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Q: I live in Southern Oregon in a Zone 7 B area, on a hill, beside the forest, with clay soil and deer. New Home, Desperate Landscape. Pets and children, hesitant on Poison plants. We have a deck, many HUGE rocks (5′ x 5′), 10′ x 65′ ugly retaining wall. Prefer multi-seasonal interest. Trees, shrubs, groundcover, flowers needed. Any ideas?
Before one can offer any ideas on a property such as this there are many questions you need to ask yourself. The overall design of the property and how you want to use it will help to refine the plant list.
We always approach issues like this by trying to get a sense of what people want to do with their property, how much maintenance they are prepared to do, what the neighbourhood is like etc. Then you can design your property into areas or ‘rooms’ and plant accordingly. What are the areas you frequent in summer, what are the areas you look out most in winter? Now you can look at multi-season interest with a more focused approach. Also remember to design for winter, some areas of a garden can look good when they are at ‘rest’ in the winter rather then being busy all the time.
If you want to grow plants that you can use for food, vegetables, herbs etc. Is there a spot that is convenient for this and that you can protect from the deer? In many older gardens the vegetable and herb areas were separated from the rest of the garden by a fence. There is no reason you can’t do this if it fits in with your plans. Designing an area like this where there is a path that goes around the inside of the fence, thereby separating the plants from the fence area with help restrict animals from nibbling things through the fence. A number of herbs, lavender, monarda, chives etc are thought of as deer ‘proof’. If you design your vegetable, production area attractively then in winter the design and layout of this space become as important as the plants you grow in it during the growing season.
There are many ‘deer resistant’ plants out there, but we have found that in hard winters even plants that deer apparently don’t like can be fair game. I would suggest using as many ‘native plants as possible. Acer circinatum, mahonia, gaultheria, ferns etc. all are very tough and should help blur the line between residence and forest. You can try some nice flowering trees where the flowers are higher up so they are more out of the level for browsing herbivores. In sunny areas long blooming perennials such as Achillea (yarrow) look great in drifts around the rocks. Nepeta (cat mint) is a lovely long blooming perennial that apparently don’t really interest the deer. In areas where ground covers are desirable you can try Arctostaphylos uva ursi (bearberry) it is evergreen has a lovely flower in spring and is followed by nice red berries. A perennial groundcover Galium oderata (sweet woodruff) is beautiful in spring and early summer.
Take the time to pick up a book on plants deer don’t like and give them a try. Remember though, that deer don’t read , so every once in a while you will find they decide that a plant they have never eaten before is suddenly their favorite thing.
Take a look at the overall design of the space, make sure the areas work well for you and your family, for if the layout and ‘bones’ of the garden are sound and attractive then it will always have that going for it.