Gardening in Deer Country

Credit: Stuart McCall

For those gardening in deer territory, the pleasure of observing these graceful creatures in your yard can turn to frustration when it seems every plant gets eaten. Here is a bed of blossoms that has proven to be deer resistant in test sites.

Garden designer Christine Nigelsky of Heritage Perennials offers this warning though: “While these plants have proven to be distasteful to deer, hungry deer will eat almost anything and there are no guarantees!”

The tall and mophead-blossomed bee balm (Monarda ‘Gardenview Scarlet’), with its brilliant-red flowers, and Eupatorium rugosum ‘Chocolate’ are the signature plants that anchor the back of this planting. This bed would be best planted facing west or south and backed by a fence or wall that would assist in holding up some of the tall plants at the back.

Holding their own in the centre of the bed are Iris pallida, the butterfly-attracting Scabiosa caucasica and the violet-blue and white spikes of Aconitum x cammarum ‘Bicolor’.

Slightly shorter are Polemonium caeruleum, which makes a great cutting flower; the salmon-pink Achillea ‘Terracotta’; the perennial stalwart Salvia x sylvestris ‘May Night’ with its indigo-violet blooms; and columbine. The columbine selected for this spot is Aquilegia ‘Crimson Star’, a vigorous hybrid that, as its name suggests, produces a flourish of crimson-red blooms.

There is no shortage of interesting plants in the 30- to 45-cm (12- to 18-in.) height range that defines the front edge of the garden. The baby-pink flowers of Bergenia ‘Baby Doll’ snuggle alongside the fragrant leaves of Geranium macrorrhizum, a useful groundcover species in sunny or shady locations. The soft tones of Helleborus orientalis make an interesting contrast against the bright-orange flowers of Geum coccineum ‘Werner Arends’. Another clump of B. ‘Baby Doll’ softens the edge of the border.

While the peak period of bloom is mid to late summer, evergreen perennials at the front of the border provide early-spring interest. Interplanting with various spring-blooming, deer-resistant bulbs, like crocus, daffodils, fritillaria, squills and snowdrops, can provide extra colour from February through May, and the emerging perennials will hide the bulb foliage as it begins to die back.