Gardeners that share their space with deer don't have the luxury of being plant snobs. If it thrives and is left alone by troublesome critters we NEED to learn to love that plant – and buy more in every color and size! (Rather like finding the perfect T-shirt or pair of sandals).

So when Proven Winners asked what I'd like to test this year I knew I wanted to explore varieties of previously grown plants that were at least new to me, in an effort to expand my planting palette in my deer- and rabbit-plagued acreage in Duvall, Washington. But I'm a tough sell – and they know that! So I'll be ruthless in my assessment, knowing that my honest feedback will ultimately help both Proven Winners and you the retail customer make educated choices when you shop for plants.

Here's the caveat though; you can't assess a perennials true potential the first year. It really needs three years to establish a strong root system and reach maturity. So while I will be making an initial assessment later this year, it will take longer than that to really know if they are as winter hardy, drought tolerant and critter-resistant as they claim to be.

NOTE: Proven Winners has not paid me to write about these plants.

Annual

Silver Bullet wormwood

I'm a huge fan of low-growing wormwood (Artemisia ). I love the felted silver foliage as much as their ability to withstand deer, rabbits and drought. So when I spotted a new introduction, Silver Bullet, in the Proven Winners line up recently I was excited to try it.

Here's what they're saying

  • Blooms sparsely if at all so no need for trimming
  • Grows 6-10 inches tall and 12-30 inches wide
  • Thrives in full sun
  • Use in containers or the landscape

What I'll be looking for

  • Does it form a nice dense foliage mat?
  • Is it really rabbit resistant (because trust me – that WILL be tested!)
  • Is it as good as or better than other varieties?
  • Does it grow true to stated size?

How I'm using it

  • As a groundcover to fill in and knit together taller perennials and shrubs
  • The cool silver tone will temper the hotter shades of burgundy, coral and gold in the test border

Perennial

Serendipity ornamental onion

Photo courtesy Proven Winners

If you like ornamental onions (Allium) the chances are you've heard of the summer blooming variety Milennium. In fact it is featured on the cover of my book Deer-Resistant Design! So what is different about Serendipity? I asked that same question. Here's what Proven Winners told me;

Here's what they're saying

  • Serendipity has glaucous blue foliage while Milennium has green
  • The foliage on Milennium can start to brown during flowering – Serendipity is much slower to do this.
  • Grows 15-20 inches tall and 10-15 inches wide.
  • Thrives in full sun
  • Deer-resistant, rabbit-resistant, and drought tolerant
  • Hardy in zones 4-8
  • Thrives in poor or average soil

What I'll be looking for

  • Since I grow both Serendipity and Milennium I can do a side by side comparison and see if I agree with the above
  • Is it really rabbit resistant? To what degree?
  • Does it self seed and spread politely or aggressively?

How I'm using it

  • Two are planted in a contemporary container in a simple, monochromatic scheme. It's too early to be photographed yet but I've paired the Alliums with Denim 'n Lace Russian Sage (see below for more on this variety), Montana Moss juniper, Diamond Mountain Euphorbia (an annual) and a lovely silvery sageleaf willow called Iceberg Alley.
  • I've also added some to one of my testing beds near the patio which is hunted ruthlessly by rabbits….we'll see how it fares! So far, after two weeks, a few leaves have been nibbled but it's mostly OK. In this bed it is joined by other sun loving annuals and perennials and the soil is fertile but tends to be heavy.

Denim 'n Lace Russian Sage

Photo courtesy Proven Winners

This variety was introduced a few years ago and several colleagues have said how much they like it, but it's the first time I have tried it myself (although I do grow the species Russian sage). The problems with the species include (in my garden at least) that it gets so big as to be floppy and self seeds like crazy – which isn't really a problem so much as an inconvenience. Denim 'n Lace has a much finer foliage texture and should behave in a more ladylike manner.

Here's what they're saying

  • Grows 28-32 inches tall and 34-38 inches wide (smaller than the species but not a tiddly dwarf)
  • Hardy in zones 5-9
  • Drought and deer resistant
  • Tolerant of poor, dry soil

What I'll be looking for

  • Is it as strong and reliable as the species
  • Does it really stay the size given or is it as big as the species?
  • Is the flowering as good as the species?

How I'm using it

  • Two are in the contemporary container mentioned above
  • Others are in my testing bed by the patio so I can keep an eye on them!

Cat's Pajamas catmint

Photo courtesy Proven Winners

I'm not a fan of dwarf anything so this is going to have to work hard to win me over. It isn't a new variety in the Proven Winners lineup, but it is new to me as I've previously grown Six Hills Giant, Walker's Low, and Little Titch, (the latter was the weakest grower for me and being a dwarf wasn't really a favorite). Catmint (Nepeta) generally thrives in my non-irrigated garden, attracts gazillions of bees, makes a lovely cut flower and is mercifully ignored by deer and rabbits.

Here's what they're saying

  • Grows 12-14 inches tall and 18-20 inches wide
  • Deer, rabbit, and drought tolerant
  • Hardy in zones 3-8
  • Needs full sun
  • Can be sheared to promote rebloom

Here's what I'm looking for

  • Would this make a suitable edging plant alongside a patio or pathway?
  • Does it bloom as prolifically as taller varieties?
  • Does it splay open as it matures?
  • Will it come back reliably each year?
  • Will it self-sow into the gravel paths and be a nuisance?
  • Will I like it – or leave it?

How I'm using it

  • I've placed it at the edges of a border alongside paths to see how it does.

Pink Profusion salvia

Photo courtesy Proven Winners

I have quite a few different perennial sage (Salvia) and like some more than others. It will be interesting to see how this compares. Again, this variety is not new on the market but is new to my garden.

Here's what they're saying

  • Grows 14-16 inches tall and 16-20 inches wide
  • Can be trimmed to promote reblooming
  • Magenta-pink flowers
  • Hardy in zones 3-8
  • Thrives in full sun
  • Deer, rabbit and drought tolerant

Here's what I'm looking for

  • How is it different to Rose Marvel which I especially like? The color is the same. Does one rebloom better than the other?
  • Will it bulk out nicely as it matures?
  • Will it self-seed (as Rose Marvel does)?

How I'm using it

  • I've added these to my front garden to mingle with white gaura, blue Caradonna sage and Rozanne geranium. The slugs had a feast (they've been terrible this year) and the initial blooms are gone, but I'll see how it does over time.

Crested Surf Japanese painted fern

Photo courtesy Proven Winners

Although they die down in winter, Japanese painted ferns add such wonderful color and texture to the shade garden I really don't mind. I have several named varieties, but Crested Surf is a new one to me and new on the market this year. I find I often have to spray emerging fronds with rabbit repellent in spring but the deer leave them alone.

Here's what they're saying

  • Grows 20-22 inches tall and 28 to 30 inches wide
  • Thrives in part shade/shade in moisture retentive soil
  • Hardy in zones 3-8

Here's what I'm looking for

  • Will it look beautiful – or just weird and deformed??
  • How is the color balance – to grey? Or nicely silvered?

How I'm using it

  • Two are in a container with coleus
  • Two are in the shady woodland border mingling with hellebores – and are vulnerable to rabbits, deer and more.

Have you grown any of these so far? How have they done for you?

PS If you found this post helpful you might also like my recent report on 8 new deer-resistant shrubs I'm testing.

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2 Comments

  1. Tiffany on June 30, 2020 at 5:10 pm

    where to get these?



    • Karen Chapman on July 7, 2020 at 3:00 pm

      Links are given to the Proven Winners site for online ordering or request from any independent garden center or nursery.