Batty About Your Gardens



Lasiurus Borealis.   Sounds like it could be a Roman put-down, or perhaps a mildly contagious sneezing disease that one contracts in more Northerly regions.   Eastern Red Bat     is another way of saying it,  and it was one of these little buggers that had me on my feet, spontaneously practicing my own colorful expletives early one morning last week. It had been roosting in an Astilbe only inches from the ground (yes, that’s right… an ASTILBE) and for some reason wasn’t really that happy at being suddenly man-handled and treated like a plant, even if it was doing a marvelous job of looking like one. Be careful what you ask for!  Ahem…

So, red bats like to make a song and dance at being disturbed, with lots of hissing and clicking, hence my sudden reluctance to be so close to the ground. Looking down, i was amazed to find a beautiful leathery winged ball of red fur, with a set of rather unsociable looking teeth glaring out from the middle of it all. Once we’d both calmed down a bit and had a good-hearted giggle at our overreaction to one another’s idiosyncrasies, we decided we quite liked each other and parted on amicable terms.

Oh, hang on, why on earth was the bat hanging out (poor, i know) in an astilbe? Good question… Red bats don’t really like freezing their wotsits off and so migrate to their southern range for the Winter. This being the case i reckon that old Batty was passing through Cambridge MA  on its way further South.  Also, they’re not house/cave roosters like Brown bats, preferring  a deciduous tree or hedgerow and have even been known to roost in leaf litter. And astilbes…

Now while they’re not the only possible surprise in store for us in a healthy garden, bats are among our best friends (or , perhaps, bouncers) cleaning up the night air of  literally millions of insects that aren’t on our guest list. It’s been estimated by Dr. Thomas Kunz of Boston University that one species of bat alone (Big Brown) is responsible for gobbling up 14 to 15 TONS of insects each Summer in its range, within the bounds of route 128 here in good ole Massachusetts!   And lots of that tonnage is made up of insects we like to label as pests. Hurrah for bats!

Which brings me on to my point…

Please don’t get all freaky with your cleaning in the garden! Actually, i highly approve of people being as freaky as they like in their gardens. Carry on!  What i mean is, don’t go cleaning your gardens up so much. Don’t think you need to get all of those leaves, especially that little pile there in the corner you’ve had your eyes on for the past few weeks. Guess what? So has somebody else! And they may have moved in. And be all snug and asleep. Our gardens are our chance to help create a healthy, vibrant patchwork of ecosystems right here in our towns and cities. We need as much diversity as possible within our gardens in order to maintain a healthy balance. And that means the so-called “Goodies” and  ” Baddies” that are out there.

That little wasp that may or may not sting you one day is, for much of the year, silently helping us all out by relentlessly hunting caterpillars and other insects in our gardens. This time of the year she may well be tucked up within a leaf pile or inside a half rotten tree branch lying there by the fence. So leave that stray pile ’till the Spring and perhaps don’t get all house proud on your garden this time around and you’ll be helping to create a more healthy and vibrant community in the long run. And if your astilbe hisses at you, don’t worry, just pour yourself another gin and tonic and carry on.



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