a landscape lover's blog

garden tales from a Brit at home and abroad

Wildlife and gardens

Having lived on three continents, I am increasingly struck by the similarities and connections between gardens in seemingly very disparate countries. What confirms my location is not the plants or the layout or the use people make of the landscape – but the wildlife.

In Massachusetts, it was raccoons trotting along the tops of fences, the mongoose on the doorstep, and the occasional skunk lurking in the shrubbery that told me I was no longer in England. [One eagle-eyed reader has pointed out that native Bostonians would have been equally amazed by the mongoose; it was probably in fact an opossum.] A friend who lived only two hours north of Boston could entertain me for hours with tales of the moose and bears in her cornfield. It was as if she was on personal terms with space aliens. When we were in Paris, I was struck by the complete absence of grey squirrels in any park or garden, even though we were under three hours by train from the squirrel-laden London parks. Now in India, it’s the monkeys who confirm I am indeed a long way from home.

Last week I spent some time up on the northern ridge, researching the impact of the British on the Indian capital. The ridge is an ancient geological feature that runs diagonally across the city and was home to various grand colonial figures in the nineteenth century, and site of much of the action during the 1857 Uprising. Originally scrubland, it has for a hundred years been managed as forest. It is neatly planted, with park benches, wide paths, fences and litter bins. In the softer light of the Indian autumn, you could almost imagine you were in the UK (although the bougainvillaea slightly gives the game away).

It’s the bundi monkeys everywhere who are the real signal. To locals they may be nuisances who rip up gardens and carry TB, but to me they are an otherworldly joy, frolicking and leaping and just gathering in big social groups, in the same way that the jaunty raccoons never failed to delight in the States, even while locals muttered about vermin and rabies.

Fellow blogger Jack at Sequoia Gardens writes about the baboons who occasionally wreak havoc in his South African garden, and I find myself relishing the unfamiliarity of his homeland in a way that descriptions of similarly native species like phygelius or crocosmia would just not achieve.

So I am grateful to our little urban monkeys, desperately displaced as they are from their native habitat by human encroachment, for reminding me daily that, despite the clipped shrubs and English-style lawn that cover so much of Delhi, this really is a different country.


18 comments on “Wildlife and gardens

  1. Julie
    November 18, 2011

    What a delightful photo of mum and baby bundi monkey….I imagine a picnic on that park bench would be a completely different ball game to one in Parc Monceau…..watch your sandwiches!
    Julie x

    • landscapelover
      November 18, 2011

      Julie, hi. Yes, we’re actually planning a picnic for forty people right near this monkey colony in a coupe of weeks. Think I will need a big stick to deter them from scoffing our quiche.

  2. Jan Devereux
    November 18, 2011

    What a delight! I wonder what my dog would do if he met a monkey on the sidewalk in Cambridge? Apparently he and I will be seeing fewer squirrels in the coming months, as the Boston Globe reports an acute acorn shortage this fall.

    • landscapelover
      November 18, 2011

      Jan, the monkeys do look delightful, although one spat at me recently when I must have got too close. It certainly isn’t Cambridge…

  3. Anonymous
    November 18, 2011

    A mongoose in Mass.?????

    • landscapelover
      November 18, 2011

      Ah, you have me there. It was some exotic, definitely non-British rodent creature, right there by our front door. Perhaps it was an opossum?

      • Cathy
        November 20, 2011

        In Massachusetts, it was more likely a woodchuck….AKA groundhogs, they do resemble a mongoose or a large gopher and they are very brazen! We are an hour north of Boston and we’ve been there, done that with woodchucks. Your garden is their personal smorgasbord. After they’ve eaten everything in your vegetable and perennial beds right down to the dirt, they’ll attack planters and pots. I only wish I could get them to eat just the weeds. Gosh, if it were possible to communicate and get them to eat what I don’t want growing and leave the rest alone, I’d open the gates to them!

  4. Donna@Gardens Eye View
    November 18, 2011

    I too love the critter tales of wildlife in the garden…nuisances to us because we do not always want to share our habitat with the deer and rabbits that eat shrubs and flowers to a nub…I still love them though!! Love the momma and baby pic!!

  5. Annika Tenghall
    November 18, 2011

    Sweet monkeys 🙂 Very different from here, where we only occationally meet a moose in the woods (none in the garden though, sofar 😉


  6. Anonymous
    November 19, 2011

    If you lived by the water possibly an otter. Forest = marten, fisher or weasel. Who knows, maybe someones pet mongoose escape and was paying you a visit.

  7. lynne @ gardenmad
    November 19, 2011

    After my own run in with a baby skunk this summer, I’d say those monkeys look pretty darn cute!

  8. Stacy
    November 20, 2011

    I hadn’t thought of wildlife that way before, as ways of grounding one in a particular place, and don’t know why–after all, my sister in southeastern New Mexico grows nectarines, peaches, and apples, but she also has to watch out for the tarantulas… Enjoy the monkey hijinks! They really do look delightful, to those of us who don’t have to fend them off from our picnics.

  9. Cathy
    November 20, 2011

    I hadn’t thought of the similarities either until reading your posts, and visiting blogs from new on-line friends who live in Scotland and Australia. The monkeys are adorable… and I’m sure most tourists love to watch them. But like our squirrels and chipmunks, my guess is their destructiveness can be a real hassle for the natives. Funny how the more things change, the more things stay the same!

  10. Elephant's Eye
    November 21, 2011

    I’m grateful that our baboons are beyond the wheatfields and up on the mountain slopes. But your monkeys look small enough not to be alarming. Lovely ginger fur.

  11. lula alvarez
    November 22, 2011

    it must take some time to adapt your observations to a completely new situation and find patterns and compare, it definitely is a change of landscape for you, the image with the bougainvillea is gorgeous!

  12. maggie
    November 23, 2011

    Lovely photos of the monkey group. Your comment that the ridge park usurped animal habitat is just the right backdrop for them. The site design provides monkey hangouts as the scrubland did earlier, and the human assertion that it’s now a civic space and not a wild one doesn’t register with them.
    Perhaps you could start a monkey-stick renting kiosk in the park, and make a little pocket money…

  13. Garden Design Sydney
    December 1, 2011

    Wildlife and garden have a beautiful relation. Wild animals love to live in gardens. Wild animals increase the beauty of gardens.

  14. landscapelover
    December 9, 2011

    Thanks for all the comments. Posting this piece has made me more aware of the monkeys and their behaviour. Apparently the one we thought was spitting at us was more likely sending some other, less pleasant, bodily fluids our way! But pleased to report that our big picnic this week among the colony photographed here (which some people thought we were mad to choose as a location) passed without incident, even though there were lots of monkeys about.
    Yesterday, though, a friend was attacked by a working langur (a big monkey trained to scare off smaller ones) – it jumped on her from a tree and sent her flying. I guess it’s easy to see them as cute and forget they are unpredictable, potentially violent, wild creatures, driven into inter-acting with humans as we encroach on their natural domain.

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This entry was posted on November 18, 2011 by in Gardens, India, Paris, Parks, UK, United States and tagged , , .

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