Oh deer! How to protect your garden from forest nibblers

August is one of the driest months in Western Washington and dry weather can attract deer to your home landscape. The over population of our local deer can be blamed on a lack of natural predators and perhaps some misguided attempts to protect wild life.

The now preferred diet that some deer have for lush landscape plants over native vegetation is not good for their health. Deer in your garden are not good for your health either. Lyme disease contacted from deer ticks has now been reported in all 50 states with more cases reported each year.

The bad news; In deer infested neighborhoods of Western Washington, a deer-proof garden is almost impossible without a tall and sturdy fence.

The good news; You can aim for a deer-resistant garden thanks to local author Karen Chapman and her latest book, “Deer Resistant Design: Fence Free Gardens that Thrive Despite the Deer.”

The practical design ideas in this 240 page, soft cover book (priced at $24.95) teach gardeners how to position deer-resistant plants to hide the roses and other deer favorites, while also how to enjoy a colorful and captivating landscape without installing a traditional 6-foot tall deer fence.

Even if you don’t struggle with local deer that prefer hosta to our native huckleberry, you can still learn about garden design and enjoy reading the stories about homeowners who have designed successful deer resistant landscapes. My favorite garden highlighted in this book is the chapter titled “A Designer’s Dream Garden” as it tells the very personal story of how the author, along with her husband, turned a weed- filled, five acre plot with a modest single story home near Duvall, Washington into their personal paradise. The deer and other wild life still wander through the property – but both plants and deer have learned to coexist using practical design and planting tips.

Each chapter in “Deer Resistant Design” describes a different landscape and the owners who have managed to create a lovely landscape despite the deer, soil and weather challenges of the site.

The challenging issues that author Karen Chapman and her husband Andy had to deal with when they moved to their five acre property include clay soil, seasonal flooding, summer droughts, no irrigation, plus deer, rabbits, voles and lazy barn cats. You will read about the slow progress and problem solving strategies that worked for them in the early years and then see the gorgeous transformation of this rural property from the hundreds of photos that fill the book. If all the before and after images don’t make you want to go out and start digging up weeds then the plant lists (with photos of deer resistant plants) that each gardener recommends will inspire you to visit a nursery.

Some of the “Top 10 Plants” at the end of chapter one recommended by the author include Double Play Gold Spirea, Sapphire Blue Sea Holly, Ruby Vase Persian Ironwood and Lime Glow Barberry. The names alone of these beautiful plants sound colorful. You can just image how lovely they look arranged in the landscape.

There are 14 featured deer resistant gardens with practical tips gleaned from interviewing the gardeners from various states including Colorado, New Jersey, North Carolina and several more deer resistant gardens in Western Washington. As a bonus, at the end of the book there is the added feature with photographs and recipes for deer resistant container gardens.

This book is a gift to all gardeners who share their landscape with wild life.

Now I confess I have finally solved the deer problem on my own two acres of gardens in rural Enumclaw. Don’t worry, I did not go for the venison solution or even an electric fence. Instead, after 35 years of “sharing” my plants, we have finally fenced the woods and installed a tall gate across the driveway. No more deer ticks for me and I can finally rest easy and say “Not tonight deer!”


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