I live in the land of deer. I have more hoof prints through my borders than slug trails and that’s saying something. In fact when my daughter got married in our garden last summer one of the last minute ‘to do’ items wasn’t to check for clean hand towels or ice cubes but to sweep out the deer tracks.
So I have great empathy with gardeners who desperately want a beautiful garden and not just a buffet. My go-to plants may be different from yours by virtue of climate, personal preference or local restrictions but my aim is to encourage you that you CAN have great foliage and that Bambi can simply find his supper elsewhere.
Barberries (Berberis) are invasive in several states but here in Seattle we are fortunate that they are not a problem and we have lots of great colors , shapes and sizes to choose from. Some of my favorites are Red Carpet (groundcover 2′ h x 4′w), Orange Rocket (orange-red, columnar), Concorde (grape-purple , 3′h x 3′ wide and Lime Glow (variegated lime and cream, ~4′ h x 3′w).
Goshiki Japanese false holly (Osmanthus h. ‘Goshiki’) looks like holly and is spiky like holly – but isn’t. Great green and yellow variegated evergreen foliage, this is one of our favorites for containers as well a landscapes.
There are SO many great ferns for shady areas – some prefer more moisture while others like it dry but as a rule deer leave them alone. Whether you want a groundcover, an evergreen mound or a tall punctuation point you’ll find something with fronds. My favorites include autumn fern (Dryopteris erythrosora, coppery color, 3′ x 3′), Himalayan maidenhair fern (Adiantum venustem, 3′ x 3′), and royal fern (Osmunda regalis, ~4′ tall)
It’s true – Bambi can smell, and he/she doesn’t enjoy our wonderful aromatic herbs as much as we do. Take advantage of the fact and indulge in lavender, sage, and thyme in the garden. Drifts of bronze fennel or dill can provide culinary treats while also acting as a barrier.
Many silver leaved plants are drought tolerant, have a felted surface and are ignored by deer. Think of lambs ears (Stachys byzantina), wormwood (Artemisia), Jerusalem sage (Phlomis sp.) and the giant cardoon (Cynara cardunculus). Sounds like a great garden to me!
Surprisingly deer do not generally feast on grasses - maybe they are just too full of my Heuchera. That definitely opens up the design doorway for all sorts of heights, colors and form from the weeping Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’) to upright feather reed grass (Calamagrostis sp.).
And bits and bobs…
While this list is far from definitive and indeed only represents a very small percentage of the deer resistant plants in my own garden, I hope it gives you a sense of what is possible. Many of these plants are also drought tolerant (since we are on well water that is an important consideration for me too). Careful selection is key but even then the deer will outwit you occasionally. For example while it is true that they don’t eat spirea – they DO eat the flowers.
Now as for the rabbits……………
What are your favorite deer resistant FOLIAGE plants?
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