“The Curious Gardener” presents A Book Give Away this Month–
To enter sign up for our “Curious Gardener” newsletter and you’ll be automatically entered to win one of two copies we’re giving away. If you’ve already signed up for our newsletter, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll enter you. We’ll announce the winner in our next newsletter, out in early December.
Conventional wisdom suggests that most of our favorite plants are also the favorites of our four-legged friends. But Ruth Rogers Clausen shows us there are plenty of beautiful plants to choose from that deer don’t usually go for. That’s why I love this book.
Ruth Clausen’s book, published by Timber Press, has a novel rating system for plants that gives a more nuanced view of the subject. A rating of 10 is the most deer resistant, but Ruth Rogers Clausen also includes plants with ratings of 7, 8 and 9, and tells you what level of (minor) nibbling you might expect if you choose those plants. Plants below a 7 are considered mostly ‘deer candy,’ which earn a mention in the book as plants to avoid.
Ruth admits that deer do not always follow the rules and when they’re really hungry all bets are off. So she gives other ideas for deterring them, such as landscaping schemes and plant combinations that work. For instance, she notes that deer will handily jump over a fence less than 8’ high, but they don’t like to jump into a space if they don’t see a safe landing point, so shrubs can be planted to block their view of the inside of your garden. Deer also don’t feel comfortable jumping from level to level so, while sloping ground is not a problem, terracing and berms can be off putting and will deter them from entering an area. When it comes to plant combinations, put a border of something they don’t like (such as boxwood and lady’s mantle) in front of plants that are not as deer resistant. As long as they can’t easily reach over the front border the plants in back will be relatively safe.
Ruth devotes two pages of text plus photos to each of the 50 deer resistant plants that she features. She makes the case that deer resistant plants can be just as showy as the deer candy plants, and even includes Peony on her “50 most beautiful” list, although it gets a rating of 7-10 which means “deer sometimes nip off flower buds but leave foliage alone”. One of my favorite shrubs, purple beautyberry (Callicarpa dichotoma) is on her list, with a rating of 8-10. It’s also nice to see an evergreen that deer seldom browse: Russian cypress.
For each featured plant she gives growing and cultural information, design ideas and companion plant suggestions, which are also deer resistant plants. She includes color photographs taken by nature photographer Alan Detrick. Plants are grouped by Annuals, Perennials, Shrubs, Ferns, Bulbs, Herbs and Grasses. All plants are suitable for USDA Zones 3-7 (except the Annuals she includes).
Ruth offers some rules of thumb about plants that deer generally don’t like. Fuzzy-leaved plants such as Lamb’s Ear; aromatic plants such as sage, rosemary, ornamental onions, and lilacs; tough, leathery and fibrous foliage such as is found on ferns, ornamental grasses, and pachysandra; spiny or bristly plants such as yucca, rugosa roses, and barberry.
Recently I interviewed Ruth Clausen and asked her how she selected plants to include in her book. Her criteria were plants that are readily available and easy to grow; deer resistant in the 7-10 rating system she devised; and plants that she has personal experience with. She consulted with other horticulturists and growers around the country as well.
As a budding landscape designer, I find this book a helpful reference for selecting plants for clients with a deer problem (that would include everyone in our region who doesn’t have a deer fence around the perimeter of their property). For one client I’m looking for ground covers to fill a large space that deer won’t browse. I find three in the book I like, and they can all work together: Bigroot Geranium (Geranium macrorrhizum), Japanese Hakone grass (Hakonechloa) and lily-of-the-valley.
As I consider Ruth’s guidelines I am reminded of the spiny yucca in my garden that gets eaten down to the ground each winter, even though it isn’t supposed to be attractive to deer. New growth always comes back, but it just goes to show that there are exceptions to every rule when it comes to deer. As a user friendly guide to help me live with deer, though, I have not found a better resource than this book.
Remember to enter to win a copy of this book, sign up for our “Curious Gardener” newsletter and you’ll be automatically entered (this link will take you to our home page with a sign up form on the lower left of the screen. Scroll down). If you’ve already signed up for our newsletter, send me an email at dwinslow@womanswork and I’ll enter you. We’ll announce the winner in our next newsletter, out in early December.
–Dorian Winslow, November 8, 2013
About Ruth Rogers Clausen
Ruth Rogers Clausen’s Perennials for American Gardens received the 1990 Quill and Trowel Award from the Garden Writers Association. She has also written for the American Garden guide series: Perennial Gardening with the New York Botanical Garden, Annual Gardening with the Missouri Botanical Garden, and Trees with the Chicago Botanic Garden. Her Dreamscaping was published by Hearst Books.