- Katherine Dudley Hoehn
Gardening Badge of Honor
Spring is arriving already in Northeast Florida. As I check on the emerging amaryllis, snip sprigs of lush parsley, catch the scent of the flowering banana bush (it does not produce bananas but has banana-scented blooms), enjoy the pink and white camellia blooms, see tiny loquat fruit forming beneath the spent blossoms, and spot a fritillary caterpillar on the passion vine, I also step in mounds of tunneled lawn and welcome the moles. Although they don't hibernate and are prevalent all year round, increasing numbers of mole tunnels are a sure sign that things are happening.
My fascination with moles began when I was about six and accidentally uncovered one. Mother was not a fan, but agreed to let me keep it as a pet. Not knowing a thing about them, I was sympathetic about their eyesight limitations and delighted when I filled a large galvanized tub with dirt and Mr. Mole dug into his new sandpile. Sadly, a few days later, after the tub spent hours in the hot Florida sun, a bloated and expired mole was the honoree at a funeral where tears were shed.
One of my sons’ favorite books was Mole Moves House, a delightful and beautifully illustrated story about a mole who mistakenly thinks he is helping the owners of the garden where he resides and wreaks havoc. The illustrations show mole and his family underground, feasting on worms in an adorable tunnel house while recycling items the family discards. It would be hard to dislike a mole after reading this book.
My Florida home has surprisingly rich soil and many earthworms. Along with that bounty is a plethora of Eastern moles. Many people dislike them because they tunnel in the yard, creating unsightly raised spots in the grass that can also make for uncomfortable walking. Bark and leaf mulch in the garden beds hide most of their extensive work there.
I’m thrilled about the moles because it means I have many earthworms. Earthworms are the ultimate recyclers and provide free fertilizer. They break down organic matter, such as dead leaves, and return waste, called “casts,” rich in nutrients. If you are blessed with many earthworms, you have good soil and happy plants. In my garden, that means lots of healthy butterfly friendly plants, caterpillars, and butterflies.
Enemies of earthworms include moles, pesticides, and people who are obsessed with perfect lawns. Lawn obsession often means people use pesticides to kill earthworms in order to keep down the mole population. Pesticides affect pets, lizards, snakes, butterflies, bugs, and other mammals that feed off things that eat and live in the garden.
I’ve chosen to consider my mole-ridden lawn and garden a badge of honor because it indicates my soil is rich with worms that are fertilizing naturally. I am gradually replacing my grassy lawn with trees and beds of native bushes and butterfly-attracting flowers that are more appealing and require far less water.
This worm-filled lawn and garden will never be picture-perfect, even if the moles move away. But it is a healthy place that welcomes insects and is home to butterflies, birds, squirrels, lots of lizards, snakes, at least one opossum, and Leah the ginger dog. Moles matter and are welcome here.