Garden Spaces: Deer? Oh, Dear...Try Herbs

Feeding deer is a bad idea; once they are attracted to an area, it’s difficult to keep them away.

| October/November 2008

  • Gayle Ford
  • PLANTING KEY: 1. Cinquefoil (POtentilla fruiticosa); 2. Horehound (Marrubium vulgare); 3. Goldenrod (Solidago spp.); 4. Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis); 5. Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum); 6. Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa); 7. Poppy (Papaver orientale); 8. Barberry (Berberis vulgaris); 9. Baby's-breath (Gypsophila paniculata); 10. French tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus 'Sativa'); 11. Lavender (Lavandula spp.); 12. Santolina (Santolina spp.); 13. Basil (Ocimum basilicum); 14. Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)

In many parts of the United States, deer feast on every garden they can find, chomping and stomping their way through whole neighborhoods with little regard for aesthetics and no sense of fair play. Some frustrated gardeners give up, concluding their carefully tended beds are merely a smorgasbord for the local animal life.

Herb gardeners have a big advantage, though. A fragrant herb garden is a confusing place for deer, which rely on their sense of smell to warn them of predators. Instead of raiding your herb garden, they’ll wander over to the fruit trees and tulips down the street, so you can appreciate these magnificent creatures from afar.

Natural Selection

Growing the right plants is your first line of defense against deer. While no plant is deer-proof when these animals are hungry, rosemary comes close. Its spiky leaves emit a cloud of fragrance that deer dislike. Other Mediterranean herbs, such as oregano, sage and thyme, have a similar effect.

The plants illustrated in this sunny garden have escaped browsing deer in different regions, but by all means experiment. If you love spring bulbs, tuck in some daffodils, which are more deer-resistant than tulips. Deer also will ignore many native ornamental grasses, which are lovely additions to any herb garden.

Tips and Tricks

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