BATTLING THE DESTROYERS OF (MY) UNIVERSE

One of my favorite things to do on a warm summer morning is take my cup of coffee and stroll around the garden. Most of the time I end up with dirty fingernails and a half hour late for work after I start pulling random weeds or deadheading spent blooms.

But lately my walks have been anything but a relaxing start to the day. Instead of admiring the morning dew on flowers, or picking an errant weed, I end up surveying the damage. And it is plentiful.

The deer population here has apparently flourished and from what I can tell, a good number of them are hanging out in my yard every night. Living a quarter mile from a state park, deer are a fact of life here. But until last winter, I was able to manage their impact in the yard with a little bit of smart planting and a variety of deer repellant methods. When we sustained horrible deer damage last winter, I wrote it off as a side effect of a winter with snow that never melted an a lack of food for the herd. The problem is, the damage never stopped.

You would be hard pressed to find an intact hosta in my yard. The few that the deer are not interested in appear to be very tasty to slugs. The hydrangeas are under constant assault. The sedums have been sheared off so many times I've lost count. Lily buds are nipped off every night. Roses are reduced to nibs. Even nasturtiums are sampled.

Deer hoof prints in the garden (near a nibbled on kale seedling).
Disfigured hosta.
An Annabelle hydrangea with few buds left.
Random lily buds nipped off.


A poor gingko that has had to be caged its whole life.
Sheared off sedums.
The options for deterring deer are not many. There are a ton things that are said to work, and most do for a short time. Human hair (never tried), Irish Spring soap (didn't work), blood meal (didn't work), Milorganite (repels humans too), predator urine (gross, stinky and doesn't really work), commercial spray deterrents (work for about a week), garlic spray/capsules (the deer laugh), big dogs (the deer laugh harder).

The one thing I've found to work a little bit (and I actually found a study to support this) is an egg-based spray. Here's the recipe I use.

So almost every night, I go outside sprinkling this stuff on my plants. I pretty much always get some on myself (yuck) and if it rains at all, it's gone. Any plant that I miss is fair game.

I'm sick of spending my time doing that. I'm sick of having a garden that looks half as good (or less) than it should because so many plants have been destroyed. I'm sick of having to consider if a plant is particularly tasty to deer when I shop for plants.

It's clear there is only one way to stop this from happening. The only truly effective way to keep deer from eating your garden is to keep them out of it all together. In other words: a fence.

I'm not alone in my quest to have a garden that is not eaten by deer. Margaret Roach tried it all before she put up a fence.

I bristle at the thought of a fence and can think of many reasons why I don't want one: they are expensive, they can be ugly, they are a pain to mow around and keep looking nice, they require something (a gate, most likely) at the end of the driveway and, for me the worst bit of all, they send a message to your neighbors that can be perceived as unfriendly. I love our neighborhood full of eclectic folks, where many of us have large properties but there is always a friendly wave or a chat to be had on a walk down our shared road. Fences have no part in that, in my mind.

In fact, our very loose homeowners association once had some rules about fences, although now that I've lived here long enough I seriously question whether anyone would actually say something if you put one up. I do know that when we considered it several years ago, our next door neighbor begged us not to put up a fence. And I completely understood his position.

From the research I've done on deer fencing so far, there are two options that seem to work. You can either go tall—at least 7 feet and some places say 8 feet—or you can go wide. Two 4-foot-tall fences 5-feet apart are said to work because deer won't jump into an enclosed space and they can't jump high and long. The tall version is most certainly more economical because you can use sturdy plastic mesh fencing, although apparently it works best when you run a tension wire through the middle of it because otherwise deer will lean on it until it gives.

Masterfences.com photo
Short, double fences to keep out deer. Marthastewart.com photo
 A pair of shorter fences would certainly be more attractive, but the cost to build a nice looking fence could be astronomical. And I keep thinking about what you're supposed to do with the area between the two fences (I have visions of weeds taking over). If we lived on a truly large property, the double fence idea would be great. You could put up a pretty simple cattle-type fence, mow a path through the middle and call it a running track.

Our property is large enough that any fence is going to be a considerable expense but small enough that we're going to see the entire fence from the house. And I'm completely opposed to the idea of fencing only a portion of the property. To me, that's like giving away some of the land we own. We also have a creek to contend with (and I have no idea how you deal with fencing that). (You can see an illustration of our property here to get a better feel for the area).

Here is a good looking short fence with extending wires to get the height needed to keep deer out.


My initial thoughts on a deer fence are that we could do the short, double fence approach on the western edge of the property over by the vegetable gardens. It's a tight squeeze there because we also use that lawn by the road as overflow parking for guests and as a passing lane on our one-car-at-a-time road, but at least it would look nice and hopefully not be too offputting when driving by.

We might be able to turn the corners and extend that type of fencing situation a bit to the east on either side, simply for aesthetic purposes, and I'd do some kind of pretty design to the fence, at least the one closest to the road. The rest of it would have to be the tall mesh variety of fencing, although we could probably do shorter mesh by the cedar trees lining the driveway because the tall mesh would extend into the branches.

The driveway is a huge issue. We would never do any kind of manually opening gate  because it would never be closed. An electric gate sounds expensive, prone to breakage and ugly. The best solution would have been one that I should have thought of a few months ago, before we paved our driveway. Cattle crates (those metal bars that run across the ground) work on deer too, and so long as you put in a big enough area of them across the width of a driveway, they won't walk across them. But who wants to rip up 7 or 8 feet of brand new driveway for that?

Right now I'm looking for a local fencing company that specializes in deer fencing, but I've had no luck. There are lots of places that sell kits for the mesh-style fence, and that may be something we could do ourselves, but what I really need first is some hands-on advice and an accurate idea of what kind of money we might be talking about.

I still cringe at the thought of a fence around the yard, but then I dream of a garden that is intact and one that I don't have to spend hours each week trying to protect from the herd. I have tried to live at peace with these beautiful creatures but I don't think I can do it any longer.

I'd love to hear any suggestions, experiences or other information you might have about deer fences, fences in general or some magic bullet I'm missing in keeping the deer out of my yard.

GET OUT OF YOUR GARDEN (AND INTO SOMEONE ELSE'S)

Garden tours are such a great way to give your own garden a dose of inspiration. A lot of times I poo-poo going on them because I'm busy, or it's hot, or it's buggy, or it's rainy or I've seen the gardens on the tour before, but a couple Saturdays ago I was reminded of how important it is to get out of your own gardens to be in others.

My mom and I wandered around our city's garden tour for a couple hours in the morning. Although there were five gardens on the tour, there was only one that really blew me away. It's not that the other gardens weren't nice because they were and I give huge credit to anyone who is willing to open up their garden to the public for viewing because I can only imagine how scary and how much work that is. It's just that we started at the garden we knew would be great (we've been there before and the homeowners are probably among the most active and best gardeners in the area) and well, nothing else really compared after that.

This couple gardens on a large city lot that is home to one of the city's oldest and most well-known houses. I was last there seven years ago and it's amazing how they've expanded the garden since then. Every part of it was stunning.

It sits along one of the busiest streets in the city, but they do a great job of making the entrance inviting while screening some of the noise and views of the street.

Garden tour - The Impatient Gardener

When you walk in, much of the front yard is shaded by mature trees. The gardeners here do a lovely job of underplanting, but interestingly they leave more space between plants than I often do. It's different than what I usually go for, but I quite like it.

Garden tour - The Impatient Gardener

Garden tour - The Impatient Gardener

Garden tour - The Impatient Gardener

To the right of the entrance is a lovely garden full of lavender, which is notoriously difficult to grow here. Fortunately the gardener here also writes the weekly gardening column in the local newspaper and this spring she wrote that she plants her lavender entirely in bark mulch (no soil). I'm doing the same thing with the 'Phenomenal' lavender plants I ordered this year. I hope I have as much success with mine as she does with hers.

Garden tour - The Impatient Gardener

Garden tour - The Impatient Gardener

There are several small ponds on the property. I think I counted at least four of them. I'm not big on water features, but these were all lovely additions to the garden.

Garden tour - The Impatient Gardener

Garden tour - The Impatient Gardener

Garden tour - The Impatient Gardener

Garden tour - The Impatient Gardener

I loved the ferns that lined the large pond. The homeowners said they had no idea what kind they were and suspected that some spores came in on the back of a passing duck. I think I love the story even more than the ferns. They said I was welcome to have some as they were pulling them out by the handful, but anytime a gardeners is that willing to give a plant away, I tend to get a little wary.

Garden tour - The Impatient Gardener

I took this next photo just to show what attention to detail was paid around the garden. The clematis flower floating in the bird bath was a charming touch for the tour.

Garden tour - The Impatient Gardener

These gardeners are not afraid of containers. They sprinkle plants in containers throughout the garden including several large trees including this lovely Japanese maple.

Garden tour - The Impatient Gardener

On the large sunny patio, they grow dozens of fruits and vegetables. Everything in containers is moved into the garage during winter and I have to think they have machinery to move the giant pots.

Garden tour - The Impatient Gardener

Garden tour - The Impatient Gardener

Some fruits, like this giant espalier tree (unfortunately I don't know what kind it is), are grown in the grown. If you look closely you can see baggies on the tree. Here's why.

Espalier fruit tree in SE Wisconsin

As you walk around to the west side of the house, which is very shady thanks to several mature spruces on the lot line, it's impossible not to be impressed by the enormous climbing hydrangea that covers the entire side of the house. This is one plant. The homeowners were quick to warn guests that it is trying hard to rip the brick off the house, so be wary when planting one of these against your house.

Climbing hydrangea

Garden tour - The Impatient Gardener

Then you turn to see a gorgeous Cornus 'Golden Shadows'. I've been trying to grow one of these for four years and mine is still three feet tall so I have no idea how theirs is so tall and lovely, but seeing this one is enough to make me persist in attempting  to grow one.

Cornus 'Golden Shadows'

Since we stopped back at my mom's house, I thought I'd snag a few pictures since, in my opinion, her garden deserves to be on a tour.

You can see that my mom subscribes to the "jam it full" philosophy of gardening. I think this area is just stunning, with all its shades of green punctuated by the neons raised baskets of impatients.

Shade garden

She has a climbing hydrangea that is not quite as impressive as the one on the tour house, but pretty stunning nonetheless.
Climbing hydrangea

This bed is just two years old and already looks so lovely.

Garden tour - The Impatient Gardener

At the front entrance of their mid-century modern house, things are a bit more formal. I like the look.

Garden tour - The Impatient Gardener

Garden tour - The Impatient Gardener

There is so much to be gained by getting into another garden. You never know where inspiration will come from. Plus, sometimes you just have to put down the trowel and enjoy the beauty of the garden.


BACK TO MACKINAC

Hi all! I'm just back from my annual journey (via sailboat) to Mackinac Island and while I get my life back in order and get some proper posts (most of which I had dreams of finishing and publishing while I was gone) ready for you, I'll give you my annual review of a garden I visit every year on Mackinac Island.

The gardens at the Iroquois Hotel are lovely and I particularly enjoy seeing how they change over the years. Designed and maintained by Jack Barnwell, they have a perennial and shrub backbone but are really all about the annuals, providing the kind of color and summer-long interest that is needed in a tourist location.

Here is the front walk leading up to the entrance to the restaurant.

Mackinac Island gardens: The Impatient Gardener

Mackinac Island gardens: The Impatient Gardener

I love how every single crevice is filled with a plant. Here a trailing coleus fills the gaps.
Mackinac Island gardens: The Impatient Gardener

Jack used Proven Winners Surefire begonias liberally this year throughout the garden and the effect is stunning. 

Mackinac Island gardens: The Impatient Gardener

This was a tiny little triangle formed where the path met the small retaining wall and this little corkscrew grass fills the hole so nicely.

Mackinac Island gardens: The Impatient Gardener

Mackinac Island gardens: The Impatient Gardener

As you make your way around the back, more gardens—this one with several perennials and shrubs including hydrangeas and black sambucus (elderberry)—lead the way to the stunning view of the Straits of Mackinac.


'Fine Line' buckthorn punctuates the edge of the path.

Mackinac Island gardens: The Impatient Gardener

Rectangular containers are filled with a variety of annuals. In the second picture you can see how the corkscrew grass is tucked in sort of randomly which creates a charming feel to the arrangement.

Mackinac Island gardens: The Impatient Gardener

Mackinac Island gardens: The Impatient Gardener


Barnwell wisely kept the plantings in front of the marque view in a simpler palette. There's no need to compete with a view like that. 

Mackinac Island gardens: The Impatient Gardener


Boxwood hedges keep chairs from straying from the patio and entering the flower beds.

Mackinac Island gardens: The Impatient Gardener

Although panoramic photos skew the perspective, this gives you a feel for the layout.

Mackinac Island gardens: The Impatient Gardener

Around the other side, the plantings repeat other areas of the garden for a cohesive look. The red buoy next to the trailer in the background marks the finish line of the sailboat race I participate in every year.

Mackinac Island gardens: The Impatient Gardener


Two views of the main front entrance to the hotel.

Mackinac Island gardens: The Impatient Gardener


And a close-up shot of the neatly trimmed boxwood hedges.

Mackinac Island gardens: The Impatient Gardener

Jack also designs the hanging baskets on the main street on the island. This was my favorite.

Mackinac Island gardens: The Impatient Gardener

It was a little hard to see what was in it, but fortunately I found the same design in a lower hanging basket at the Iroquois Hotel.

Mackinac Island gardens: The Impatient Gardener

As usual, I snapped a couple photos of beautiful gardens on horse-driven taxi ride up to the airport on my way off the island. One of these years I'm going to stick around long enough to do a proper garden tour. I take a photo of this first house every year because I love the pig by the front steps. Wonder where you get a pig like that?

Mackinac Island gardens: The Impatient Gardener

Mackinac Island gardens: The Impatient Gardener

Mackinac Island gardens: The Impatient Gardener

 Jack Barnwell works closely with Proven Winners and uses their plants extensively in his designs, so most of what you see (at least the annuals) are probably PW plants. Because of his arrangement with them he is often able to use new varieties that aren't yet available to the general public.

I did an interview with Jack a few years ago. Check it out here.
You can check out other posts I've done about Mackinac Island gardens here, here, here and here.

This is the second year for the Grand Garden Show on Mackinac Island, an event partly organized by Barnwell in conjunction with Proven Winners. They always bring in a line up of great speakers (including P. Diddy) and best of all, Barnwell hosts tours of some of the private gardens he has designed on the island. It is held this year on August 24 to 26. I spoke with some readers who went to it last year who absolutely loved it. I must get to it one of these years.

You can follow Barnwell Landscaping and Design on Facebook for sneak peeks of some of the gardens Jack is working on and others that will be on the Grand Garden Show tour.