Watering jug for snakes in the grass.

Watering jug for snakes in the grass.

Lowther: Snakes a boon to your garden

If you find a snake in the grass you must be doing something right because it won’t live just anywhere.

If you find a snake in the grass you must be doing something right because it won’t live just anywhere.

The four types of snakes native to Vancouver Island are harmless, in fact beneficial, but their numbers are threatened due to human activities. Their hiding places ruined, survivors slither around looking for a decent refuge. Canada’s Habitat Stewardship Program suggests we help them by providing a snake-friendly environment.

I created a lovely nook in the backyard and set up a “snakes welcome” sign near it. I followed the Stewardship Program’s protocols of allowing this nook to become semi-wild with hiding places among a pile of rocks and dense brush, and making sure we didn’t disturb the area by walking there or using the weedeater. I provided a self-watering container that needs re-filling once a month so I figured something was drinking it, probably the dog. One can only go so far in creating an undisturbed Shangri-la.

The Stewardship Program recommends piling rocks in a warm south-facing area for “sunning” but that’s where my raspberries grow, so any snakes will just have to sun themselves in another part of the yard. Most importantly though, is that we never use pesticides or slug bait because snakes die after eating poisoned bugs and slugs.

Have I mentioned that snakes gorge on slugs? Sadly, we can’t buy garter snakes because they’re on the endangered species list and we’re not allowed to hunt them in the woods, so the only way to acquire these supremely desirable slug-gobblers is to lure them and hope for the best.

Despite my best efforts, my garden remained non-serpentine until David came home one day with a bucket containing a couple of endangered critters he had found when a backhoe lifted some concrete steps. You can keep your chocolates and flowers, because what a gardener really wants are rescue snakes.

This summer I noticed a distinct drop in slug numbers, which I first attributed to my assiduous use of soaker hoses that leave the soil dry and by surrounding the garden with a path to prevent slug comings and goings, but when I startled a baby snake in my tomato patch this past week I knew our reptilian refugees had prospered.

Cherchez la femme, serpents, and bon appetit!