Fall Planting to Thwart the Deer

GARDEN THERAPY. It works like nothing else. Fall is prime time for planting — cool weather, no chiggers — and I am at it again, doing my bit to beautify my little corner of the planet.

I check periodically on the house I’m in the process of buying, above, to make sure it’s still there. While I wait for it to become mine, my landscaping-on-a-budget efforts at my present cottage continue.

On Saturday I visited my friend Debre in Shelter Island and watched her dig up enormous clumps of a tenacious, fast-spreading broadleaf sedge she calls ‘tribbles,’ after the small rodents that multiplied like crazy in an old episode of Star Trek. She burned all the calories, while I stood there and gave her an occasional tool, bucket, or encouraging word. My job came later, when I further divided the huge clumps into about 50 smaller ones, and put them in at the foot of my back deck, above and below.

It was two afternoons of work, and well worth it. Since I haven’t fenced, I’m finally getting real about deer-resistant gardening. My focus now is exclusively on things they can’t or won’t eat, including ornamental grasses like tribble (so much easier to say than Carex siderosticha ‘Variegata,’ its real name).

That includes cimicifuga, above, whose very late-season blooms are most welcome.

And three new crape myrtles (Lagerstroemia ‘Acoma’), bought on sale at Lynch’s, a nursery in Southampton I visited for the first time recently and certainly not the last. It had several things I’d failed to find elsewhere, including spicebush (Lindera benzoin), below, which Rick Darke’s The American Woodland Garden calls “unpalatable to deer” and “routinely passed by.” Doesn’t look like much now, but I have hopes it will eventually look like the specimen in the book, six to ten feet tall and equally wide.

Then there’s the foot-tall Sunjoy Gold Beret, below, otherwise known as Berberis thunbergii ‘Talago,’ a $12 Home Depot special. This is a new offering from a grower called Proven Winners, clearly bred to wow with its fall color.

That’s what I’ve been up to these spectacular October days, along with cable news-watching, Scramble-playing, and walks down to the bay. Not at all a bad life.

Boxwoods to the Rescue


This one’s just for fun, above — it’s one of the more original examples of boxwood topiary I’ve seen in East Hampton

IT’S PLANTING TIME AGAIN, and sale time, too, in the nurseries here on Long Island. Forty percent off trees and shrubs…and I just happened to need a few.

For a long time, it’s bugged me that the first thing I see when I open my front door (which is actually on the side of my cottage) is my neighbor’s mint green propane tank, below, and, when they’re home, a black Volvo station wagon in their driveway. These are about 25 feet from my door, inadequately screened by the most pathetic privet hedge you ever did see. (The picture below was taken in April 2010, year 1 of my perennial garden.)


Now I like my neighbors very much, and we’ve had several discussions about how to get that privet to regenerate. They are reluctant to do a radical pruning, which I advised, because then we’ll have nothing at all for two years; anyway, there’s not enough light for healthy privet. (Well, he is reluctant; she said, “Go ahead, chop it down, I don’t care!” and I do believe she meant it — but I couldn’t. After all, it’s not my privet.)

I also considered a fence and a trellis, with or without something on it. I tried a few nandina (heavenly bamboo) from Costco, which were supposed to grow to 4 feet but have remained for the past two years at 12 inches.


Anyway, I’ve gone and invested this fall in six boxwoods, above — shade tolerant, deer-resistant, evergreen boxwoods, the little black dress of gardening. The three I bought last fall and put near the road are doing very well, so that’s encouraging.

I’ve got three new 48″ tall ones from Chas. Whitmore in East Hampton and three 36″ from Marder’s in Bridgehampton. I figure they’ll provide screening and also be a nice backdrop for my perennials (astilbes mainly, in that area). I had the larger three delivered, and picked up the smaller ones in my car, not realizing how massively heavy the little balled and burlapped mothers are (they were loaded in for me). But I managed to rassle them out of my car and onto a handtruck without calling a guy neighbor for help.

I’ve been tugging them around to work out the best arrangement. I don’t want to simply line them up in a row — that’s boring. I want a more naturalistic look (as if boxwoods could ever be naturalistic). I’ve been consulting books and magazines and even took The Boxwood Handbook from the library, but there ain’t much info out there on boxwood placement — only on cultivars, and pests and diseases, which I don’t want to think about.


The folks above, also in East Hampton, have nothing but boxwoods in various sizes. They’ve clearly decided it’s the only practical solution in a deer-ridden neighborhood.

Tomorrow I’m expecting Dong, who helps me with landscaping, and they go in (it was supposed to be today, but…)  I spent yesterday moving stuff out of the way, transplanting ferns and ligularia to give the boxes some breathing room. I’ve settled on a 2 short-3 tall-1 short configuration, left to right, and overlapping each other a bit. I wish they could be as tall, once planted, as they are in their root balls and containers, but they’ll shrink a bit, just like me.

Lula’s Garden


Four Alberta spruces and a boxwood hedge lead the way from driveway to front door

GOT ME A NEW CAMERA, but it’s not out of the box yet (I’m a little slow to adopt new technology, even when it’s sitting on my dining table). It’s a Canon S95, on the theory that the best camera for a blogger is the one you have with you, and this camera is light.


Meanwhile, stalling for time, I hereby present some shots of 2-3 weeks ago, taken with a loaner camera, of a cottage and garden belonging to my friend Lula here in Springs, Long Island, N.Y.



Lula is a professional garden designer who has worked on spaces both public and private, and she’s been working on her own piece of the planet for half a dozen years. I very much admire its variety, color, and organization.


Curving beds around the edge of the lawn and a garden through the woods, traversed by a stepping-stone path, below, exploit all things shade-tolerant and deer-resistant, including pieris, bleeding hearts, brunnera, ferns, cranesbill, and much more. The red Japanese maple near the house is a show-stopper. As for the rhodies, Lula swears by Deer-Out.



To Lawn or Not to Lawn?


THAT IS THE QUESTION uppermost in my landscaping mind right now. Last year my thinking was anti-lawn, pro-groundcover and other plantings. I’ve tried to minimize turfgrass up to now (I don’t own a mower, or want to), but found that, in many cases, sprinkling grass seed was the cheapest, quickest way to get green. But now, the second of two garden-professional friends (one a writer/editor, one a designer) has nixed the notion of an island bed in the middle of the yard. They’re both in favor of a continuous greensward with plantings around it.


A wider view of the yard as it looked in mid-April. The existing free-form island bed is an accidental central feature. The other brownish areas are where I’ve sprinkled wood chips to hold weeds down while I decide what else to do.

True, the existing island bed has virtually nothing growing in it at the moment. The spot is not as sunny as I originally thought and I haven’t focused on planting there. And design-wise, it never did make much sense. The free-form island bed in the center of my ‘shy’ half-acre is there only because previous occupants of my house, a cottage in Springs, Long Island, which I bought in May ’09, had created a huge compost heap in the middle of the yard for reasons known only to themselves.

That first fall, it seemed easier to re-shape it and re-conceive it as a flower bed than to move it entirely. The raised bed also served the purpose of concealing a concrete octagon about 3 feet wide — the cap over my septic tank — which is several inches above ground level.


This concrete octagon, which covers the opening to the septic tank, is now buried under a few inches of soil in the existing island bed.

My garden-designer friend suggested re-grading the property, so that the level of the entire lawn would match the level of the septic tank cover, which as it stands is not a desirable design feature. That would involve a truck with some cubic yards of topsoil, men with rakes and perhaps power tools, a proper re-seeding of the area, and money. It’s not a bad solution; I just wasn’t thinking of doing any significant earth-moving back there this season.

Then my neighbor from across the road, who has lived in this arty, woodsy hamlet full-time for 30+ years, came by and, as we sipped tea on the back deck, gave me her take on the re-grading idea. “That’s very south of the highway,” she said, the big, high-maintenance lawn being a feature of prime Hamptons real estate, which this is not.


I told her I had realized I could shovel and/or rake out the soil in the existing bed and deposit it along the western property line, above, an open, sunny area in which nothing is presently growing except some mullein, below. I could plant herbs there, and flowers (deer-resistant, of course). Maybe even tomatoes. But that leaves the problem of the concrete cap.


Perhaps the cap could be re-set to sit on level with the present lawn? If not, said my across-the-road, neighbor, how about using it as a pedestal for a birdbath, or a tub of annuals. That, she pointed out, would be “very Springs.”


Who Knew? Deer Eat Acorns!

GREAT NEWS: deer eat acorns! It’s news to me, anyway, and it’s great because I have plenty.

It’s been raining acorns for two weeks now. They fall — a distance of perhaps 100 feet — from the towering white oaks that surround my house and hit the skylights with a noise that made me jump until I got used to it. Then they rolllllllllllll down the roof and drop on to the deck, where they bounce, bounce, bounce.

I don’t remember this at all from last year. It must have been a bad year for acorns. Surely I would remember… Each morning, the deck is covered with so many acorns, it’s like walking on ball bearings. They’ll need to be raked away from the paths at some point, and I was wondering what I would do with them all, when I stumbled on the Missouri Department of Conservation website and read that 54% of a white-tailed deer’s diet is acorns! Oh frabjous day!

I’m hoping, you see, that the deer will be so satiated from this bounty of acorns that they’ll leave my shrubs alone this winter. I just bought two “skip laurels” today (prunus laurocerasus ‘schipkaensis’ ), which the nursery man said the deer might sample but won’t devour. Since he was frank about that, and said he’d been in the business 25 years, and was nice, I also believed him when he said the tag that says they need full sun is wrong.

They just arrived on a truck from Oregon and are blooming, which they’re not supposed to do in September, sending up spikes of white flowers at the top. They’re evergreen, and they’re going in my front area as part of a screening hedge.

Meanwhile, the deer are feasting. I noticed one today with his face to the ground in an area of wood chips, where nothing grows, and wondered what he was finding there. Duh. They’ll be fat and contented this winter, and maybe leave my rhodies alone.