A snake’s paradise


Several years ago, through one summer a garter snake resided in the vigorous clematis (Clematis montana ‘Rubens’, below) that covers the rail on one side of our deck. I suppose there were occasions when the small snake followed the sturdy trunk of the vine down to prowl the ground below, but my wife and I become so accustomed to the snake’s presence that we mostly avoided that side of the deck.Clematis montana 'Rubens' in early May

The first sight of the snake in late spring was somewhat startling as the snake would curl atop the deck’s post at the far edge, where the thick vine was a bit less exuberant. Here, it would take advantage to lounge in the afternoon sun, and until this became a recognizable pattern, there were a few uncomfortable encounters. But, as this became more routine, accidental confrontations were fewer, and our bigger concern was when the snake was not on top of the vine, but possibly hidden just below the layers of dense foliage.

Despite our discomfort with this too close living arrangement, my wife and I were not fearful of the snake’s presence. We live beside a section of native forest that is bisected by a narrow stream, and the thick planting of trees and shrubs in the garden invites every sort of wildlife throughout the year. So, these encounters are not so unusual. Several days ago I was browsing the back garden when I wandered upon a rather large possum, or at least the largest I’ve ever seen so close up. It seemed agitated that I should venture so close, but the possum made no effort to flee (as groundhogs have when I’ve wandered too close).

Though I encourage most sorts of wildlife, I suppose that I’m not a possum person, so I agitated a bit on my own so that the beast finally scurried off back through the swampy meadow at the rear of the garden. No harm was done, and certainly the little fellow is welcome to return, though preferably at a time when we must not come face to face.

But, back to the snake in the clematis, which is not so unusual except that its curling and stretching in the sun on top of the vine covering the deck rail became such a regular occurrence. I was most concerned when I had to brush past the vine below the deck when I went to turn on the outside water faucet. I didn’t really expect the snake to leap from the vine to clamp its jaws to my throat, but I can’t say that I didn’t veer a bit into the spirea on the far side of the narrow path to the spigot.Snake in koi pond

This was not our first snake, and most certainly it will  not be our last. This past summer another garter snake took residence in boulders that border our large koi pond. Though it was not considered at the time the pond was constructed, there could not possibly be a more ideal haven for snakes. There is shelter, ready access to water, shade from the scorching sun, and a buffet of all you catch baby koi by late spring.

Off an on I’ve seen snakes in and around this pond since it was constructed, and in the other four smaller ponds in the garden. For years, when I kept fish in the other ponds, I would occasionally walk up to catch a snake in the act of grabbing and dragging a small koi or goldfish out of the water, onto the rocks. But, now that fish are only in the large, deeper pond (thanks mostly to local herons), I see snakes in the smaller ponds less frequently.

The snake in the koi pond became more brazen as the summer progressed, and as it became more confrontational in defending its turf, my wife did the same. Though, from what she considered to be a safe distance, which was too far to do anything more than annoy the snake. While I traveled on business for a few weeks it seems the rock throwing must have gotten a bit out of hand, and finally, in an apparent fit the snake swam to the pond’s far edge, slithered over and through the rocks and off to more peaceful environs. There have been no further sightings, though I’ve caught a glimpse of a few tiny snakes as I weeded along the rocks that border the pond. These will be next year’s problems.

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Pamela Gordon says:

    Snakes are beneficial creatures in the garden! They will eat the slugs chewing on your leafy shade plants; to fear and loath them (the non-poisonous kinds) is totally irrational. This is what Mike McGrath has to say about snakes: http://www.gardensalive.com/product/garden-snakes/

    1. Dave says:

      Poisonous or not, I have no desire to be bitten by a snake or possum, or anything else that roams the garden. In any case, my goal is to impact the wildlife that prowls about the garden as little as possible, so whenever possible I’ll steer clear.

  2. I’ve been bitten by a garter snake before. Sort of. They usually can’t even break the skin and the only time I’ve been bitten is when I picked one up to get it out of my basement. The worse result was that it pooped all over my hand!

    The garter snakes I see have two wintering locations (hibernacula) IN MY GARDEN so I see a lot of them. I don’t pick them up and they don’t bother me.

    The possum? I’ve worked with those, too, but I’ve never been bitten by one (even when I picked them up). Both of these species (like most wildlife) are more likely to flee than attack unless cornered or handled.

  3. Eileen says:

    I don’t blame you for wanting to steer clear of the snake. It isn’t about being afraid of them, just there is usually no point in getting close either. It’s a shame about the koi though. I love koi ponds and I’ve wanted one installed for so long but I worry about the maintenance and keeping the fish safe. Not to mention how much of an undertaking installing a koi pond can be. I did find some local folks who were happy to help me get started though, luckily. Your pond sounds like its quite big, how large is it?

    1. Dave says:

      The pond’s surface is about 1200 square feet. I dug this pond much deeper, and with vertical sides so that heron can’t fish in it. There is a shallow filtration area that heron stand in, but the koi rarely venture into this area. If the herons get are successful in their efforts, they haven’t made a dent in the fish population. Including this large pond I have five ponds in the garden, and I spend less than an hour a month in maintenance, with more time spent to thoroughly clean the smaller ponds in early spring.

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