Fall Planting to Foil the Deer

IMG_4194THERE’S A GROUP OF FOUR — two does and two yearlings — that lives here, too. And they seem to feel my garden is their pantry. When I was kneeling out there today, putting in some of the supposedly deer-resistant perennials I just bought, I looked up to see a lithe brown creature eyeing me as if to say, “Planting something tasty? I’ll check it out later.”

These Hamptons deer, pressed as they are for grazing space, have been having a picnic here these last few weeks, chowing down on begonia, astilbe, caladium, cranesbill geranium, Japanese anemone and other things generally considered deer-resistant, reducing them to sticks. I haven’t been quick enough on the trigger — the pump on my bottle of “Deer Out,” that is. Anyway, it’s not very effective.

Yes, yes, I’ll get a deer fence in due course. Meanwhile, it’s fall, the nursery sales are on, and I’m determined to outwit the deer by planting only things they find absolutely inedible. There are a few.

I’ve been to three area nurseries: chic Marder’s in Bridgehampton, pedestrian Agway, and old-school Hren in East Hampton. At discounts from 30% to 75%, I bought the following, which my experience over the past year tells me should be OK (along with careful reading of labels and asking questions, though I’ve learned not to wholly trust the labels or the answers). The reason there’s only one or two of some things in the list below is because that’s all they had left — I would gladly have bought more at these prices.

I’m working the variations on things I’ve already got that have survived, with emphasis on colored and variegated foliage.

  • 3 Salvia ‘May Night’ – deer-proof stalwarts, easier to grow than lavender
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  • 2 Buxus sempervirens ‘Auero-Variegata’ – boxwoods edged in yellow – tiny now, 8′ at maturity
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  • 1 Berberis thunbergii – ‘Rose Glow’ Japanese barberry
  • Barberry-Rosy-Glow

  • 2 Lonicera nitida ‘Lemon Beauty’ – never heard of these before – another variegated shrub that will eventually be 3-6′ tall
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  • 2 Pleioblastus viridistriat – dwarf bamboo – more yellow
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  • 1 feather reed grass
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  • 1 Ligularia dentata ‘Othello’ – my 4th type of ligularia – the slugs go for them, but the deer don’t
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  • 1 Stachys ‘Silver Carpet’ – lamb’s ear – a narrow-leafed variety I don’t have
  • Stachys byzantina Silver Carpet

  • 1 Brunnera macrophylla – chartreuse heart-shaped leaves
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  • 1 Euphorbia ‘Glacier Blue’ spurge – blue-gray and Mediterranean-looking
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  • 1 Itea virginica ‘Sprich’ aka Sweetspire ‘Little Henry’
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  • 2 Bergenia cordifolia  – edging plant with glossy, red-rimmed leaves in fall
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I spent this first day of the Jewish new year in the garden instead of the synagogue. I worked from morning ’til night putting new plants in, moving others around, weeding as I went along, and finally spreading five bags of compost and mulch (no – finally taking Advil). More than once, I thought of something I read long ago in a gardening magazine. An elderly woman was asked the secret of her beautiful garden. She replied: “Work like mad in spring and fall, and you’ve got it made.”

GARDEN VOYEUR: Meadow with a View

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FIVE STORIES above Pacific Street, there’s a colorful meadow designed by Cynthia Gillis for the rooftop of the Boerum Hill townhouse she shares with her husband, architect John Gillis. “A roof deck is a kind of meadow,” she says, “because it’s open and expansive, and you are looking across a distance to the sky” — and, in this case, the buildings of downtown Brooklyn.

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Since a roof is windy and exposed, and soil in containers is limited, Gillis chooses drought-tolerant plants to begin with, and uses drip irrigation, with hoses running to each individual container, as well as polymer crystals in each pot to retain water and help prevent flooding in heavy rains.

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In keeping with the ‘meadow’ concept, Gillis rarely uses annuals. Among the perennials in wooden containers and pots made of resin or fiberglass (lightweight and frost-resistant, they look just like terracotta):

  • calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ (feather reed grass)
  • purple salvia
  • verbena bonariensis (a tender, self-seeding perennial)
  • achillea ‘Paprika’
  • coreopsis ‘Moonbeam’

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A wind-tolerant Japanese black pine frames the view and provides screening (there’s a small ‘contemplation bench’ behind it).

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You can see more pictures of Gillis’s work on her website, including the park-like garden behind this townhouse, shared with the building next door.