Deer are a big challenge for gardeners in my neighborhood. Our back garden is fenced, but a few years ago someone left one of the gates open, and within hours a hungry deer had consumed every single one of the many buds that covered my 12 beloved rose bushes. I was devastated… I actually wept.
I have struggled with what to do about the deer. After all, they have as much right to enjoy this land as I do, don’t they? They are quiet, and pretty, and they have those big child-like eyes. I wish they would just stand around in the garden, especially the baby ones, and NOT EAT ANYTING! But that is clearly not their agenda.
When I began cultivating my land about 15 years ago, I was of the opinion that coexistence with Bambi was the “right” approach to the problem. I didn’t want to fence my half-acre woodland lot, and having never dealt with deer before, I thought, “How bad could these graceful creatures really be?” Well, in time I got my answer. I made trip after trip to the nursery, purchasing “deer resistant” plants that were promptly consumed by my four legged neighbors. It was frustrating. It was discouraging. It was EXPENSIVE!
After several seasons, I realized I had to come up with a new plan if I wanted to have a garden at all. There were, in fact, some plants that the deer left untouched (rhododendrons, salvia, and ferns to name a few), but the kind of garden I envisioned was much more diverse than the short list of reliably deer resistant plants would allow. The deer and I were going to have to compromise.
I live next to a creek, and I wanted to make certain that the deer, as well as other neighborhood fauna, have access to the water and to the riparian habitat that surrounds it. I also felt strongly about not disrupting the deer trails that led through my property and up toward the large wilderness area at the top of the hill. So I decided to divide the property into three distinct areas, each with it’s own deer management strategy.
Behind the house, I fenced about one third of the property, and in this area I can plant roses, flowering perennials, veggies and all the other goodies that deer love to devour. This is the area in which I get to create my dream garden, and the deer are excluded completely. I think of it as MY area.
Another third of the property, running the entire length of the creek, belongs to the deer and other wildlife. I have done nothing in this area to alter the natural habitat, and from our deck we watch not only deer but also raccoons, possums, skunks and other rodents, wild turkeys, birds of all kinds and even the occasional fox as they go about their business. I think of this as THEIR area.
In front of the house, the deer and I are learning how to share. There is no fence, yet I am landscaping, creating perennial borders and beds, a fern and rhododendron garden, and a meadow with grasses and wildflowers. I use a lot of native and deer resistant plants, but also experiment with plants not on the resistant list, and sometimes I spray my plantings, especially when they are young, with a product called “Liquid Fence” that smells like rotten eggs and seems to deter the deer from nibbling. It is non-toxic and made of organic natural ingredients (garlic, egg, etc.), and basically encourages the deer to have their breakfast elsewhere. My plantings still get munched on from time to time, especially after a heavy rain, but for the most part they recover and so do I. This morning when I trundled out onto the front porch, coffee cup in hand, I was treated to the sight of a whole deer family snoozing comfortably in the meadow. They looked so peaceful, and I was happy that they had chosen my meadow for their resting place.