Last week I met a reader full of questions about how to protect her plants from deer. Though she was nice about it, she was clearly disappointed with my lack of helpful answers.
“If the gardener doesn’t have the answers, that’s pretty depressing,” she said. The truth is I’m a much better writer than I am a gardener, and these days circumstances beyond my control have taught me that deer eat virtually everything.
Last summer the buck who does my pruning was fenced out of the pasture where he was born and raised. He thinks he’s cattle, so discouraging him is virtually impossible. And I’ve always had one big problem with gardening. I’m not good at protecting plants simply because I tend to see pest control from the perspective of the pest.
For years I gave it my best shot. I gathered slugs and snails every morning, disposing of them in salt water. I hated it. Once I trapped a gopher, but emptying the trap was tearful and traumatic. I promised never to do it again, and that’s when I began planting root crops for rodents.
Dog and I fought to save ducks from raccoons, coyotes and bear. But the place was like Lonesome Dove west — I spent a lot of time crying while digging graves before I gave up.
About the time organic produce became easy to find and our local Farmer’s Market got started, the beloved dog died. That’s when the neighborhood cats began using my garden as a litter box and I began buying spinach.
I don’t want to frighten or kill anything. So now I grow what the local wildlife doesn’t want, and here’s my list of decorative plants that have survived for more than a year.
Peonies, poppies, trilliums, ferns, watsonia, calla lilies, lilacs, fox gloves, bleeding hearts, calendula, all the herbs but basil and nearly all the sedums, gladiolas, snap dragons, columbine, mallows, princess plants, rhodies, hebes, heathers, and hearty ground fuchsias.
Many decorative perennial bushes will survive if you can protect them from the deer with bird netting for a couple years. I have azaleas, flowering currant, roses, ceanothus, Autumn Joy, wax myrtle, twin berries, elder berries and osoberry. You may not get blooms every year, but the foliage will be beautifully pruned.
I’ve saved a couple milkweed that are now nearly as tall as the house by letting them grow at a window. The fluffy seeds are currently a stage for the antics of goldfinches.
When a plant has been destroyed, consider replacing it with something critters won’t eat. If the purpose of gardening is pleasure, reduce stress by accepting the inevitable as gracefully as possible. What do you want, roses or low blood pressure?
These days I grow whatever survives and save my energy for fun things, like playing piano and learning to paint. Nothing shatters a creative mood like dashing off to chase something, and it’s hard to see the beauty in that which you consider a pest.