He was certainly portrayed as the threatening bad guy and Ms Potter clearly wanted us to sympathise with Peter and his Flopsy Bunny chums. (And by the way, if ever you travel to the English Lake District, do visit the charming Hilltop, Beatrix Potter’s Lakeland home, complete with fenced vegetable garden – you can just about imagine Mr McG standing there with a bemused expression on his face trying to work out how to get these pesky creatures out!).
Anyhow, I have to say, of late, I’ve been feeling quite sorry for Mr McGregor. Indeed, for the last 3 years, I was Mr John McGregor, that dour Scot, standing at the front door, despairing. Our much loved hound, Ronnie, is now well over 14, but for 11 of those years kept the Walled Garden completely rabbit free. But Ronnie is now a little creaky and while he still diligently looks for bunnies, it is at a more leisurely pace. Gone are the ‘nought to sixty in 5 seconds’ days, and the bunnies seemed to know this. Over three years, they moved in and gradually, as all bunnies do, increased their family. And of course, they had to eat. Prized plants were chewed to the ground. Rosa ‘Little White Pet’ became ‘Tiny White Pet’, trees were lovingly ringed during the winter and two springs ago, I came out one morning to find every single Primula denticulata flower neatly separated from its stalk.
This was war. Pest control men came, sucked the air between their teeth and shook their heads, and never came back. Game keepers with small dogs that disappeared into the borders and emerged some time later suitably camouflaged in ‘Sticky Willie’ and other random foliage came and never came back. Humane rabbit cages were purchased at great expense on the internet, set up with snagged fingers and much cursing, bated with carrots. Mysteriously, the carrots disappeared but the traps never caught a single rabbit. Not one. I even started looking up the addresses of local gun clubs, but, for the Good Lady, this was just a step too far. The bunnies continued to laugh.
And then we got the offer of rehoming a Jack Russell. Now, I had heard from the appropriately named Bunny Guiness on BBC Radio 4’s excellent Gardeners’ Question Time that the way to clear your garden of rabbits was to get a couple of Jack Russells. But some of Bunny’s advice can be a little, well, eccentric. Nevertheless, when I heard about Pip, well, my ears pricked up. Surely this was too good to be true. Would Pip really be interested in rabbits, when she had probably never seen one in her entire life. Well, with the garden gradually disappearing before my eyes and this being Year 3 of Bunnygeddon, Ms Guiness’ recommendation was surely worth a try, and if it didn’t work, well, maybe I would take up showing dogs instead.
Pip arrived in April. By August, the bunnies had gone. ‘Find the bunny, Pip’, we would say, and off she went, up and down the hedges. When she picked up the scent, she would ‘pronk’ like an antelope, all 4 legs off the ground at once with excitement. Pip never caught one rabbit, but she gave them all a good run for their money. Gradually, the bunnies left, one by one, and Pip moved onto the population outside the walled garden. And there we have it.
Mind you, I can’t quite believe that’s the end of the story. I just have visions of them all lurking somewhere, waiting and plotting with evil looks of revenge on their faces, planning their next move…