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Yes, you can have a deer-resistant garden on the island | The Garden Shed

By JODY BURNS

Our neighborhood deer have returned after their winter hiatus. They saunter insouciantly down the driveway stopping to nibble here, take a bite there, rarely looking up.

They are supremely confident in their safety. Occasionally, the neighbor’s dog will bark loudly, and they will look up, listening carefully. It is quickly apparent he is not close enough to worry and they return to their daily chore of finding enough food.

I had tried hard to adopt a Zen attitude toward deer, recognizing that it was I who had invaded their home, not the reverse. A doe and her twins, though, got me. How hard it must be, I thought, for that doe to find enough food for them.

Last summer, I quit stockpiling rocks to throw in their direction and just let them browse until they chose to move on. I still fence high the vegetable, fruit and favorite ornamentals garden from their marauding, but the garden by the house lays wide open to their fickle feeding habits.

There are a lot of adjectives that gardeners put in front of the word “deer.” Many of them are unprintable in a newspaper. Some gardeners will even tell you deer-resistant gardening is an oxymoron. But I’ve had some success and you can too.

First, memorize this: Deer will eat anything you plant if they are hungry enough, so don’t plant anything you can’t bear to lose in a spot where their hungry mouths can find it. This is your mantra. Repeat it often.

Luckily, many deer-resistant plants are also drought tolerant, or low maintenance. Narcissus (daffodils and jonquils) will naturalize in your garden. Plant them everywhere. The big yellow King Alfred is available everywhere cheaply. Try double daffodils for flamboyance. Miniature daffodils are beautiful mixed with scilla or muscari.

Iris of any kind grow unnoticed right next to the grazing deer. Bearded Iris, Siberian Iris, Dutch Iris, Iris Reticulata are all in my house garden. Daffodils and Iris are planted in fall or late summer.

What can you plant now? Achiliea (yarrow). I have a big healthy Coronation Gold under two tall Doug firs. Terracotta, an orangey yellow, and Paprika, a dark pink with yellow centers, grow close by. Shasta Daisies, Euphorbia (but not Euphorbia “myrsiites,” which is a noxious weed in San Juan County), Phlomis (Jerusalem Sage), Papaver orientale and Papaver nudicaule (Iceland poppy) with their colorful showy flowers are all safe, So are herbs such as rosemary, lavender, chives, thyme, oregano, marjoram, borage.

These are just a few of the many ornamental plants you can use in a deer-resistant garden. I haven’t even gotten to the shrubs, trees or native plants which deer pass by without so much as a sniff.

The Master Gardeners can help you plan a deer-resistant garden. Find us at the Farmers Market, or give us a call (378-4414). We’ll talk your ear off about plants not on the deer menu.

— Jody Burns is president of the Master Gardener Foundation in Friday Harbor

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