fall

A Low Maintenance Garden that Celebrates Fall

A Low Maintenance Garden that Celebrates Fall

It’s a truly glorious fall here in the Pacific Northwest – blue skies, incredible foliage color and warm temperatures that have me still wearing T-shirts rather than polar fleece. It’s a joy to be outside on days like this and spending a day “working” in the garden is both fun and easy. Can you say that? Or has your garden become  just sheer hard work?

Old Fashioned smoke bush – stunning color for 3 seasons that goes with everything.

Be honest with yourself? Are there some truly high maintenance thugs in your garden that seem to have taken over? Would you love it to be easier to manage – but don’t know how? Or perhaps you think of a low maintenance garden as boring – all boxwood and groundcovers?

Take a short walk through my garden with me and let me show you what my deer resistant, low-water, low maintenance garden looks like – and see why I love the fall.

Raking leaves? -Make sure they’re worth it!

Does this look like a boring low maintenance garden to you?? Arkansas Blue Star in the foreground – colorful extravaganza beyond

The majority of stunning fall color comes from deciduous trees and shrubs, yet that means you need to tackle the enormous piles of fallen leaves in the border afterwards – so make sure they are worth the effort. The colorful perennial Arkansas blue star (Amsonia hubrichtii) is the mega-star of my fall garden. If you read the typical description you’ll get the impression that the “fall color is orange” – yet it’s truly a kaleidoscopic display from purple through orange, gold, and pink. Fall clean up just means cutting the stems then raking them into your compost pile.

The twisted purple foliage of Red Majestic corkscrew hazel acts as a focal point against Arkansas Blue Star

To set their feathery texture off to best advantage consider adding a bold counterpoint such as Red Dragon corkscrew hazel. Twisted purple foliage becomes scarlet in fall but this is a four season shrub thanks to the contorted branches and spring catkins.

Include evergreens that change color

Blazeaway heather (Calluna vulgaris ‘Blazeaway’) blends with blue oat grass and an annual sage (Salvia ‘Rockin’ Fuchsia’). Arkansas blue star is in the background.

I love seasonal color changes – but some evergreens can provide that too – without the shedding (and work) of deciduous leaves. Many of the heathers (Calluna sp.) are good examples e.g. Wickwar Flame, Firefly, Winter Chocolate, and Blazeaway (shown above), with four season interest thanks to colorful foliage as well as blooms.

Strategic Plant Selection

A combination of evergreen conifers, colorful deciduous shrubs, and easy care grasses ensure this combo looks good year round – and the maintenance is minimal.

If you are concerned that transitioning (or creating) your garden into one that is less work will mean sacrificing color or seasonal interest – think again. The combination above is a perfect example. The conifer gets whacked with a broom in spring to shake out the inner dead needles that can then be left on the ground as mulch or raked depending upon my mood. The two deciduous shrubs (both barberries – Limoncillo in the foreground and Rose Glow at the back) drop their leaves – and I leave them where they fall. In spring I cut Rose Glow back by ~25% for improved color – but that isn’t essential. The Shenandoah switch grass looks good until late winter when I chop it back to about 10″ tall with hedging shears then toss the clippings onto the compost pile. End of maintenance.

In fact, knowing which plants to choose – or remove, is key to designing a low maintenance garden. Which is why I created this short online course; Secrets to Selecting Low Maintenance Plants.

 

To help you out, and make sure you’ve still got a few pennies for your favorite pumpkin spice latte, I’m even offering it at a discount. You’ll get 15% off if you use the coupon code fall15 at checkout before October 27th.

More details and sign up here.

Still not convinced? Here’s a few more photos from the garden this week:

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Isn’t it time to enjoy the fall again?

Designing Fall Combos

Designing Fall Combos

It’s that time of year when I’m dodging rain showers in the garden and preparing for cooler days ahead while enjoying the rich colors of autumn that still have me reaching for my camera.

The best fall gardens are those which celebrate the season with bold combinations and dramatic vignettes. Here are some tips to help you get started:

Temper the heat with cool blue foliage

Clockwise from left: Dwarf Arizona corkbark fir, Ruby Vase Persian ironwood, Shenandoah switch grass, Jerusalem sage, Ogon spirea

My favorite tree without question is Ruby Vase Persian ironwood (Parrotia persica ‘Ruby Vase’). If you haven’t got it – find it. From spidery red winter flowers to an ever-changing kaleidoscope of colors from spring until fall, you’ll be thankful for the age of digital photography when the cost of film is no longer a concern! Check out an earlier post I wrote about this stunning tree and see more juicy photos in all four seasons here.

The fall colors include purple, gold, orange and red – perfect to play of finely textured, red-tipped Shenandoah switch grass (Panicum v. ‘Shenandoah’) and shimmery golden yellow Ogon spirea (Spiraea t. ‘Ogon’). To create a counterpoint to these hot colors, add a cool blue conifer such as Blue Star juniper, Colorado blue spruce or as I have here a dwarf Arizona corkbark fir (Abies lasiocarpa ‘Glauca Compacta’).

If you can only choose ONE…

Arkansas blue star – the star of any fall garden

The ultimate fall superstar award has to go to Arkansas blue star (Amsonia hubrichtii). Plant this herbaceous perennial in large drifts, stand back, and be amazed. Deer resistant, rabbit resistant, and drought tolerant. Feathery green foliage gives way to this unbelievable autumnal display. Check out this post to see what over FIFTY of these beauties look like in a raised bed as well as other design ideas!

Keep companions simple – here a mossy boulder emphasizes the soft texture while Grace smoke bush (Cotinus ‘Grace’) affords high color contrast.

Add a focal point

Consider adding a non-plant element such as a container to contrast with the fall foliage display. Here a rustic blue-green pot adds color contrast to the fall colors of barberries and a Japanese maple, anchoring the vignette.

Vary the textures

Shenandoah switch grass and Tangelo barberry contrast leaf texture and form, while a Baby Blue boulevard cypress adds a soft blue backdrop

Even a monochromatic display can be enlivened by varying leaf shape and size, such as pairing fine grasses with the round leaves of a deciduous shrub. A soft blue conifer in the background adds contrast.

Visit your friends gardens for ideas!

Former garden of friend and designer Mitch Evans – always an inspiration

Make a point of visiting other gardens this month – both public and private. You’re sure to come away with ideas! Two stunning fall combinations from the garden shown above are featured in my most recent book, (co-authored with Christina Salwitz), Gardening with Foliage First. You’ll LOVE them! You can also enjoy a fall virtual tour of his garden here.

To help you further

If you like these ideas but are concerned about keeping your garden easy to manage, you may be interested in my short online course

Secrets to Selecting Low Maintenance Plants

It will help you make wise choices when shopping for plants, when assessing what you already have AND help you put combinations together.

Check out the details, and as a special incentive I’m offering you 15% off using the coupon code FALL15 at the checkout.

 

 

Don't delay though, the coupon expires October 27th, 2018 and the course is only open for registration for a limited time.

Note: There are affiliate links within this post

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.)

Reflections

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My Mum was one for frequently reminding me to “count my blessings“. Whether it was for an unexpected gift, for food on the table or for a warm home. She taught me never to take these things for granted, to give thanks and to freely share. In a social media dominated world where we tend to measure our success against the fairy tale posts and dreamy images shared by our peers, family and friends, we can easily lose our attitude of thankfulness in our anxious determination to do more, be better, aim higher.

The start of a New Year is more than turning a metaphorical page in our Life Book, as much as the pristine new leaf promises everything will be an improvement on our previous, less-than-perfect chapters. I believe it is also a time to pause and reflect on the blessings of the past year. Human nature is such that we tend to think of all the sad, negative or worrying things first; loss of loved ones,  political uncertainty, financial concerns. I’m not suggesting these can, or even should be casually swept aside as though they are of no consequence, but I encourage you to take a few moments to reflect on the good and for me that is often tied to the garden.

So as 2016 wanes and 2017 comes into sharper focus, I’d like to share with you some of the many garden-related blessings that I received this year.

Spring

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Is there any greater gift than love?

We were quite literally speechless when our friends at Berg’s Landscaping said they would like to build a new patio for us as a gift. I remember just standing there  unable to find any words to adequately express how much such generosity meant to us. I mean these guys are BUSY – with their own installations as well as most of mine so how could they possible have time to do this for me? And patios aren’t cheap. And we had drainage problems to deal with, and broken concrete to remove, and I wasn’t even going to be in the country, and……

This was a blessing with a capital B and we remember and give thanks for these wonderful folks every day.

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And talking of love, is there any greater love than that which a parent has for their child? I miss my parents so much yet am grateful for the life lessons they taught me by example and only hope I can continue to live up to their standards and expectations. When Mum passed away in October 2015 I wanted to buy something as a special keepsake. She loved gardening and we spent her last days poring over photographs  of my new patio being installed (thanks to my husband Andy emailing those to me each day) and other images taken of my garden throughout the year. It therefore seemed fitting to treat myself to something for the garden. I selected a very ‘grown up’ patio set with deep teal cushions and a beautiful propane fire table. These were such a luxury for us. I can promise you that every single day as I look out at our garden or settle into those deep cushions I remember my dear Mum. She would have loved this: I can almost hear her saying “Well done Karen“.

Summer

Foliage inspiration from 4 Seasons Gardens LLC, Portland, OR

Foliage inspiration from 4 Seasons Gardens LLC, Portland, OR

Talking of a parents love for their children we are blessed to have both our grown up children living in the same state, with our daughter Katie being just two miles away. As she and her husband are renovating their first home  their interest in gardens is growing so I was delighted that she accepted my offer of a trip to a garden tour in Portland for her birthday treat this year. Being able to share one’s own passion while exchanging ideas, discoveries and garden dreams with my daughter has been an unexpected blessing for sure. There’s also a sense of coming full circle as I have so many memories of learning from my own parents and grandparents.

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When work and play meld together you know you are fortunate. I was invited to visit Bailey Nurseries in June to see their production greenhouses and learn more about the new shrubs and roses that they are propagating. As a designer and writer I was thrilled, but you may be surprised to know that this invitation came about as a result of a glass of wine! A year or so ago my coauthor Christina Salwitz and I were enjoying a glass of sauvignon blanc after a day of garden tours  in Pasadena, CA. When it came time to pay our tab, to our great surprise we were told it had already been paid “by the gentleman with the blonde hair”. Well that gentleman was none other than Ryan McEnaney, PR & Communications Specialist for Bailey Nurseries whom we had spent only a few moments chatting to earlier!  So our friendship and business relationship began over that glass of wine – and continues to this day.

Fall

Snoozing alligator in the Audoban Swamp, Magnolia Plantations and Gardens, Charleston, SC

Snoozing alligator in the Audoban Swamp, Magnolia Plantations and Gardens, Charleston, SC

I truly value my membership with the Garden Writer’s Association (GWA). I have met many wonderful folks that have helped me in my writing career and am always inspired by the garden tours and educational seminars that are the highlight of each annual conference. This year the conference was held in Atlanta – an area of the country I had never visited. I decided to fly out early and combine it with a visit to Charleston, Beaufort and Savannah. Unfortunately my timing wasn’t great, coinciding with a crazy tropical storm that flooded streets and sidewalks but I did still manage to visit historical Magnolia Plantations and the adjacent swamps where surprisingly large alligators were just ‘hanging out’!

Charleston chic

Charleston chic

I also loved seeing the colorful window boxes, interesting architecture and ancient live oaks in the area. This vacation was an unexpected bonus, especially as Andy joined me for this leg of the trip.

While we saw many wonderful gardens both large and small in the Atlanta area on our organized excursions, perhaps my favorite was the one some friends and I took on  our own, returning to the Atlanta Botanical Garden and seeing the Chihuly exhibit lit up at night – unforgettable.

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Winter

Winter in the PNW is a slower time of year in the garden. While there are still chores to be done it is also easy to justify a rest after the frenzy of fall clean up.

Andy and I decided to head to our favorite retreat for Christmas: Mountain Home Lodge in Leavenworth, WA. In winter the steep road is closed so you are transported to the lodge by  Snowcat vehicles. The seclusion is an inherent part of its appeal – the gourmet meals come a close second (and we didn’t need to grow, prepare or clean up after them!!)

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Snow blanketed the earth offering perfect conditions for snowshoeing, cross-country skiing or tobogganing – or just sitting on our porch snuggled under a blanket and watching the sunrise.

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As you reflect on your favorite memories from 2016 I hope that your garden was a part of the good times. Maybe sharing lunch on the patio with a friend? Or watching the fall colors change? Or marveling at the pattern of light and shadows? Do share your reflections in the comments below or on my Facebook page – I’d love to hear them

I leave you with one of my favorite quotes. It speaks to me of the beauty and wildness of Nature, but it also guides me as a landscape designer.

 

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.John Muir, The Yosemite, 1912.

 

May 2017 be a year of blessings for you all, both given and received.

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Those Darned DEER!

It’s enough to deal with rabbits and voles. And vegetarian barn cats. But deer? They are my nemesis.

At least he stays on the path

At least he stays on the path

For the most part I have managed to design a deer resistant garden without resorting to fences, dangling tablets of Ivory soap in old nylons or constantly spraying. Spring has it challenging moments as the new growth on plants is so tender and tasty, especially to the inquisitive young but fall is when I see the most damage. The problem is twofold; browsing shoots and damaging the bark.

Fall browsing

As fall approaches, deer must find and consume large quantities of carbohydrate rich foods such as acorns, chestnuts, apples and pears to put on fat for the winter. Nuts and mushrooms are also popular foods at this time and are high in phosphorus, which is needed to replace what is taken from a buck’s flat bones (ribs and skull) for antler mineralization. For the typical gardener, if you have already harvested your orchard fruit  the deer are most likely to feast on leaves and soft shoots of woody shrubs and trees.

This golden smoke bush branch was stripped of leaves

This golden smoke bush branch was stripped of leaves overnight

While frustrating, if you have selected plant species that are only of moderate or low interest to deer, the damage is likely to be fairly minor. For example the leaves on the golden smoke bush shown above would have fallen to the ground anyway. The branch itself is intact and the shrub will be fine next year.

Smoke bush (Cotinus sp.) browsing in my garden seems to be mostly taste-testing. My Old Fashioned smoke bush only lost a few leaves from a single branch.

Old Fashioned smoke bush seems to be the Brussel Sprout of the deer diet; "do I have to?"

Old Fashioned smoke bush seems to be the dreaded brussel sprout of the deer diet; “Do I have to?”

I have found this list to be helpful as a starting point for selecting deer-resistant plants for my garden as it suggests the level of damage one can expect. Of course no list is perfect and I disagree with several entries, but that is to be expected; different deer species in a different state, different native and non-native plant availability, different herd etc.

Young plants can be especially susceptible since their roots have not developed adequately to anchor it into the soil.

The deer won this tug-of-war with a newly planted Distyllium shrub

The deer won this tug-of-war with a newly planted distyllium shrub

Deer have left my larger distyllium shrubs alone but the rough tugging by an inquisitive animal uprooted this young plant.

Damage to bark

Far more of a problem in my garden is the damage done to the bark by stripping, gnawing or rubbing. I’ve also seen ‘fraying’ when young bucks rub against rough bark to remove the velvet off their antlers or to mark their territory. Severely damaged trees and shrubs can be lost either through the physical damage itself or to later weather /insect related problems on the exposed surfaces.

This leyland cypress bore the brunt of the deer damage a few nights ago

This Leyland cypress bore the brunt of the deer damage a few nights ago

Deer do not have teeth in the front of their upper jaw nor sharp incisors like rabbits. Instead of neatly clipping the vegetation at a 45° angle the way that rabbits and rodents do, deer twist and pull the plant when browsing. The aftermath is pretty horrific with branches scattered haphazardly over deer-trodden soil

A Sekkan-sugi Japanese cedar was shredded

This Sekkan-sugi Japanese cedar was shredded – who needs fingerprints to find the culprit with tracks like these?

Solutions?

Some deer repellant sprays definitely do help and it may be wise to use them on especially vulnerable shrubs and trees in fall. Liquid Fence is the one I usually have on hand but I have heard great things about Plantskydd – it just isn’t readily available where I live.

While we certainly can’t fence our 5 acres – and nor do we wish to, we have taken to short term fencing protection until trees grow above browsing height.

As this horsechestnut tree grows the canopy will eventually be above browsing height

As this horse chestnut tree grows the canopy will eventually be above browsing height

Before we did this the deer ‘pruned’ out the tree leader. Thankfully it seems to have recovered from that ordeal!

Sometimes a full fence may not be needed, especially if the aim is just to stop the deer reaching the trunk of a tree. For this we have just used metal posts inserted around the tree setting them a 18-24″ apart so a deer cannot easily get past them.

This newly planted Persian ironwood (Parrotia persica) suffered some damage when deer pulled hard on the branches to taste test the foliage

This newly planted Persian ironwood (Parrotia persica) suffered some damage when deer pulled hard on the branches to taste  the foliage

Once the leaves have fallen from this Persian ironwood the greater risk is damage to the trunk which we hope to minimize using these posts. We can still add wire fencing if necessary but this is less obtrusive.

Using this method around conifers can work especially well as the ever expanding girth hides the stakes in a few seasons

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A deodar cedar may be an ideal scratching post but the deer have been thwarted by the addition of these posts for the past few years

 

Understanding the routes a herd takes through your garden is also helpful. Certainly I try to avoid known temptation shrubs and trees directly along these wildlife freeways. Sometimes helping to direct their path using dense barrier planting can be helpful, as we have done with prickly barberries

Rose Glow barberries form a thorny thicket that keeps the deer from entering this way

Rose Glow barberries form a thorny thicket that keeps the deer from entering this way

What’s your goal?

My personal aim is to reach a point where the deer and I can co-exist peacefully. I’m not trying to keep them off the land (they were here first) and I’m happy for them to browse in our forest and meadow. Rather, my desire is to have a beautiful garden that is of little interest to the deer by focusing on plant selection and non-harmful deterrent techniques. I’m sure I’ll lose a few more plants along the way but I think we’ll get there.

Nap time on a full tummy...?

Nap time on a full tummy…?