Slithering serpents can be very helpful in the garden

My neighbour George, now in his late 80s, told me he had to tear down his old greenhouse because it was full of snakes.

His wife Barbara was very afraid of the small serpents. The only place I have seen an overabundance of garter snakes in Calgary is in a rock garden in Edgemont. The rocks, seemingly alive with slithering serpents, were a little unsettling.

Snakes hide out in groups underground all winter, usually in animal burrows. I have been building a big greenhouse for greens, tomatoes and cucumbers and I have not been at all worried about snakes.

We have a tiny greenhouse nearby and have never seen a snake outside in the grass or inside under the glass. In fact I consider George a little old fashioned for making the move to tear down his greenhouse. Snakes eat mice and slugs and any other small animals that might make a move on a plant.

Snakes never eat plants and they are the best guarantee of a clean garden, a positive symbol of success. So the other day, when I was hauling loads of soil into position in my big greenhouse, I left the door open for awhile.

When I came back into the greenhouse with my third load, I saw a stick had fallen on the door mantle. My hands were full so I kicked the stick with my pink rubber boot.

When the stick slithered ahead of me into the greenhouse I dropped my soil. Grabbing a broom, I tried to encourage the garter snake to go outside but it slipped under a built-in planter.

I wondered if my snake was poised to populate my cozy greenhouse with babies or invite her friends over to colonize. What was she doing out so early anyway? Had we accidentally dug up a colony when we excavated to build the greenhouse? Or worse, had we built the greenhouse on top of a snake pit?

No, I am not thinking of tearing down my new greenhouse. But I am thinking of wearing gloves every time I move a hose, push a brick aside or pick a tomato. I love snakes, but I prefer them outside, or in George’s greenhouse, or under a pile of rocks in Edgemont.

Balzer is a garden writer and speaker. Check out her blog at