Cayenne pepper was supposed to work. Not only did the internet say so; the always-helpful woman in the garden centre also seemed certain that chilli would keep the blighters off my plants. They can’t stand it apparently: it irritates their little paws and their noses as they go digging and snuffling through my already sprouting tulips, my freshly planted irises, my ailing samphire, leaving holes and shredded roots and up-turned bulbs in their wake.
I’m fairly certain that I used plenty. I had left a heavy dusting of brick-red powder over every patch of exposed soil. But by this morning, the garden was once again cratered with squirrel-sized holes, only this time each was surrounded by the remaining pepper covering the undisturbed soil. They’d gone straight through this supposed irritant and had made merry as usual with my tormented plants. They had been completely undeterred. And now, I am undone. I had been keeping the chilli powder solution up my sleeve, for when all else had failed. It has, and now so has my last resort.
I’m not sure I’m surprised, to be honest. Stoke Newington squirrels are bolshie little things. When I see them scurrying down the fence, heading for some flower pot or other, I tend to leap out of the back door to confront it. Of course, now I take a broom: north London squirrels are fearless, and brazen, and frankly scary. Scary in a way that I do not appear to be to them.
Too many times the rodent has simply sat there staring me down. They seem unimpressed by my size advantage, by my flapping arms and half-strangled shouts (I wouldn’t want the neighbours to think I am mad). If I get within a metre of one, it will scamper up to the top of the fence, which puts it at eye-level, and continues watching me disdainfully. Only the twitching swishes of its tail suggest it might be encouraged to move further.
There is something distinctly unnerving about a defiant squirrel, what with all the teeth and claws and what not. I have no desire to actually grab one with my bare hands. Maybe they know that, can sense my fear, and so are happy to sit there, with justifiable security, even within my reach. There was a story going around a few years ago, which to me had the ring of truth about it, involving a spate of random squirrel attacks, particularly on women in skirts walking through London parks during the summer months. These attacks apparently resulted in severe bits and scratches to the victims’ bare legs. Some even required hospital treatment.
Across the country, across Europe and even the States, there were stories of aggressive squirrels making unprovoked attacks on passers-by. At about the same time, reports of squirrels attacking telephone lines, of stripping out wiring in houses and cars, made it seem to me that a major inter-species confrontation was on its way, with the rodents taking out our communications and transport systems ahead of an all-out assault.
This might seem melodramatic. OK, this is melodramatic. But the fact remains: I appear to be powerless to exclude squirrels from my garden or to stop them from wrecking my lovingly tended plants. With the failure of cayenne, I am now out of ideas. Someone suggested covering the entire garden in chicken wire. It seems extreme, costly, and I’m not even convinced that will stop them (I refer you to the press reports of squirrels making their way through electrical cabling). Obviously, I don’t have time to sit out there, broom in hand, 24 hours a day, and I don’t want a dog. So if anyone in internet-land has any suggestions for an effective, long lasting deterrent, I would love to hear from you.