If wild critters are turning your edible garden into a personal buffet, consider enclosing the plot.

Community Gardens of Tucson has tried many ways to keep out hungry wildlife. Last month it set up its most sophisticated fortress yet at the garden sight at Ventana Vista Elementary School.

A 5-foot-high chain-link fence encloses the garden, says organization administrator Gene Zonge. It's embedded in concrete poured 18 inches below ground.

Two-foot-high chicken wire rings the fence's bottom. A smooth barrier normally used to keep tree roots from growing into an area runs along the base of the fence above ground.

"The chain link is for bigger things like javelina and dogs," says Zonge. "The chicken wire is for rabbits. The slick material is to stop anything that climbs, mostly ground squirrels." The cement should deter burrowing animals.

"I've been experimenting with variations of the design for many years," he says. "Here we pulled everything together."

The enclosure doesn't have a top because the group hasn't experienced much damage from birds.

"It's only a problem when you first plant something," he says.

Oracle resident Dennis Evans enclosed his raised vegetable beds with an 8-foot-high cage.

"I've got rabbits all over the place," says Evans, a member of the Oracle Garden Club. "Also, birds will peck at fruits."

Evans cemented pipes into the ground on which he attached a wall of chicken wire. He added plastic lattice to block plant-drying wind.

His raised beds include floors of half-inch wire mesh to deter burrowing animals.

Finally, Evans added chicken wire on top after he discovered birds were coming in. He also blocked the space between the walls and the ground-to-top gate for the same reason.

The 8-year-old cage keeps Evans' growing activities intact. "I know things are going to be there and not eaten," he says.

Ornamental gardens can be tasty, too

Enclosing ornamental gardens gets tricky because the landscape needs to please the eye. Landscape designer Paul Connolly, owner of Sundrea Design Studio, offers these ideas to deter animals intent on eating your plants:

• Erect a 4- to 5-foot-high solid decorative wall such as stucco, blocks or stacked stone to create a secluded courtyard.

• Cover drainage holes in walls with chicken wire.

• For a see-through fence such as iron railing, line the bottom two feet with chicken wire. Connolly insists it is thin enough to nearly disappear from sight a few feet away.

• Use chicken wire to cage new plantings for about a year. It keeps rabbits, but not javelina, out of recent nursery transplants. "(The plants) have a nice taste to them, being fertilized and having nice-tasting plant mulch," he says. "After it's in the ground in for a while, it takes on the taste of the natural desert."

Contact local freelance writer Elena Acoba at acoba@dakotacom.net.