In the Garden:
Pacific Northwest
November, 2003
Regional Report

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I have the feeling this new kid on the block is taking an inventory of my garden!

Hidden Treasures

I live in a neighborhood where the "deer and the antelope play." It's no secret that I am enthralled by their grace and beauty; I love to watch them wander along the edge of the forest. But I really wish they'd stay in their own territory instead of meandering through my garden. With all due respect, I don't like their pruning techniques. Nibbling down the centers of my fountain-shaped red twig dogwood just ruins the effect, and munching out only half the new growth from an azalea makes the plant look really tacky.

Since the deer population seems to be increasing by leaps and bounds, I'm redoubling my efforts to cope with these pesky critters. I've tried scare tactics and barriers, to no avail. I've even filled my landscape with so-called deer-proof plants. It's taken some time and some trial and error, but I'm convinced that there are no deer-proof plants. Deer find some plants to be quite tasty, others less so, but the bottom line is that a hungry deer will eat almost anything.

Relying on the fact that deer depend on their sense of smell to determine what is safe and desirable to eat, I've planted a wide variety of plants with strong odors throughout my garden to confuse the deer. This method of interplanting strongly aromatic plants within the garden seems to bewilder the deer. Rather than stay and munch, they leave the area in favor of a site where they can clearly identify what they are eating. By hiding the tastiest plants in a sea of aromatics, I've effectively camouflaged my garden – from a deer's standpoint!

Employ Natural Chemistry
The basic principle behind this type of gardening is to use plants whose natural chemistry (aroma and taste) deters deer from wanting to eat them. I use a ratio of at least two strongly aromatic plants for every one deer-desirable plant in my garden. Using a variety of plants with different fragrances in a single bed enhances the confusion factor and provides the best deterrent.

Among my favorite aromatics are juniper, camphor daisy (Machaeranthera phyllocephala), Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia), Mexican marigold (Tagetes lucida), silver Peruvian sage (Salvia discolor), rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), and night-blooming jasmine (Cestrum nocturnum).

Other Tactics
I also include plants throughout the garden that have coarse, tough, hairy, or prickly leaves and those with a bitter taste and/or a milky or sticky sap. Those that work well include yarrow (Achillea millefolium), butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberose), false indigo (Baptisia), and barberry (Berberis).

There are a number of plants that deer rarely find attractive, and I've strategically placed them at the edges of the gardens to discourage further exploration by even the hungriest deer. Mondo grass is generally avoided by deer, as are poppy (Papaver), sumac (Rhus), black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia), dusty miller (Senecio), and zinnia (Zinnia grandiflora).

Camouflage gardening is simply hiding the more deer-desirable plants within a network of the less deer-desirable plants. So far it's working in my garden. I think it's a method worth trying for those of you who are so frustrated that you're tempted to include the members of your local herd as dependents on your income tax return.


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