Growing a Garden in Deer Country

Credit: Elizabeth Rowlands

Still, take heart – even for those areas you’d rather not fence there are ways to plant a garden where deer roam. Do your research Between the Internet, your local nursery, and our beautiful garden planner on page 24, you can access many lists of deer-resistant plants. Still, ask your neighbours what grows in their gardens. The deer in your neighbourhood may have a more accommodating palette than those tested by your plant supplier. Notice the natives In our area landscapes are loaded with foxgloves, and native-plant treasures such as sword ferns, ignored by deer. Don’t discount the value of plants already growing in your yard. Deer-resistant diehards Over time, we have planted many “deer-resistant” plants that weren’t so resistant after all. The solution is to divide or collect seeds from those with staying power – using them to fill the empty spots. Repeat use of plants can make a strong yet simple statement. In our front garden, tough-to-plant places are filled with the ever-reliable Geranium macrorrhizum ‘Bevan’s Variety’ (bigroot cranesbill, zone 2, shown below), which flows alongside walkways and stone edgings like a river of green. Good scents Rub the leaf of this geranium or of feverfew and you’ll understand why deer don’t gobble them up. The same holds true for many aromatic herbs – great groundcovers and container plants in deer country. And while grazers may disdain the pungent smells of your plantings, you won’t: there’s something to be said for a garden with a bouquet even outside of bloom season. Of course, there are also sprays to deter deer from even the most delicious plants; just remember to refresh them after a rainfall.

deer Grazing deer

Location, location, location Some spots are more vulnerable than others. Early on we learned our foragers regarded the large container plantings defining our entranceway as welcoming dishes of deer salad. Here, only the least palatable vegetation survives – such fuzzy-leaved devils as rose campion, sage and lambs’ ears. Grow up Every tree planted in deer country will need protection until its foliage is above grazing level. Then you may reduce the surrounding 1.5-metre (5-ft.) caging to a loose wrapping of sturdy mesh around the trunk to guard it from amorous bucks shining up their antlers to impress prospective mates. When choosing your trees, avoid dwarf varieties: the faster the foliage is up and out of reach, the better. This particularly applies to fruiting trees, which entice deer to smash down surrounding cages with their hooves. Rebar reinforcements are recommended. To boost the blossoms around your house, add climbing vines. Protect the stem with wire mesh or trellising until it turns woody and the foliage is out of reach. Give up! Some spots just aren’t worth sweating over. After years of trying to plant a garden beside a well-trodden deer path, we took a new approach. Moving the empty ceramic planters out of our overstuffed garden shed, we piled them up in this gap, adding interest to what was otherwise a bleak spot. Other easy fillers are pots filled with pebbles, arrangements of curvy sticks, bits of mossy deadwood or any garden ornaments – all 100-per-cent deer proof and pleasing touches in any garden.