conifers

What does deer-RESISTANT mean?

What does deer-RESISTANT mean?

If you share your garden with deer, you’ll be familiar with the term, and when shopping for plants have undoubtedly asked nursery staff for assistance in choosing things that are deer-resistant. Yet what does that really mean?

Let’s be clear: it does NOT mean deer-PROOF.

With that out of the way let’s dive a bit deeper so you can make informed choices when choosing plants and strategic decisions when siting them.

Start here:

My go-to reference for whether or not a plant is deer-resistant is the Rutger’s website. The great thing about this site is that it is backed by considerable professional experience and observations and lists a plants LEVEL of resistance (more about that in a moment). The downside is that they are based in New Jersey, so there is some significant variation in their observations and mine here in Washington state. It is, however, an excellent place to start.

Understanding levels of deer-resistance.

It isn’t black or white – there are levels of resistance that it is helpful to understand. The Rutger’s website site uses the following grading system:

A = Rarely Damaged
B = Seldom Severely Damaged
C = Occasionally Severely Damaged
D = Frequently Severely Damaged

They recommend selecting plants that fall into categories A or B if you share your garden with deer, unless you are willing to protect plants with fences or sprays.

But what does “seldom severely damaged” look like?

Let me share a few case studies from my own garden to give you an idea.

New Guinea impatiens (annual)

Although this species (Impatiens hawkeri) is not listed on the website, both Impatiens balsimina and Impatiens walleriana are listed as level C, so one could assume a similar rating for New Guinea impatiens.

I have one New Guinea impatiens in a container design along the primary deer route. It has been there for 8 weeks without any damage whatsoever.

How it USED to look!

Two nights ago this happened…

So, yes the damage is occasional, and yes it was severe – but they haven’t destroyed the whole plant, just taken off about 90% of the flowers! One squirt with the deer repellent spray would have avoided even that but it has never been eaten before this year and I’ve grown them for at least three years in containers exposed to the deer… (i.e. ” VERY occasional damage”….). The good news is that everything else in the pot was untouched! Knowing (and seeing) that, will you include these and spray them – or avoid them entirely?

Sekkan-sugi Japanese cedar (conifer)

We began to develop a large privacy screen about 7 years ago. It includes conifers, deciduous trees, broadleaf evergreen shrubs,  and grasses.

The privacy screen acts as a buffer between ourselves and the neighboring property

In the center of the photo above you can see a beautiful golden Japanese cedar, (Cryptomeria japonica ‘Sekkan-sugi’). When it was still quite young the deer did one of their nightly stealth raids and this was the result:

Rutting damage

They didn’t eat the tree – but they did damage it by rutting against it. Thankfully the conifer coped with the damage and seemed to grow out of it over the next year, so I’d agree with the rating of B. I would advise also fencing the tree when young to get it established.

Corkscrew hazel (deciduous shrub)

I love the twisted foliage, stems, and catkins on the Red Majestic corkscrew hazel (Corylus avellana ‘Red Majestic’)

Nibbled stems on my corkscrew hazel

If you only saw the above image, you’d be tempted to think the entire shrub was a loss, but that isn’t the case. See it in the broader context:

Bigger picture – NOW can you see the damage?

The shrub is at a turning point in the path – and on the major deer-highway. It was easy to taste a few convenient leaves but they clearly didn’t deem it tasty enough to devour more.

That being the case, I’d agree with the Rutger’s rating of B (“seldom severely damaged”). Plus the shrub has been here for three years and I think this is only the second time I’ve noticed any damage at all. So will you choose to grow it?

Now what?

Now you can make informed choices about the plants you select, assess your level of tolerance for damage, and decide where to place these plants in the landscape. For example, I’d suggest any major focal points and specimen plants are always selected from A or B. If you really want to try something listed as C or D then at least set it farther back into the border so damage is less noticeable and don’t use that plant for an entire hedge!

Footnote 1 – Rutgers vs. Karen

Where I differ from Rutgers:

Heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica cvs..) are totally decimated by deer in my garden (D+!). Rutgers lists it as C – which I think is a change as I swear they used to list it as B! (In Texas and North Carolina it is actually considered at least B)

Gold dust plant (Aucuba japonica) – in WA they are C or even D. Rutgers lists it as B.

Footnote 2 – What Rutgers misses

Arkansas bluestar (Amsonia hubrichtii) is not on the Rutgers list – I would rate it as A, never having had any damage whatsoever in 7 years. It is also my favorite perennial of all time!

Telekia (Telekia speciosa) is a large, shade-loving perennial with steroidal foliage and yellow daisies. It takes a few years to outwit the slugs here in the PNW but mine now reliably grows to 5-6′ tall each year despite deer, rabbits and our over-abundance of molluscs. I’d confidently rate it as A since the deer walk past it every day. (Not listed on Rutger’s)

Gaura (Gaura sp.) is also conspicuous by its absence from the Rutgers list. Most definitely A++ here.

A special gift for you!

if you’d like to spice up your deer-resistant plant selection, you’ll enjoy this  list of 15 FUN Deer-Resistant plants that I’ve created. It is  FREE for my newsletter subscribers. Just sign up here:

Last Needle Hanging

Last Needle Hanging

Seen above in better days….

The conifer is failing

…but sadly a key plant in this scene has now become an embarrassing eyesore.  Time to take action!

Out with the Old

My Feelin’ Blue deodar cedar (Cedrus deodara ‘Feelin’ Blue), carefully placed to the left of the cabin, started to feel a bit “off” last year – and turned a dull olive green. This year she is decidedly brown. I could wait  until the last needle drops or just face the inevitable and dig her out. This is a prime location, visible from the home, the patio and even when driving onto the property so it’s not place for a Charlie Brown. I also painted the door of the cabin to match the conifer….. Geez, did she not understand that before she started with her chameleon attitude?

Not the look I was going for!

But what to replace her with? I like the idea of a conifer still, it needs to be low and spreading (so the cabin and orange container behind it are not obscured, it needs to be deer resistant, tolerate full sun, be drought tolerant once established – and be BLUE. The soil isn’t great in that spot. The native soil is clay and while it has been amended I suspect the water table is quite high which may mean soggy winter soil and be the reason for the demise of the deodar cedar whose sensitivities were upset by the short-term foot bath.

In with the New

Love the visible white stomata on the needles of the Spreading Star Pacific fir

I’ve chosen a selection of a native fir – the Spreading Star Pacific fir (Abies amabilis ‘Spreading Star’). I love the deep blue-green needles that radiate around the stems and the distinctive silver-white undersides which add a shimmer effect. It will grow to 6′ wide x 3′ tall; about the same size as the failed cedar that is being removed.

Regarding deer resistance, I’ve been fortunate with deer and fir interactions so far, the only casualty being rutting against a Korean fir, so I’m fairly optimistic on that front but may spray the first couple of winters to give it a chance to get established.

I’m not sure how it will fare in my soil, except that I have two other fir in the same border that are doing well so again am cautiously optimistic.

Temporary Design Assistance!

Silver Falls dichondra is often used as a trailing silver-leaved annual

 

The only problem is that while it will eventually grow to fill the space, right now it’s tiny! It would be easy to fill up the space with a wild assortment of bits and bobs but I want this to be a distinct focal point to anchor this bed and not get lost in a cacophony of botanical treasures. I’m therefore going to surround it with a temporary silver carpet of Silver Falls dichondra.

I like the silver color echo between the fir and the groundcover, and also the difference in leaf shape and texture

The small, metallic silver leaves will accentuate the color of the conifer and act like a series of floodlights lighting up the star. I know this is only an annual for me, but it’s a fairly cheap, short-term solution that won’t spoil my overall design.

Early results

The new look – day 1

Yes it IS small, especially when I’m used to seeing the larger conifer, but I like the direction this is going in now. Framing the fir with the silver groundcover really sets it off as I’d hoped. And I love it with the door!

Resources

If you love conifers, you might like this book. My copy is VERY well thumbed!

This post contains affiliate links

 

Over the Garden Wall

Over the Garden Wall

It’s been a busy week as I’ve been hard at work on a special project for you! (More about that later…)

Are you curious to see what’s happening in your neighbor’s garden? Do you sneak a peek while out walking the dog? Don’t blush – we all do it!

Well I know I’m rather off the beaten track so I took a few photos this weekend to show you what’s happening.

It was early morning when I ventured out. The sun was just moments from making its appearance; that magical, ephemeral time of day.

Misty layers of flowers and foliage

Most of my garden borders have a sunset” color scheme of coral, orange, magenta, gold and deepest burgundy. It’s a rich color palette that is vibrant in every season. In spring, the rhododendrons and Exbury azaleas (most of which I inherited) have their shining moment. My challenge is to find ways to showcase their fleeting glory – by partnering them with beautiful foliage of course.

Working with pink blooms

Burgundy leaves pair so easily with pink flowers.

A “no name” Rhodie Playing off the burgundy foliage of a new Pixie Japanese maple

Low lying branches flirt with Blackberry Ice heuchera

A golden full moon maple provides a brighter contrast

Golden yellows need bold partners

The deciduous Exbury azaleas are some of my favorite shrubs – I love the fall color as much as the “in your face” spring blooms.

The large golden flowered shrub below was here when we moved in although we relocated it with help from a bobcat! Today it joins company with a golden conifer and large Rose Glow barberry.

Forever Goldie golden arborvitae reinforces the color scheme

The wispy shrub with red flowers in the background is a sterile form of Scotch broom. It is an old Proven Winners variety. Love that it is deer resistant and drought tolerant.

Close up of the flowers on my sterile Scotch broom – so pretty

Foliage Highlights

Foliage is key in my garden and I love the way a Double Play Gold spirea and Mountain Fire andromeda frame these mango colored azaleas, one of the Northern Light series.

New growth on a spirea and andromeda  echoes an orange-toned azalea

Mercifully barberries are not invasive in the PNW, because I love them for their deer resistance and wonderful range of colors.

Limoncello barberry and a blue pine

Limoncello barberry can be tough to place in the garden as the color goes beyond bold to almost garish. I’ve found blue and silver are the best companions and love it with a columnar blue pine in the background.

Lemoncello has crazy attitude!

Red barberries are much easier to work with, however. I have several clusters of the dwarf Golden Ruby barberry and am especially pleased with this pairing with a dark leaf euphorbia.

Golden Ruby barberry and Ruby Glow euphorbia

Those magenta colors seem to be everywhere right now! An elderly gentleman (Jerry Munroe, that some may remember from his Kenmore nursery) gave me these primroses many years ago. When we moved to this house I brought them with me.

Moisture-loving Japanese primroses and Rodger’s flower – ideal companions on our stream bank

Love how they play off the oversized Rodgersia foliage!

And deep in the garden….

So what else have I been up to? Well I’ve been working hard putting together a new online workshop for you; Designing Abundant Containers. This will totally change how you plan, shop and design your containers gardens! It will launch any day now and be offered to my newsletter subscribers. (Not a subscriber? No problem – you can sign up here.)

Here’s a behind-the-scenes look  from one of the videos. We needed to check that when I moved about I would remain inside the frame of the primary camera. Andy (my husband who was manning all three cameras plus audio) asked to “see what (I ) could do”……

 

Never take yourself too seriously, right?!

 

 

 

Reduce your Water Bill with these PNW Survivors

As the seasons change it's time to reflect on what we can do better next time

As the seasons change it’s time to reflect on what we can do better next time

How was your water bill this summer? $200? $300? Over $500? Was it higher than usual and worse than expected? While the cause could be anything from a leaky toilet to an inefficient washing machine, chances are your landscape may have been the main culprit.

Whether you have an automatic irrigation system or hand water using a hose, every drop costs you money if you use a public water source. (For those of us with wells, the issues are somewhat different: I have to minimize summer watering to be sure our well doesn’t run dry and impact our neighbors as well as ourselves!)

After three months without any measurable rain here in Duvall, Washington, and temperatures consistently in the 80’s and 90’s with several days over 100′, my garden struggled. I could hand water some areas but many plants were left to their own devices  because they were beyond the reach of my hose and/or available time. My clay soil bakes as dry as a cracked riverbed in summer although a top dressing of Fertil Mulch in spring does help conserve moisture to some degree.

While the majority of the plants in my garden have been selected for drought tolerance (as well as deer resistance)  some have done better than others, especially as this is the second such extreme summer in a row. Some varieties of  barberries and spirea started to defoliate by mid-August for example, and all my pines were showing signs of stress by September. Exbury azaleas turned crispy and shed leaves last month and my poor katsura tree (which is most definitely NOT drought tolerant) has been dropping leaves since August. Others surprised me by their ‘can do’ attitude and those are the survivors that I’ll share with you here, focusing in this post on trees and shrubs. I’ll cover perennials and annuals next time.

The plants highlighted below received NO supplemental water between mid-June and mid-September. They are all planted in the ground (not containers) and were not fertilized in any way. Consider replacing some of your thirstier garden plants such as rhododendrons and hydrangeas to save water, energy and money next year!

Trees

Forever Goldie golden arborvitae

Forever Goldie golden arborvitae, shines year round in my garden

Forever Goldie golden arborvitae (Thuja plicata ‘Forever Goldie’), shines year round in my garden

I have two of these in the garden, one planted five years ago and the other two years ago. Both look as fabulous today as they did in May – no signs of leaf scorch or stress whatsoever and shining like a beacon in the garden. Highly recommended! Details and order here  or ask for it at your local nursery.

Japanese snowbell

Fragrant bell-shaped blooms dangle from the branches of Japanese snowbell in June

Fragrant bell-shaped blooms dangle from the branches of Japanese snowbell in June

It never even occurs to me to water my Japanese snowbell (Styrax japonica), yet it had the best floral display ever this June and has shown no signs of premature leaf drop or stress since then. You need to include this beautiful small tree for the fragrant spring blooms alone!

Other trees worth mentioning

My well established Japanese maples, Hinoki cypress, river birch, Armstrong maples, weeping willow and Persian ironwoods all did well too. Presumably their root systems are deep enough to reach moisture.

Shrubs

Hibiscus

Blooming their socks off, healthy leaves and generally looking fabulous, I have a few different varieties of hibiscus in two locations, both planted last summer. Those that received NO summer water look as good as those which got a weekly soaking – lesson learned!

Pictured here are Orchid Satin from Proven Winners and the variegated Summer Ruffle from First Editions. Click on the links for more details.

Bluebeard

Beyond Blue is a compact variety of bluebeard from Proven Winners

Beyond Midnight is a compact variety of bluebeard from Proven Winners

I had a new variety to test for Proven Winners this year: Beyond Midnight. Since it was only planted this May I did water it just twice during the entire summer but have included it here because it looks so fabulous! An abundance of blooms, healthy leaves and lots of new growth – I’m impressed. Click on the link for details

Aphrodite sweetshrub

The wine-red flwoers of Aphrodite sweetshrub show up well against brighter foliage such as Golden Spirit smoke bush

The wine-red flowers of Aphrodite sweetshrub show up well against brighter foliage such as Golden Spirit smoke bush

One of those ‘test’ shrubs from Proven Winners that I tucked into a far border and promptly forgot about! Well beyond the reach of any water source and too far away to lug a watering can, this Aphrodite sweetshrub is a real survivor! It has had blooms non-stop from May until now, has grown several feet in width and height and shows no sign of having endured a tough summer. A winner on all accounts! Details here

Weigela

With many varieties in multiple locations, some planted five years ago and others just this spring, I can tell you these may actually be the most drought tolerant of all my shrubs. Not a single plant looks stressed regardless of age or location.

Pictured here are Variegata, Maroon Swoon (Bloomin’ Easy), Spilled Wine (Proven Winners), Magical Fantasy, Strobe (Bloomin’ Easy) and Midnight Wine (Proven Winners). Click on the links for details.

Smoke bushes

Like weigela, I have four unique varieties of smoke bushes (Cotinus sp.) in five different locations, ranging in maturity from two to five years in the ground. While a few lower leaves did drop, overall the shrubs look fabulous.

Pictured here are Golden Spirit, Grace, Royal Purple and Old Fashioned. Click on the links for details. Note: I coppice my mature shrubs to 2′ tall in sprung to keep them to a dense shrub form, sacrificing the smoke (flowers) in favor of larger leaves.

Pearl Glam beautyberry

Photo courtesy: Proven Winners

Pearl Glam beautyberry. Photo courtesy: Proven Winners

Another winner from Proven Winners on so many levels! While they have not put on a lot of growth this year, the two one-year-old shrubs have did bloom and berry well, and still look good without watering. Details here

Gro-Lo sumac

Gro-Lo forms a dense carpet of attratcive foliage

Gro-Lo sumac forms a dense carpet of attractive foliage

I may have watered this a couple of times during the summer, but only because I happened to pass by it with hose in hand on my way to thirstier plants in the same bed! I am confident that this is a keeper as far as low-water use goes. Gro-Lo sumac (Rhus aromatica ‘Gro-Lo’) has outstanding fall color to look forward to also.

Other shrubs worth mentioning.

Other shrubs that did well without any water, and which are evergreen include Rheingold arborvitae, Goshiki Japanese holly, Oregon grape, abelia (mostly semi-evergreen varieties for me) and Rainbow leucothoe.

 

I hope these insights will help you plan for a lower maintenance and less costly summer in 2018!

Further inspiration and reading

My two books include many combinations featuring the plants mentioned here. Although neither publication focuses strictly on drought tolerance, they both indicate the watering needs of each plant.

Also explore the following titles, especially if you live in a different climate:

(Note that these affiliate links save YOU money – and earn me a few pennies too.)

Small Garden Re-Imagined: Buffalo Style

Do you like garden tours?

I try to go to a few local ones each year, but this summer I had the opportunity to attend what can only be described as a garden tour on steroidsGarden Walk Buffalo. More than 400 private and public gardens in Buffalo, NY are open for self guided tours – FREE  – to the public, each July. Each garden is different – some are whimsical, some appear to be a set borrowed from Hollywood, others feature native plants, but all are creative, and the open arms concept is encouraging a greater  sense of pride in this community.

While I didn’t manage to see all 400 gardens I did visit 15, along with 350 or so of my friends attending the Garden Writer’s Association symposium- and this was one of my favorites. If I was giving awards this would receive the award for Best Design as it makes such wonderful use of a small lot, adding function while reducing maintenance, and significantly increasing the home’s value.

Front Garden

The yellow signs welcome visitors from across the country - this is an event you NEED to go to!

The yellow signs welcome visitors from across the country – this is an event you NEED to go to! Garden Walk Buffalo

A peek at the neighbor’s garden to the right will help you understand the ‘before‘ – a postage stamp sized lawn, concrete path to the steps and a driveway. Possibly a shrub or two.

This is a stunning transformation that makes the space look much larger, has oodles of curb appeal, enhances the home and creates a usable space. It was designed by Joe Han, The English Gardener.

The raised, block planter enables the homeowner to have year-round color (boxwood) and structure. No more soil washing off into the street – the slope is managed beautifully by the retaining wall which doubles as casual seating thanks to the capstone.

IMG_5749 A central urn invites seasonal drama, while being surrounded by perennials that cope with Buffalo’s harsh winters. The clipped boxwood hedge gives a sense of order and an important connection to the strong rectilinear architecture of the home and the medallion detail on the portico.

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Each corner of the planter is filled with sweetly fragrant alyssum backed by silver foliage. How often have you heard me remind you of the importance of foliage?!

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Tucked into a shady corner a simple fountain brings the element of sound to this delightful patio, also enjoyed and appreciated from the front porch.

IMG_5744 A dark charcoal border around the lighter grey patio emphasizes and defines the unique shape, making the space seem even larger than it really is.

Planted window boxes and urns add the finishing touch, their color scheme connecting to the larger raised planter while adding drama to the dark porch railings and wide staircase.

As you can imagine, I was excited to see the back garden and wondered how the designer and homeowner had made use of that space….

Back Garden

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As anticipated, it was stunning both in its simplicity and in its details. Remarkably it was designed by the homeowners themselves, Don McCall and Jeff Lach.

Window boxes on the second story take the garden up high, the color scheme repeating that of the front and back landscapes. Notice how the two units read as one – they are mirror images of one another.

A small lawn suggests a calming space, bordered by billowing, white peegee hydrangeas and grasses, while a hibiscus introduces the lavender accent note. A small deck next to the home is just one sitting area of three, however.

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At the back of the lot is this charming dining space, the clean-lined furnishings echoing the contemporary aesthetic of the overall design. Overhead ambient lighting is possible thanks to a convenient branch. There was another seating nook opposite (where I was standing to take the photograph). The only trouble with garden tours is PEOPLE! Yes, there were folks sitting in the seating area – of course – so it didn’t seem right to take a photo.

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While there are flowers in this garden, it is primarily a textural foliage feast – my kind of space. I loved this monochromatic dance between the weeping pine and hosta.

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This different angle helps you see the sliver of lawn, narrow gravel pathway and wonderful addition of a Japanese maple. Truly this garden is a jewel.

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Every detail was considered – love the repetition of these three simple pots on the dining table.

Garden tours are a great way to get ideas for your own garden. Which ones have you been on this year?

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