoped that next year the hostas would return to their former glory. I longed for a respite from the rabbits, but I was finished with the liquid repellent. I wanted to get ahead of the game, so I began to peruse the Internet for an alternative deterrent.

Rabbit Scram seemed to be a popular product and was touted for its quick delivery to eliminate ravaging rabbits. Amazon delivered it in a day, and I began to pour granules around the hostas and annuals in all of my flower beds. I was pleased with this product until I walked out on my deck one morning only to find a rabbit, standing on its haunches by a flowerpot, having breakfast on a purple petunia.

It was time to go back to the drawing board. Next, I decided to use some of the other ideas I had come across on the Internet. Sprinkling dry sulfur, placing ginger, onions, coffee grounds and mint were a few of the “natural” choices.

Alas, after a few years of playing with these remedies, I have concluded that nothing really staves off the rabbits permanently — they keep sniffing and chomping away at the fruits of my labor. But I’m determined and keep a close eye out for the enemy. As Elmer Fudd would declare, “Say your pwayers, wabbit.”

Unfortunately, rabbits are just a part of my troubles in the yard. Another Looney Tunes character that comes for an occasional visit is Pepé Le Pew, better known as Pepé the Stink. Skunks made an appearance in my yard last summer for the first time.

When my granddog George was over for the day, I let him out in the backyard and didn’t notice anything unusual. It was early morning and George liked to roam through the bushes. George is a 110-lb. Bernese Mountain Dog and can hold his own — or so I thought. Apparently, he was no match for Pepé, who was lurking in the shrubs. That nocturnal pest was staying out later than usual.

George, the author’s super-sized granddog, was no match for Pepé Le Pew, the skunk at the garden party
George, the author’s super-sized granddog, was no match for Pepé Le Pew, the skunk at the garden party

I didn’t know why George wanted to come back in so soon. But when I opened the screen door, the stench was unmistakable —George had been skunked. I panicked and immediately took him outside once again, not wanting the terrible odor to linger in the house. I stood on the deck, looking for the scoundrel who had polluted our sweet, lovable granddog. Pepé Le Pew was nowhere in sight. He probably went for a snooze since he was out after hours.

My husband Jeffrey and I immediately scoured the Internet for remedies to eliminate the odor emanating from George. We soon found out that a popular recipe for a tomato juice bath was simply a myth — it didn’t take away the smell. Then we read about a tried-and-true method that seemed promising: a mixture of hydrogen peroxide, baking soda and liquid dish soap. Well, we tried the combo, and it didn’t work. George’s coat was too thick, and the bath proved to be unsuccessful. He then went to a groomer and $130 later came out smelling sweet.

After this debacle we had to protect ourselves from future skunk sprayings. Jeffrey and I were armed with a variety of methods to stop this infestation. Our plan of attack was to first use the flood lights in our yard every night — skunks don’t enjoy the bright lights. Then we placed orange and lemon peels around the yard.

Our grand finale was to put shavings of Irish Spring bar soap near the areas where the skunks were seen entering our yard. It rained the day after we scattered the shavings and our driveway looked like a bubble bath. Pepé Le Pew and friends decided to exit our yard after these irritants proved to be successful — good riddance!

Unfortunately, the list of marauders who make an occasional appearance in our yard is always being updated. Rats, with their long, thin tails and pointy heads, are a scary sight. One or two have been seen burrowing holes from our yard to the neighbors. These creepy creatures are not exactly like the movie version of Remy the chef, that lovable rodent from the animated film Ratatouille. Remy won over audiences on the big screen but witnessing a rat scurrying across the lawn is truly a frightening proposition.

Quick thinking determined that cement should be used to shore up the holes made by the rats. They tunneled under the fence and cement was a swift fix. The rats decided to move to a new location and their carousing days in my neighbor’s garbage receptacles also ended. This maneuver worked well and there were no more visits.

Life in the suburbs isn’t as calm and serene as one might imagine. A bald eagle was recently spotted hanging out in a tree across the street from my house. Ducks are constantly on parade as they walk with their families in the middle of the road. Opossums scamper around the city at night looking for a comfortable resting spot. Deer have been seen sneaking around as well. They even took up residence in our local golf course a few years ago. But an honorable mention must be given to the squirrels congregating in the neighborhood. They have enjoyed chewing on garbage can covers in an effort to find a delectable meal underneath. And in the fall, digging up my lawn to store nuts is their favorite pastime as well. It’s all part of the landscape that we call home. As for those irksome rabbits, I’m still on the hunt to track them down.


Judi Markowitz is a retired high school English teacher of 34 years. She primarily taught 12th grade and had the pleasure of her three sons gracing her classes. In addition, she taught debate, forensics, and Detroit film. Judi has four adult children and seven wonderful grandchildren. She is married to Jeffrey Markowitz, whom she met in high school.

Judi grew up in Oak Park, Mich. which had a stellar school district, with excellent teachers. The city provided activities for all–and there were even sidewalks. Judi moved to Huntington Woods as an adult, which is a half mile from her childhood home. She wanted the same experience for her children as she had growing up, and Huntington Woods provided that. The View from Four Foot Two is Judi’s first book.

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