Container displays: deer resistant plants


Seasonal Combinations

Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Variegatus’ (variegated false holly) – zone 7
Gaultheria procumbens (wintergreen) – zone 3

Early Spring
Daphne cneorum (garland flower) – zone 5
Vinca minor (periwinkle) – zone 7
Galanthus nivalis (snowdrop) – zone 3

Combination 1
Rhododendron ‘Dora Amateis’ – zone 6
Ajuga reptans ‘Catlin’s Giant’ (bugleweed) – zone 3
Narcissus (daffodil) – zone 3

Combination 2
Rhododendron ‘Bow Bells’ – zone 7
Aubrieta – zone 5
Arabis alpina ssp. caucasica (mountain rockcress) – zone 4
Narcissus (daffodil) – zone 3

Combination 3
Rhododendron ‘Elisabeth Hobbie’ – zone 5
Artemisia stelleriana ‘Boughton Silver’ (silver brocade artemisia) – zone 3
Artemisia schmidtiana ‘Nana’ (silvermound artemisia) – zone 4
Phlox subulata ‘Emerald Cushion Blue’ (creeping phlox) – zone 3

Early Summer Perennials
Lavandula angustifolia ‘Blue Cushion’ (lavender) – zone 4
Chrysanthemum x superbum ‘Snow Lady’ (dwarf Shasta daisy) – zone 4
Dianthus deltoides ‘Flashing Light’ (maiden pink) – zone 2
Thymus pseudolanuginosus (woolly thyme) – zone 2

Argyranthemum frutescens ‘Crème Butterfly’ (marguerite)
Sutera cordata ‘Snowflake’ (bacopa)
Campanula isophylla ‘Stella Blue’ (star of Bethlehem)

Potentilla fruticosa ‘Mango Tango’ (shrubby cinquefoil) – zone 3
Hypericum androsaemum (tutsan) – zone 7
Crocosmia x crocosmiiflora ‘Solfatare’ – zone 6
Cerastium tomentosum (snow in summer) – zone 3

Skimmia reevesiana – zone 7
Erica (winter heath) – zone 5

Spring to Fall
Daphne x burkwoodii ‘Carol Mackie’ – zone 5
Crocosmia masoniorum ‘Lucifer’ – zone 7
Lavandula angustifolia ‘Blue Cushion’ (lavender) – zone 4
Dianthus deltoides ‘Flashing Light’ (maiden pink) – zone 2

Choisya ternata (Mexican orange blossom) – zone 8

Really, it’s enough to give even the most soft-hearted gardener an appetite for venison. There’s something extraordinarily infuriating about finding bare, torn, stubby stalks in our own little fiefdoms.

Those gardeners who live amongst bold, perpetually ravenous deer and want to enjoy exposed plantings learn to respect their adversaries. “Deer can reach everything,” says Rosie Montgomery, who runs Montrose Family Lavender Farm on Bowen Island, where deer flourish. “Everything.”

But that doesn’t mean that we gardeners are defenceless. In fact, it is entirely possible to place a lushly planted container outside the safety of a fenced garden, where it provides a welcoming sight beside a front door, an accent for an otherwise bleak spot, a cluster in the corner of a deck or, perhaps, a strategic screen for something unattractive. The secret to taking this bold step? Selecting “deer-resistant” plants that are unpalatable to even the hungriest cloven-hoofed marauder.

After all, it would be a shame to forego an opportunity for a beautifully planted container. Given their limitless variety of shape and substance – from whiskey half-barrels to retired bathtubs to gumboots, and everything in between – and the broad selection of plants that will thrive with their roots confined, containers inspire creativity. Avid gardeners cannot help but see any object with sides and a bottom in terms of its planting potential. Containers need to be planted.

Of course, some fortunate gardeners don’t need to worry about neighbourhood deer. Montgomery, for example, helps tend the window boxes at the island’s United Church. Deer are a common sight by the little red building, drawn there by its lush lawn and the old apple trees that drop their fruit through the fall. The window boxes are within easy reach, but the deer never touch them, she says, even though they’re a riot of colour, brimming with pelargoniums, impatiens and other delicious offerings. So why aren’t the boxes ravaged? “It’s the church,” laughs Montgomery. “If you’ve got a church, you can plant anything.”

For those of us unlikely to benefit from divine intervention, designing containers that are both attractive and can be placed in the path of marauding deer isn’t difficult. Granted, the choices are more limited than they would be in a deer-less environment, but there’s still plenty of scope.

The following suggestions come with a disclaimer: Somewhere, there’ll be a deer that will eat one, or more, of these plants. Hence the term “deer-resistant,” rather than the fate-tempting “deer-proof!”

You must remember that wishful thinking will not work: that is, no matter how badly you want the deer to let you grow that glorious new daylily you found at the garden centre, you know better.

Several plantings are illustrated here, to help you visualize deer-unfriendly possibilities:

  • Geranium macrorrhizum ‘Bevan’s Variety’ (bigroot geranium) and Lithodora diffusa ‘Grace Ward’ – Deer generally dislike this geranium’s strong, licorice/mint smell. Contrasts nicely with the deep-green leaves and azure-blue flowers of ‘Grace Ward.’
  • Salvia nemorosa ‘East Friesland,’ Leucanthemum x superbum ‘Snowcap’ (Shasta daisy), Tagetes patula ‘Disco Golden Yellow’ (single French marigold), Artemisia schmidtiana ‘Nana’ (silvermound artemisia) – Demonstrating an attractive, hardy mix of colours and textures.
  • Lavandula angustifolia ‘Blue Cushion’ and Dianthus deltoides ‘Flashing Light’ – Where would those who co-habit with deer be without the reliable lavender?
  • Geranium sanguineum ‘Max Frei’ (bloody cranesbill) and Thymus pseudolanuginosus (woolly thyme) – Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Hopefully, your deer will steer clear of this geranium, but if not, dig it up and gift it to a friend in the city.

Some other, seasonal combinations:
In the bleak mid-winter, try Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Variegatus,’ underplanted with Gaultheria procumbens (wintergreen). The dark-green and cream of the Osmanthus contrasts with the wintergreen’s red berries to create a festive look.

Come early spring, brighten a sunny spot with the intoxicatingly scented Daphne cneorum, underplanted with periwinkle (Vinca minor), which has blue flowers, and Galanthus nivalis (snowdrops) emerging from the soil to mark the winter’s waning.

By late spring the dwarf Rhododendron ‘Dora Amateis’ will burst into a cushion of white blooms, complemented by the blue spikes of an underplanted Ajuga reptans ‘Catlin’s Giant’ (bugleweed) and a few small Narcissus (daffodils).

Dwarf rhododendrons offer a myriad of possibilities. Try ‘Bow Bells,’ with trailers Aubrieta and Arabis alpina ssp. caucasica (mountain rockcress), accented by small daffodils.

Or the dark-red flowers of ‘Elisabeth Hobbie’ set against the silvery Artemisia stelleriana ‘Boughton Silver’ (usually sold as silver brocade artemisia) or Artemisia schmidtiana ‘Nana,’ while Phlox subulata ‘Emerald Cushion Blue’ lolls over the edge.

In early summer, plant Lavandula angustifolia ‘Blue Cushion’ and Chrysanthemum x superbum ‘Snow Lady’ (dwarf Shasta daisy) with Dianthus deltoides ‘Flashing Light’ and Thymus pseudolanuginosus trailing for textured, sun-loving combination.

When it comes to annuals, deer dislike marguerite daisies, bacopa (Sutera cordata) and the signet marigolds ‘Lemon Gem’ and ‘Tangerine Gem.’ But marigolds are slug magnets.

So try the marguerite ‘Crème Butterfly’ with bacopa ‘Snowflake’ creeping over the edges. For a very pretty effect, plant star of Bethlehem (Campanula isophylla) ‘Stella Blue’ amongst the marguerites. Chances are the deer won’t bother parting the marguerites to get at the campanula.

In midsummer’s heat, count on Potentilla fruticosa ‘Mango Tango’ or tutsan (Hypericum androsaemum), with Crocosmia x crocosmiiflora ‘Solfatare’ behind. Silvery, white-flowering snow-in-summer (Cerastium tomentosum) looks pretty underneath. (Deer have been known to partake of crocosmia’s blooms, but even if they do, the richly colored, sword-shaped leaves of ‘Solfatare’ add interest to the planting.)

In the fall, as the garden slows for winter, allow Skimmia reevesiana, underplanted with a winter heath (Erica) to lighten the darkening days.

Combinations can also be designed to flower over three seasons. For instance, in a large container, consider planting Daphne x burkwoodii ‘Carol Mackie’ with Crocosmia masoniorum ‘Lucifer’ beside and partially behind it. Place Lavandula angustifolia ‘Blue Cushion’ in front, and let Dianthus deltoides ‘Flashing Light’ cascade over the container’s edge. This planting will provide colour from spring (daphne), through summer (lavender and dianthus) and into late summer/early fall (crocosmia).

Shrubs that grow rapidly, such as Choisya ternata (Mexican orange blossom), can nonetheless spend a couple of years in a half-barrel before moving into a larger space.

When strategizing, it’s important to give ourselves a shake now and then, and recognize that if deer are an issue, then we’re probably living in a pretty nice place.
Nonetheless, there are few sights as satisfying as that of a deer closely examining your container planting, and then turning up its sensitive, black nose in disgust and moving on. Planting well is the best revenge.

Fiona Beaty established Romney Gardening Services on Bowen Island nine years ago, and advocates a practical, organic approach to gardening. She thinks deer are lovely – even the ones that occasionally slip through her garden gate.

PHOTOS Terry Guscott: containers; courtesy Internationaal Bloembollen Centrum Hillegom, Holland: Narcissus SOURCES containers courtesy of Grapevine Home and Garden Ltd.; plants courtesy of Valleybrook Gardens/Heritage Perennials