From the street, you would never know it was there. Even visitors to our backyard are unaware of its existence. It can’t be seen from the patio or the back lawn. But, just out our kitchen side door sits a sunken secret garden. Two steps down and you are in a different world.
It started 17 years ago as an herb garden. We built pebble gravel pathways. We planted rosemary and lavender, parsley and oregano, thyme and wild strawberries. Then we added a plum tree and a wrought iron rocker bench. Rose bushes came next, with a birdbath. Lastly, we half-buried clay pots, sank water dishes into the earth and mounted a low wrought iron fence and gate. We needed these last additions because - the true secret to this little hidden garden is that it is home to … turtles!
They are common desert box turtles, gifted to us years ago by a school librarian and her husband who bred and raised them. Their names are Michael and Kobe, named after I-know-not-whom. They love to lie in the sun, dig in the dirt and eat snails, cucumber skins, cabbage, fruits, the fallen plums, and the wild strawberries. But their absolute favorite food is raw hamburger.
And surprise-surprise, they quickly emerge from under the garden growth when I enter the garden and call out to them. They move swiftly on their short legs looking for a hamburger handout or just to nibble on my red-painted toenails.
Michael likes to follow me around as I work in the garden, hoping for a tasty worm morsel to appear as I dig and weed. Our secret garden is totally free of insect pests but, over the years we have acquired one most unusual pest.
Two years ago, a noisy blue jay appeared on a branch in the plum tree. He quickly learned that our turtles were easy marks for stealing chunks of hamburger and other tasty treats. Soon, that pesky blue jay began to tap at our kitchen window in the late afternoon – reminding me that it was turtle feeding time. Our grandson bestowed the name “Tapper” upon the assertive bird, and Tapper has made himself a regular customer to our little outdoor turtle restaurant (no masks required!). He speaks most rudely to me as I prevent his thievery, scolding me from a high branch in the plum tree.
Now, in early February, our secret garden is quiet – no turtles and no Tapper. Michael and Kobe are still hibernating. I know they are safe and warm in the richness of the garden earth. Sometime in early March, when the sun becomes warmer and flowers have begun to bloom, they will emerge. They will be groggy and hungry, and I will be eager to greet them with a springtime hamburger brunch. But, I will also be on the lookout for Tapper, happy to welcome him to another season of the Hunger Games.
The Red Bluff Garden Club monthly meetings are on hiatus until further notice due to the pandemic.
The Red Bluff Garden Club is a member of Cascade District, California Garden Clubs, Inc., Pacific Region Garden Clubs, Inc., and National Garden Clubs, Inc.