In spite of deer. This is the main gardening theme I live with. If you have the same issue … deer browsing your perennial beds in spite of you planting supposedly deer-resistant plants and shrubs … read on.
The photos below represent 16 years of trial and error. I’ve planted and lost to deer more plants than I want to acknowledge. But I’ve still managed to eek out some eye-catching borders in the foundation and other mixed perennial and shrub beds on our property.
My friend refers to this as Darwinian gardening – survival of the fittest – but I’ve labeled it Deerwinian gardening – survival in spite of deer.
The major shrubs include boxwood, mounding inkberry (Ilex glabra ‘Compacta’), and azalea and rhododendron that I fence during winter months. In the corner near the downspout is caryopteris, a relatively new addition that, in its third season, is now beginning to obtain some size.
Perennials include common lamb’s Ear (Stachys byzantina) and, at the far end not seen in this photo the Helen von Stein variety that does not bloom; Salvia (I think it’s nemorosa ‘May Night’); lavender, Maiden pinks (Dianthus deltoides ‘Arctic Fire’); Rose campion (Lychnis coronaria); foxglove (Digitalis); and nepeta. A few years ago I added meadow rue (Thalictrum), planting it behind the center-most boxwood, but deer manage to find and top it every spring. It blooms occasionally in later summer, but never achieves the height I hoped for … sigh.
Farther along in this bed, but not clear in this photo, are Siberian and bearded iris, peonies, and more boxwood, lamb’s ear, foxglove, lavender, Pieris andromeda, a Rose of Sharon that sees deer browse of its lower leaves but manages to bloom above the deer-browse level, and clematis that grows up the end post of the porch
The perennials listed above are repeated in the opposite bed with the addition of common sage, Campanula poscharskyana, and various varieties of allium.
I deadhead the lamb’s ear blooms when they begin to fade or get knocked askew by rain. This maintains a neater border look.
Deer are fickle and have varied taste. Deer in your neck of the woods may like or shun a different group of plants from those listed above, but I’ve generally found they dislike most silver and gray plants and those with fuzzy leaves. Still, any newly purchased nursery plant is more likely to suffer deer-browse … the four-legged creatures seem attracted to highly-fertilized plants. I’ve even seen them munch on newly-purchased lamb’s ear.
Outside of installing a tall fence to prevent deer from reaching your gardens, trial and error is the only way to learn what local deer do and do not like. I’ve tried nearly every deer repellent on the market with limited success and now generally avoid the expense (though I do, at times, test new environmentally safe products).
The plants listed above are not the only ones deer avoid in my gardens – more on these in future posts – but, if deer are a major nemesis in your area, the list above gives you a few hints on how to have eye-catching perennial beds in spite of deer.