About 2 years ago I wrote a post about ‘the troublesome corner’ in my garden. I told the story about how I had tried for years to make things grow in that bottom right corner and that a combination of dry shade, cats and foxes jumping over the fence and foxes digging a tunnel under the fence through to next door garden made that corner a real challenge. You can read that post here to get the rest of the details.
Yesterday I decided that the long suffering hebe growing in this troublesome corner was finally going to end up in the compost bin – that is the compost bin at my local council, I don’t actually have a compost bin but I collect everything useful of garden waste and the council come and collect it, very handy. Anyway, the hebe is to the far right in this photo, behind the fern and so small you can hardly see it. From memory I think I bought it in 2007 so I think I have given it more than enough time to settle in!
So in I went, with a heavy duty spade, expecting a bit of heavy work with getting the roots out, after all, it had been there for a number of years. Can you imagine my shock when the spade went through the first inches of soil and then just vanished into the ground, the whole spade, almost into the handle! I nearly fell over, standing there in the flower bed!! And what you can see in this tray was all that came out of the ground, this pathetically small excuse of a hebe. The ground under the hebe turned out the be a large hole and the roots were just hanging in air, not anchored in soil.
All sorts of horror thoughts went through my mind there and then standing in the flower bed, about sink holes and people being swallowed up by the ground!
Yes, it actually happens, and even if people manage to stay clear, houses, gardens, cars and so on can risk falling in. This photo is from Schmalkalden in Germany in 2010.
OK, so my hole wasn’t that big, but I could not see where it ended, and at first I did not dare walking around on the edges….would I end up falling in?
Perhaps I should try putting some of my tools in and see how far they reach?
This is my very handy grabber which I use every day in the garden to pick up leaves from the ground, here you can get a view of the size of the hole that collapsed once I started digging out the hebe. Just think of it, before I put the spade in, this area looked complete with no hole at all.
There are several tunnels leading in all directions, but I can’t get very far, I would need something flexible, but I am not so keen to get down there – what would I meet?!
The other direction is more straight, my grabber goes in very easy and could get lost in there, I can’t feel the bottom of this tunnel.
I tried to put my garden rake in, but I hit the wall, the tunnel is angled towards the wall so I can’t tell where it goes from there unless I put something flexible inside.
So what made these tunnels or burrows? Moles? Not likely, the tunnels are very wide, about 15cm or more, moles are tiny animals and would not need tunnels that size – unless they were supersized moles on steroids!
Rabbits?? OK, there are wild rabbits in London, but they don’t tend to be a big problem for small garden holders and I have never ever seen a rabbit or damage done by rabbits in my garden so I tend to think that I can’t blame this on them. Aww…aren’t they cute?
So…rats? Much more likely, rats make huge burrows and can use the same burrow for 20 years or more – they are lazy animals and would rather use their familiar rat-run than digging something new. I have never seen a rat in my garden or any excrements from rats, but I haven’t got any openings from any burrows or tunnels either…well, not until now that is!! Perhaps my garden is just the middle of the tunnels going from the neighbour on my left to the neighbour on my right?
And if it isn’t rats then it could just as likely be foxes, their burrows don’t need to be much more than 20cm wide. They were a huge problem in my garden some years ago, I took this photo standing on the stairs at my backdoor with this fox lounging at the bottom of my garden as if he owned the garden. Urban foxes are as much a London landmark as Big Ben or drunk men falling out of pubs. They’re utterly fearless, and whereas in the countryside they’re likely to sprint away at the first sign of a human, here they’re more likely to pull a knife on you and take your wallet.
I keep my garden tidy. Very tidy. Some say OCD tidy – but that's usually people who are very untidy themselves. I just like things tidy and it also makes it less of a home for uninvited guests like slugs, snails, rats, badgers, mice and foxes. They all like to find places to hide, in my garden there is no place to hide and no piles of old leaves to scurry under when danger is near.
But let’s widen the picture a bit and see what it looks like in my neighbours’ gardens, after all, my garden is not placed in a sealed eco-bubble - what goes on around me affects my garden too.
My neighbour to the right has a huge shed, I often wonder what lurks under and behind it.
And they have a mattress out on their patio, it has been here for over a year, through summer rain and winter storms and record amounts of precipitation. I can’t imagine this mattress ever being brought indoors and used again - and the council will come and collect household items for free so why do people have them lying around in their garden? A place for rats to congregate and multiply??
By the way, this is the garden I did up almost 3 years ago, during winter and spring 2011, when I was finished in May 2011 it looked like this. The tenant who lived here at that time was very ill and I did it for him as he could not take care of the garden and it had got very overgrown and been taken over by foxes. Sadly he died just after this. Since I did up the garden, one family has moved in and left and family number 2 is currently living here (4 adults and 3 children) and as you can see on the previous 2 photos, they do some attempts to grow some vegetables in the garden, but I don’t think they have actually produced anything edible yet.
And now, let me show you the garden to my left – and what is it with the beds, they have a bed in their garden too, it has been here for years! This house has had the same owner all the 12 years I have been here and the garden has looked like a rubbish dump all that time. Some years it has not been possible to even see the ground for rubbish so I suppose at the moment there is slightly less rubbish here than at its worst – not that that really helps!
At the bottom of their garden is what I fear is the entrance to whatever is making burrows in my garden. This pile of rubbish has been stacked like this for about 4-5 years, a perfect hideaway for both rats and foxes. I have talked to the tenants who has lived here the last 6 years or so, but they claim all the things down here are things they want, nothing is rubbish. Mmmm, a washing machine and a cooker that has been out in the rain for 6 years?! I really wonder what's lurking around under that tarpaulin....
Ok, back to sinkholes.
Oh, sorry, I mean the hole in my garden!
I am not sure what’s tunnelling up my garden, and I have no idea whether the burrows are fresh, 50 years old or anything in between - how would I know? I have read about rats the last couple of days and if this is down to rats, the council will come and take care of it for free. If it is down to foxes they won’t do anything, it will be up to me to clear up after them and patrol my garden myself. Bloody foxes! I wish they were a bit easier to scare away, they are so used to humans that they don’t even budge when you try to shoo them away!
Anyway, now that I have got to the end of this post I have decided that I will give the council a ring and ask for advice, or perhaps I should just send them an email with a link to this post, so they can see the photos. The photos of the hole in my garden that is, not the sink hole from Germany. But sink holes do happen though, you never know…
I’ll let you know through the comments what the council said, if they say anything at all. Don't hold your breath while waiting....Until next time, take care.