Gardening: Robbing Peter

Faced with voracious rabbits, perhaps its best to find plants they won't eat. David Overend reports.

OFF THE MENU: Rabbits arent too keen on the taste of paeonies.
OFF THE MENU: Rabbits arent too keen on the taste of paeonies.

Rabbits have a death wish. They seem to love playing ‘chicken’ on even the quietest of country roads (often with fatal results) and then they take a leaf out of Beatrix Potter’s books by antagonising gardeners (often with fatal results).

Yet no matter how many go to meet their maker, there are always many more willing to take their place and continue to dice with death on the highways and in our gardens.

Rabbits are probably the most destructive of all garden pests – they are far bigger and more energetic than an army of slugs and snails, and they can rapidly eat their way through beds and borders filled with cherished plants. Show them a perennial and they start to salivate; show them a collection of perennials and they become the locusts of the English garden.

How do we stop them? The answer is that we can never fully protect perennials from the voracious appetites of Oryctolagus cuniculus, aka Flopsy, Cottontail and Peter. They always seem to be able to breach our defences.

So, perhaps it’s best to leave them well alone but plant perennials that they, too, will probably leave well alone. Because there are quite a few plants which rabbits find unpalatable and even downright nasty.

They certainly don’t appear to like the good, old-fashioned peony, Paeony officinalis, which produces wonderful crimson flowers in summer.

And the invasive but equally beguiling Alchemilla mollis (aka Lady’s Mantle) also seems to be immune to the visitations of your average bunny. The drawback with A mollis is that its masses of summer green/yellow flowers scatter seed everywhere.

And hellebores have the Indian sign on rabbits – perhaps because these are plants long noted for being poisonous. Nevertheless they are among the most delightful of spring flowerers.

And then, of course, there are the elephant’s ears of Bergenia stracheyi, which tend to fill the front ranks of many a bed and border. Not only are their huge, evergreen leathery leaves ideal as weed-suppressing ground cover but their bell-like pinkish blooms are another of the highlights of the spring garden.

Why rabbits tend to give these plants a wide berth (and the likes of agapanthus, narcissus and many a euphorbia) is something really known only to the animals themselves.

Perhaps it’s the taste or the toughness. I haven’t yet met a rabbit that could give me the answer.