When I was 18 my parents aquired a cat; we weren’t quite sure where he came from, but it was clear he knew where he was going to: our house. He quickly lost his look of gaunt, hungry fear and replaced it with an air of plump satisfaction. I’d never had a pet before, unless you count the blue tongue lizard that escaped or the turtle that we gave away. Which I don’t. I was a university student, so I had a lot of time on my hands. Time I could spend with our new cat. One of the things I loved most was to watch him in the garden on a warm day. He would wander along the path, pausing every now and then to sniff a flower or leaf. He might wander over to the little wall and perch there motionless, watching the ivy until a rustle gave away someone’s hiding place. In he would dive, more often than not surfacing embarrassed and empty pawed, quickly washing himself as if to say ‘Nothing to see here, move along.’ On warm days he would lie out sunbaking on the lawn. When it was hotter he had a favourite geranium bush that he would sleep inside. In short, nothing brought our garden alive than our cat.
Then I left home, got married and aquired two cats of my own. These cats were loved and adored, but they were never allowed into the garden. For all sorts of reasons – sunburn, living on a busy road, native birds and lizards and so on – they were never allowed outside. Never.
And then, after 15 years of marriage, two rabbits appeared in our back yard. And stayed. They might disappear for a little while, but they’d always be back. We asked around and eventually found where they’d come from – they’d been given to our neighbours so their grandchildren could play with them when they visited. Only our neighbours weren’t impressed with this generous gift and were more than happy for us to take them off their hands. So not only did we have two indoor cats, we now had two outdoor rabbits.
And all of a sudden our garden was alive! The rabbits don’t lazily stroll around like a cat, they sit in one place until you look away, then they scamper somewhere else. Or they chase each other. Or they come bounding towards whoever looks like they might have a handful or carrot or celery – and then bounce away if you don’t.
Of course, rabbits have some downsides. They eat pretty much everything in the garden, except for soursobs and a couple of other weeds that I would really like them to clear out for us. And they love to dig. So we’ve had to put mesh around any plant we want to keep, and patrol the garden looking for new burrows to fill in.
As for advantages, they are brilliant manure manufacturing machines. While they may not eat every weed there are plenty that they do, as well as all kinds of prunings. But best of all, our garden isn’t empty any more. It’s home to two of the silliest yet most adorable rabbits that ever lived.