How To Ban Bambi

By George Graine, Fairfax Master Gardeners
“Dealing with these garden marauders requires a varied strategy and vigilance”—Carole Ottensen

Book CoverJust the title of a new book, “Deer-Resistant Design: Fence-Free Gardens that Thrive Despite the Deer” by Karen Chapman (Timber Press, 2019), should excite anyone with a garden faced with this marauder of fauna. Bambi et al are not your friends in the garden! The author explains that her “book has been written to encourage and inspire homeowners just like you with stories and photographs of mature landscapes that have withstood the test of time and the taste-testing of deer.”

The point of the 13 gardens included in this book is that working with a restricted assortment of plants does not mean one has to compromise on beauty or vision. If you are deer challenged, then this book is for you. Although you can find many lists of deer-resistant plants in books and state extension web sites, the question still remains. Now what? A list is still a list, and it does not have color photos or any explanations. This is only a starting point. The trick is to know what to do, that is, how to create a deer-resistant garden design that you can install or have installed.

Another way of looking at the problem is to develop not only a strategy but a reality about how to avoid a deer problem in the first place. The subtitle of the book emphasizes having a fence-free garden. For example, crisscrossing fishing line over a pond tends to keep out large birds such as herons that would make you scream if they caught one of your prized koi fish. For a landscape, a similar technique can be tried on your property by tying multiple strands of fishing line in parallel lines to trees or poles. This is a very humane way to exclude deer from your property, and it is practically invisible. Hopefully, after this minimal effort and expense, you will have protected any plants that need to be protected.

Of course, you can employ other ingenious methods of deer-proofing, but you need to keep in mind county and city fence ordinances and even homeowner association regulations regarding fence height and materials. But…the book under discussion is all about fence-free gardens, so fencing is not a problem that should be considered.

Some plants are considered to be reliably deer-resistant but you cannot always depend of this. The deer do not read plant tags. Even your favorite plant is likely to be “sampled” or, in the worst case, entirely eaten. It happens! The fact remains that no plant is absolutely deer-proof. If a deer is hungry enough, especially when there is a limited supply of available food, then all bets are off. Typical plant l