The birds and the bees

2008-09-01 00:00

In our house the advent of spring is heralded not by the frisky chirruping of birds or the humming of bees from the jasmine hedge, but by my husband snorting and sneezing into umpteen metres of bog roll as he succumbs to chronic hay fever.

A garden full of pungent blossoms is all very well if one is actually able to stop and smell them, but at the first twittering sounds of spring, my man grabs the two-ply and joins the chorus.

In spite of his snotty-nosed affliction to all that flowers, we’ve nevertheless planted a bird-and-bee-friendly garden — so friendly in fact that last year it quite literally became a hive of activity.

A swarm of bees took up residence in the garden wall and while they were fascinating to watch and provided a fast-food outlet for numerous birds, our gardener took exception to mowing the lawn dressed like Lawrence of Arabia — swathed to the eyeballs in an old bed sheet.

But it wasn’t until a squadron of infuriated hornets joined the offensive, incensed at having their nest disturbed, that the poor fellow finally threatened to throw in the trowel.

Bees and hornets are not the only creatures that find our garden a favourable spot in which to conduct business and regardless of the monkey business that goes with the rapidly expanding primate population, last spring our garden was host to three pairs of robins, the dinkiest pair of sunbirds and a very rowdy family of hadedahs.

The trouble with having nature camping out on your doorstep though is that one feels obliged to act as referee in a host of domestic disputes that are probably best left to Mother Nature.

Like any busy woman, Mother Nature could sometimes do with a little assistance, which is how I became a self-appointed, spray-gun touting mediator.

Despite excellent camouflage techniques and cunning decoy tactics, one of my three cats spied the robin’s nest among the ivy at about the same time as a troop of monkeys attempted a raid on the hadedahs’ nursery in the tree above.

Amid much squawking and flapping (and that was me, not the birds), the monkeys abandoned their incursion and ushered their offspring to the safety of the rooftop. Very wary of the spray-gun-wielding mad woman, they peered wide-eyed around the chimney stack as I dispatched the cat with one drenching squirt and a volley of invective.

Unlike the monkeys, who looked rather impressed with my marksmanship, my cat glared at me in disgust and slunk off with an “I’ll be back” look on her face.

And return she did, this time with reinforcements — her two siblings. The furry threesome were poised and ready to pounce on their prey, when, besieged by irate bees and hornets, my gardener flapped wildly across the lawn like a great dying swan.

While two little robins are no match for a trio of fat cats intent on lunch, a frenzied, arm-flailing man wrapped in a white sheet offered a much-needed distraction at just the right moment.

From their vantage point above, the hadedah family let rip with a deafening chorus, adding a soundtrack to the bizarre scene and sending the cats hurtling into the house with tails fluffed out like toilet brushes.

Even the monkeys took fright and scattered across the rooftops shrieking excitedly.

Oblivious that he’d saved the day, Sir Lawrence tore off his bed linen and yelled, “Da bees is in da shit Nkosazane!” — literally and figuratively as it turned out.

And amid the mayhem the little robin sat atop her nest, stoically refusing to budge and no doubt wondering what sort of dodgy neighbourhood she’d chosen to move in to.

• Heidi Steyn is a freelance writer who lives in Pietermaritzburg.

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