I've long held that the Kansas Flint Hills provide the ultimate challenges for gardeners, whether it be from hail, high winds, ice storms, clay soil, summer drought, below zero temperatures, prairie fires, locust plagues, or just a vengeful Jehovah. You name the catastrophe-maker in your own garden, and I bet I can match it here in Kansas.
One garden scourge that I hadn't counted on when I moved out onto the prairie, however, was the Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo), an American native much more adapted to the prairie than I or most of my shrubs. The picture at the right was taken early in June several years back and approximately 4 feet from my front door in the midst of my front garden bed. The two vibrant males here were battling for an invisible female in the way of males of many species during early summer. Although they are normally cautious birds who run or fly at the first sign of danger, these two old boys were so oblivious to their environment that you could have hit them over the head with a club. If you've been to a public pool anytime during early June, you can observe similar behavior in the teenagers of our own species.
Unfortunately these particular turkeys were having their little tussle all over two variegated red twig dogwoods (Cornus alba variegata) that I had been nursing along for several years. According to Wikipedia, the males heads turn red when ready to fight and blue when excited, the blood-engorged flopping wattles and snoods displaying their ardor. It is obvious we were in fight mode here as it has been some time since I've seen something so engorged and so red in my garden. Seen in the background on the picture at left, neither dogwood survived being stomped on for several minutes by the 15-20 lb. skirmishers.
I have since tried several other shrubs in those spots, including a couple of holly, but nothing quite perked my interest as much as the dogwoods. So this year and $100 later, I'm back with two more, this time with a more specific and I hope hardier cultivar, Cornus alba ‘Ivory Halo’, pictured and circled at the left. So far, one entire season into the repeat experiment, both survive and the turkeys are staying down in the prairie grass out of the cultivated landscape.
So, all those gardeners out there who gnash teeth and bemoan their bad luck; anybody else had a shrub die by turkey attack? Welcome to the Flint Hills and my gardening life.