Priceless parsnips

deer resistant vegetable garden

Fit for the Prince of parsnips – our new vegetable garden. (PLANS AVAILABLE – SEE BELOW)


"there are perfectly good stores where you can buy parsnips you know”…………

…….so commented  a  dear friend who couldn’t quite wrap her head around why we were spending many months and more than a few dollars to construct the Taj Mahal of vegetable gardens.

If you’ve been following this blog for a while you may recall my War of the Parsnips  in which I vowed to thwart the Duvall vole population from decimating my treasured vegetable – a family favorite for Thanksgiving dinner. I then made the mistake (according to my long suffering husband) of going on a garden tour and seeing the perfect design for a wildlife proof vegetable enclave.

Somehow it all begins with big machinery!

It began with a bobcat – the sort that churns up the grass big time, not the wild animal variety which would have created less of a mess. Trenches were dug to lay drainage pipe (we have ‘water issues’) and hardware cloth – that sturdy, fine metal mesh which keeps out burrowing critters, which was sunk about 3’ deep around the perimeter.

A steel mesh was buried underground to thwart the voles then pinned onto the insides of the lower boards


The two fences are spaced 5' apart which allows for various bed/path widths

Next was the fence itself – the ‘boing-boing’ fence as it has been nicknamed. You see we’re in deer country and deer easily ‘boing’ over anything less than an 8’ fence to munch on the other side. However the vegetable garden was already almost equal in square footage to our modest home so the last thing we wanted was a really tall enclosure which would dwarf the house in height too. So we have two 5’ fences, 5’ apart, the principle being that deer won’t jump when they’re not sure they have clearance on the other side. In otherwise they can’t ‘boing-boing’ in or over a 5’ span.

As for fencing material we chose hog wire galvanized panels that have smaller holes at the bottom and bigger holes at the top. Rabbits can’t get through the small holes and deer can’t get their muzzles through the bigger ones. A solid 12” base stops moles getting in at ground level. Actually numerous mole hills around the perimeter suggest that several have tried and got a serious headache.

Since the gate at each end is only 'single', the pergola adds the necessary additional height to prevent the deer jumping

The gates match the fence panels but have a pergola overhead – again keeping deer out but also giving me somewhere to add honeysuckle and of course looking great.

Inside the enclosure the raised beds are 12” high and 18” or 3’ deep depending upon their intended use. Each panel is screwed together so if one board rots it can easily be replaced without taking the whole box apart. Raspberry beds are 3’ wide for example but 18” is plenty for leeks and onions. The main pathways are a comfortable wheelbarrow width of 4’ with 2’ for smaller paths.

All the main beds are 3' wide – easy to reach from either side.


The only thing that isn’t working well? The vegetables! I hesitated to post this blog since I can’t show you a flourishing kitchen garden. Rather most beds are empty (we’ve only just finished construction) and the few veggies look pretty pathetic compared to other years thanks in part to our terrible spring. However it does mean you can see the structure which is perhaps more helpful.

One great benefit of the design is that I have plenty of sturdy fencing on which to espalier apples, train sweet peas or grow beans without additional frames.

Each panel frames a view – here our meadow. The sturdy panels make training vines easy.

The only thing left to do is add some gravel around the perimeter to keep the grass back and maintain a tidy edge. A bigger budget might allow for bricks or steel.

So while farmers markets and organic produce sections in the stores might offer parsnips for sale, nicely scrubbed and ready to cook, our parsnips are just minutes from garden to table and you’ll have to believe me when I tell you their flavor is superior to  any I’ve bought.


Thanks to the talents of my amazing husband  the voles can go hungry this year.

Purchase the Garden Plans

To get details of the downloadable plans for this garden and to purchase them click here


Our vegetable garden has been featured in Groundbreaking Food Gardens by Niki Jabbour as the 'Critter-proof Garden' (Storey, 2014). Explore this book using my affiliate link:

It was also a cover story in issue 170 (August 2016) of Fine Gardening magazine.

Andy and I also teach an online course for Craftsy 'Building a Raised Bed Garden' that you may be interested in.


More on Deer Resistant Gardening

My new book on Deer-Resistant Design (Timber Press, July 2019) showcases 13 gardens from across the United States that demonstrate how artistic design need not be compromised by the presence of deer. If you'd like to find out more and be notified when it releases be sure to sign up for my newsletter (you'll get a GREAT free gift as a thank you too!)



  1. Patrick on July 23, 2012 at 9:05 pm

    I so enjoyed this post and its magnificent garden. I'm so jealous. I'm sure it will be a joy for many years to come.

    • Karen Chapman on July 23, 2012 at 9:28 pm

      Thank you Patrick! One of the nice things about the layout is that I can easily use a portion for cut flowers – or grow a few extra veggies for the food bank. It' so much easier than having to step into a 10' x 10' in-ground bed too.

  2. Katie on July 24, 2012 at 8:12 am

    'Water Issues' – Ha!!! I can't wait to scavenge for my favorites!! The blueberries are quite tasty 🙂

    • Karen Chapman on July 24, 2012 at 9:01 pm

      So that's where the blueberries went! Guess I'm happy to feed my daughter as well as the food bank XX

  3. Stacy on July 24, 2012 at 9:50 am

    Karen, I am officially in awe. You parsnips will emerge gold-plated, I'm sure of it. Why does the thought of moles with headaches fill the heart with such a rosy glow?

    • Karen Chapman on July 24, 2012 at 9:02 pm

      Don't be in awe of the mess that occurred between the before and after Stacy!! Love your comments about the moles 🙂

  4. Jean/Jean's Garden on July 24, 2012 at 3:27 pm

    Oh my, that really is the Taj Mahal of vegetable gardens! It's beautiful. And even if you don't get many veggies this year, think of how satisfying the bounty from this beautiful veggie fortress is going to be next year! I join Stacy in awe.

    • Karen Chapman on July 24, 2012 at 9:04 pm

      Thank you Jean – I've passed on your kind words to my husband who may eventually forgive me for suggesting the design in the first place!

  5. Heike Perry on July 25, 2012 at 3:57 am

    Wish I had a vegetable garden like that, just for the looks, as I have given up growing vegetables years ago. I wanted to grow white asparagus, but our clay soil rotted all the roots eventually, the scorzonera stayed mostly in the soil, because I couldn't dig down deep enough, the birds, the mice and so on…
    Hopefully you did not actually fence in any of the creatures you wanted to be kept out. Brilliant effort, Karen, and my hat off to your husband

    • Karen Chapman on July 25, 2012 at 8:13 am

      Funny you should ask about fencing any animals inside- it was a concern! However with all the digging, churning and monster machines any creatures would have been long since frightened away. We hope!

  6. Nicole Brait on July 25, 2012 at 9:59 am

    Really, really lovely. I especially like the pergola. Again, I would like to repost your efforts on my blog. It is just so well laid out. You can tell a lot of thought went into it.

    • Karen Chapman on July 25, 2012 at 4:30 pm

      It always helps to start with someone else's ideas then tweak to suit! I'm really pleased with the way it's turned out – and if the sun shines long enough – to our parsnips this year!!

  7. Jennifer on July 27, 2012 at 5:55 am

    Hi Karen, I hope that you know that you are going to be responsible for a lot of heartbreak. There are going to be deer, rabbits, voles and all manner of creatures looking into that fortified vegetable garden with broken hearts and empty tummies! LOL But seriously, this is the most beautifully designed and executed vegetable garden I have seen in a long while. What an amazing job you and your husband did. It is actually nice to see it relatively bare as it gives the best idea about the overall structure and layout. It seems that you have thought about everything, including maintenance and upkeep. When I made my raised vegetable beds I had no idea that rabbits would be such a problem. Now, I am stuck going back in to add rabbit proofing after the fact.
    The only thing I might do differently is to add a flower border at least along the front rather than just adding gravel. This is not my own idea, but inspired by Brenda's garden. See her Nova Scotia garden on her blog here: In Bren's garden, the flowers soften the whole and make the entrance even more impressive.

    • Karen Chapman on July 27, 2012 at 8:52 am

      Yes Jennifer, my love of Beatrix Potter waned somewhat after watching Peter Rabbit and siblings enjoying my lettuce and carrots!

      I'm adding flower beds to the left side of the garden (as you look at it from the aspect in the top photo. Two beds will flank a path that will lead from the patio doors to the barn both to look nice from the house but also to attract pollinators. Right now that area is only in the dream phase!

  8. Cindy on July 27, 2012 at 4:30 pm

    Karen that is the nicest veg garden I've ever seen! It reminds me of some I've seen up in the San Juans where deer outnumber people. I'm sure it was a ton of work, but worth it in the end, I bet. Looks like a real pleasure to garden in.

    • Karen Chapman on July 27, 2012 at 5:58 pm

      It is a real pleasure to work in – everything is so accessible! With drip irrigation to all the beds as well as a faucet inside the garden even watering is easy.

  9. debsgarden on July 29, 2012 at 1:12 pm

    Oh, my! I am impressed! What a beautiful design, perfect in form and function. Up front preparation and planning, while labor intensive and often expensive, always pay off in the long run. Your veggies should be very secure in their Taj Mahal. Compliments to your husband and to you for the great design..

    • Karen Chapman on July 29, 2012 at 8:51 pm

      Thanks Deb. I just have to prove my veggie growing capabilities match the carpentry skill!

  10. Susan on July 29, 2012 at 5:58 pm

    I am so impressed! You just upped the ante on the Critter Wars! It is beautiful and I so hope your harvests are huge in the future. We wage war with squirrels, rabbits, voles and the occasional raccoon and groundhog. We fenced in our entire yard to keep out the rabbits. We used rabbit guard with smaller holes on the bottom and larger ones on top. The rabbits went through the top! We've found they can climb quite well and observed one topping a four ft. fence. Plant enough to share with the occasional varmint that breaks through your perimeter then consider guard towers and barbed wire ! LOL!

    • Karen Chapman on July 29, 2012 at 8:50 pm

      Susan, I'm still laughing at the sight of a rabbit atop a 4' fence! Where is that camera when you need it? I read this out to my husband who is now researching electric fences, strobe lights, sirens………..

      • Susan on July 30, 2012 at 4:30 am

        We even considered motion activated cameras, machine guns, heat seeking missiles and land mines…quite a leap for a peace loving gardener! I just thought of the quote. " If you build it, they will come." 🙂

        • Karen Chapman on July 30, 2012 at 1:39 pm

          Sounds like Beatrix Potter meets Disney!