June 16, 2010

My Deer Garden is Full of Flowers

There's no mistake—the deer are here. The herd grazes and sleeps in the meadow, only a few feet above the garden. Several fawns have been born in the last few weeks. But, the deer haven't been in the garden in months.

Can it be that the deer are convinced there's actually nothing good to eat in the deer resistant garden?

The deer resistant garden includes all plants outside the cottage garden fence.

The flower garden wraps around the front and one side of the house and includes a large section of cool colors, a hot colors butterfly garden and a fragrance garden.

The fragrance garden includes sweet bay magnolia, gardenia, ginger, jasmine and pulmonaria. Then, there are deer resistant plantings along the front walk and driveway that include crape myrtle, coreopsis, ice plant, stachys hummelo, nepeta, buddleia, monarda, Japanese irises and nepeta.

Not a nibble anywhere. Not a hoof print among the flowers or the garden paths. What's going on? Is there no scarcity of food in the wild, or are they munching somewhere else?

The garden is edged with a French drain consisting of round rock and concrete edgers. However, the drain is only one foot wide, so they can easily step over it.

The first plants the deer encounter are reliably deer resistant—agastache, buddleia, coreopsis, lavender cotton, gaillardia, nepeta, perennial heliotrope and salvia—for example.

There are many more, but these perennials are used extensively in my garden where plants must also be drought and heat tolerant in full sun.

The long and wide garden slopes down toward the house with a garden path of flagstones at the bottom. When I created the garden in 2007, the deer still had their own paths down the slope. Now that the garden is more mature and heavily planted, I have erased their favorite access points.

I do not use deer repellents or netting. The deer have simply broken their habit of foraging for food in a garden that hasn't rewarded them with their favorite snacks. Along the path in the front garden are coneflowers, shasta daisies, spirea, perennial ageratum, monarda, Japanese irises, ginger, milkweed and many other perennials, annuals and shrubs.


Among the hot colors in the top of the butterfly garden are more coneflowers, coreopsis, gaillardia, verbena, nepeta and crocosmia. The coneflowers are easily reached by the deer, but as you can see in the photos, the blooms nearest the meadow edge are also untouched. Farther down this edge there are rudbeckia, lantana, salvia, bronze fennel, ornamental grass (miscanthus) and clumping bamboo.

Along the lower path below the butterfly garden, I planted a mish-mash of tall purple verbena, red monarda, red and orange cannas, orange cosmos, orange zinnias and orange gladiolus. I cut those beautiful, undamaged gladiolus today and brought them indoors to enjoy! I had no browsing of zinnias or cosmos in 2009, so I'm trying larger swaths of those annuals—grown inexpensively from seed, so if there is damage, it won't be a financial issue.

I've had a positive experience with my deer resistant garden for three years now. Of course, the food supply can change and the deer herd is growing larger. My deer are not hungry or desperate right now, but your local herd may be hungry enough to try anything.

For my deer garden—it has been a very good summer so far!

Words and photos by Freda Cameron, Defining Your Home, Garden and Travel. Deer resistance may vary in your garden. The information provided is based solely upon my experience with the deer herd and an unprotected garden where plants are either selected for known deer resistance, or I am conducting my own tests.  
Freelance travel writer. My current fiction writing projects include a completed manuscript and several works in progress.

By the way, my name is pronounced fred-ah, not freed-ah. Thank you.

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