by Charlene Burgi
Have you ever experienced the sensation that someone is watching you? The other night I was working out in the living room when that feeling came over me. I looked out the window toward the front garden, and there stood the most magnificent buck, his antlers still in velvet, peering in the window at me. As our eyes made contact, neither of us moving, my two golden retrievers dozed peacefully, despite the beat of workout music in the background and our unusual visitor.
It's been some time since deer have wandered up this close to the house. It made me wonder why this beauty would wade through the geraniums, lavender, sage, iris, yarrow and peonies—all deer-tolerant shrubs and groundcover—to reach the fortress of my mighty watchdogs, Sassy and Misty. I noted that the blueberry bush was at his nose level, and a hydrangea cradled around his forelegs. Perhaps these delicacies led him to tempt fate.
Living with deer is a challenge, as many of you well know. They do not read all those books or articles with lists of plants they supposedly find less palatable. But in my experience, they do tend to be less interested in plants that are herbal to the taste and smell. Fortunately for us, these same plants are often water-wise. The physiology of their leaves—which are generally fuzzy, waxy or silver-colored—helps them hold onto water. In addition, many have roots that grow deep into the soil, making them less dependent on irrigation.
| 'May Night' sage and iris
As an added bonus, many of these plants provide beautiful, long-lasting color in the garden. As I peer out into the garden, my eyes flit from the purples of ‘May Night’ Salvia
to the pink flowers of Salvia greggii
'Cold Hardy Pink.' Deep bronze leaves of the ninebark make a perfect backdrop for the white peonies and reblooming iris. The lavender and Agastache
have yet to bloom, but the silver foliage of the lavender draws bees hoping that the flowers will soon emerge. The bees are not disappointed as they find their way to the Nepeta
(catmint) displaying delicate shades of lavender flowers. Though the garden looks like a colorful salad, it doesn’t seem to interest the deer.
A word of advice if you are troubled by deer: Before buying a dozen plants of one type, set out just one sacrificial plant for a week to see if the deer will nibble on it. If they don't, it might be an indicator you are safe planting more. Again, just remember deer don't read books and if they are hungry enough, they will eat anything—even at the risk of peering through the window to see if you are paying attention to their antics!