wildlife

Hedgehogs, Floral Tapestries, and Design Inspiration from Harlow Carr

Hedgehogs, Floral Tapestries, and Design Inspiration from Harlow Carr

One of four public gardens run by the Royal Horticultural Society, Harlow Carr is set in the beautiful English countryside near Harrogate, Yorkshire, so of course I just had to visit while I was there a few weeks ago. I wasn’t sure what to expect but found myself totally charmed and impressed by the varied displays that were both inspirational and educational. These are just a few highlights from the 200 or so photos I took!

Hedgehog Street

Openings at the base of the walls allow hedgehogs to pass from one garden to the next

The British love their hedgehogs. I have fond memories of setting out a saucer of milk for night-visiting hedgehogs when I was a child, but sadly their numbers have been in a rapid decline as hedgerows have been lost and their natural food sources destroyed. A national campaign called Hedgehog Street has called for greater awareness and pledges to make gardens more hedgehog friendly by:

  • planting nectar-rich flowers that encourage insects that the hedgehogs eat
  • leaving piles of dead wood and compost for nesting sites and foraging
  • Avoiding chemicals on lawns to protect earthworms – a major food of hedgehogs
  • Avoiding the use of molluscicides and pesticides
  • Including a 13cm (~5in) diameter hedgehog highway between gardens for greater connectivity

I loved this example of a hedgehog-friendly design, designed by Tracy Foster and installed by First Light Landscaping. Truthfully, I stopped because I thought what a great example it was for ‘small space design‘ – it was only on closer inspection that I realized it had been designed to be equally beneficial to hedgehogs!

Embracing the Earthworm

Throughout the gardens there were fascinating willow displays including a huge stegosaurus protecting its eggs and this  wiggly worm that made me smile.

Floral Tapestries

Expansive beds were richly planted in a matrix of colorful perennials, an exciting take on the New Perennial Movement and a twist on the traditional English cottage garden style.

Mature trees added punctuation points to the intricate displays

Each block of color was clearly defined in most areas…

…yet rivers of certain perennials were allowed to flow more organically through other beds

Edible Ideas

The kitchen garden display was especially interesting.

Apples were espaliered on wide steel arches

English gardens are often small so making the use of vertical space is always a priority.

A gourd tunnel is created around a pathway using pruned branches

Rather than growing a traditional tall bean tepee where one has to get a ladder to reach the top, I thought this was a clever idea:

Growing beans at a 45′ angle makes harvesting easier and shade loving crops can be grown beneath

These twig prunings were put to good use as “pea staking”, preventing chard and nasturtiums from sprawling onto the path

Traditional “pea staking”

A thrilling moment

Harlow Carr also has a wonderful library that is open to all: students, researchers, and everyday gardeners. The collection includes practical gardening, garden design, wildlife gardening…and MY BOOK!! Yes, Gardening with Foliage First (Timber Press, 2017), my second book co-authored with Christina Salwitz, was proudly displayed on their shelves. This was one of those moments that I would have loved to have been able to share with my Mum. I know she’d have been as proud as I was.

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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:

Renovation of a Mature Border – Part 1

Renovation of a Mature Border – Part 1

Is your whole garden a place of beauty where butterflies sip, birds sing and you love to linger?

Or do you have an area of your garden that is “just what it is“. You neither love it, nor hate it – you just haven’t got around to thinking about it? I do.

June 2018 – drab and overgrown. Time to THINK about this space!

This is the only remaining part of the original garden installed by the previous homeowner, using by her own admission “leftovers’ from her landscaping business. In many ways it’s a good design: an arc of evergreen conifers is fronted by broadleaf evergreens (Rhododendrons) and a single golden leafed spirea. Boulders to one side and a clump or rhubarb (a great ornamental plant that is also edible) to the other gives this border year round interest that looks especially lovely in spring. For a few weeks.

In May 2011 it looked lovely but the red leaf maple died that same year and the golden spirea has long since been swallowed by the Rhodies

The Problem

And therein lies the problem. The dark green rhodie leaves against the dark green conifers become a visual black hole for most of the year. The single, golden spirea does help although it is now getting buried behind the rhodies as they have got so large. About 6 years ago I added two Coppertina ninebark into the mix, the bronze foliage adding some more color – which helped. But it’s still pretty blah, especially compared to the rest of the garden.

May 2013 – still acceptable in spring and the addition of two bronze ninebarks  behind the rhodies helped a little.

May 2013 – the ninebarks flank the still visible spirea and the rhodies look healthy. This was before we had several hot summers in a row though.

Other Challenges

Lack of irrigation and increasingly dry summers have added another issue. The shallow rooted rhodies really struggle by mid-August and there is just no way to get a hose to them. So drought stress, combined with lacebug stippling and vine weevil-notched leaves have left these “evergreen’ shrubs looking unsightly and unhealthy.

Vine weevil damage is unsightly and not easy to control organically

Plan A

We thought we had a solution, however. We discovered an old well head right in the midst of this border and surprisingly it still has water and is fairly shallow, so Andy has installed a sump pump and I have a professional quality 3/4″ soaker hose ready to wrap around those poor shrubs.

The well head can easily be disguised by plants yet accessed from behind

The plan was to hard prune the rhodies, fertilize , then allow them to re-grow lush and healthy over the next couple of years, with help from this newly discovered water source.

But then I stood back, both literally and figuratively and asked if that was what I really wanted. Did I love those rhodies enough to do all that and continue the battle with various insects? And the lack of foliage contrast wouldn’t really be resolved.

Did they meet my “low maintenance-high value” criteria?

In short – NO.

June 2018 – Past its prime and pretty ugly with badly disfigured shrubs

May 2018 – even in bloom this year it lacked the sparkle of its youth

Plan B

Those big, old rhodies are coming out, the smaller white-flowering azalea will be hard pruned/fertilized, I’ll amend the soil and then introduce a mix of low maintenance evergreen and deciduous shrubs for better foliage interest and greater unity with the rest of the garden. Shrubs here need to be deer resistant and cope with afternoon sun as well as root competition from the adjacent conifers.

My plant short list includes:

Gilt Edge silverberry will add some much needed color contrast and sparkle

  • Gilt Edge silverberry (Elaeagnus x ebbingei ‘Gilt Edge’) – gold and green variegated foliage that is evergreen. Will eventually grow to 12′ x 12′ or I can prune as desired.
  • Charity Oregon grape (Mahonia x media ‘Charity’ ) – still debating this inclusion but I think it will tolerate the afternoon sun with watering. I will need to visually separate the glossy holly-like leaves from the conifers though – perhaps layer it in front of the silverberry. The hummingbirds will love it.
  • Exbury azaleas – taller varieties. Love these for the fragrant spring flowers and stunning fall color. Not sure of flower colors yet – it will probably come down to availability although I do love the orange -red of Gibralter
  • Blue oat grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens) – for the front edge if there’s room, or perhaps just add to the yellow Japanese forest grass already there

 

I’ll leave the two ninebark in place but will prune them for shape in winter and will have to spray them with Deer-Out until the plants in front are large enough to create a barrier from the deer. I’ll also leave – or move if possible, the mature golden leaved spirea and the rhubarb which will be much happier with more room.

The new design should better integrate with the rest of that border which features a greater variety of foliage color and textures

First things first

I’ve got a plane to catch. In fact when this post publishes I’ll be in New Jersey as part of a 10 day trip to photograph the last 3 gardens for my new book on deer resistant gardens, after which I’ll be in full-time writing mode for several weeks! Maybe the garden fairies will dig out those rhodies while I’m gone???? Or they/he may be too busy looking after our puppy! I’ll take some photos of the process to share with you though.

Bear in Mind

It’s not easy to renovate a mature border because whatever you do the new plants will look insubstantial compared to what was you’ve taken out and what has been left behind. But it’s worth it if you have time to invest in your garden (we don’t plan to move again) and are tired of just making do with something you never really loved in the first place. Plus I’m all about creating a garden that is lower maintenance.

A resource you may be interested in

Has this got you re-thinking part of your garden? Do you need help to assess which plants are worth the work – and which are just free-loaders? You might be interested in my short online course

Secrets to Selecting Low Maintenance Plants.

You can find out more and register using this link.

 

 

Plus the coupon code 15off will give you 15% off the price (valid until 6/30/18 only) - put the savings towards something that deserves to be in your garden!

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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

img_0343

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…?

 

Blanket Flower Beauty

THis stunning (unknown) variety of blanket flower was purchased as a plant. I'd love to find the seed for this!

This stunning Fanfare Blaze blanket flower was purchased as a plant. Love the fluted petals; I’d certainly like to find the seed for this!

Do you buy perennials or grow them from seed? My Mum was a remarkably thrifty – and patient gardener and grew many perennials such as delphiniums from seed. The first year they would get to be respectable sized plants but if they flowered it wasn’t a spectacular show. They would typically take three years to get to that chocolate box image of towering spires of lavender, pink and blue blooms. That was enough to put me off – three years seemed much too long to wait!

So when I was given seeds for the perennial blanket flower (Gaillardia) from international plant breeder Benary I was initially rather underwhelmed. Their saving grace was that these perennials are drought tolerant and deer resistant and the bold colors would work with my color scheme so I decided to give them a go. I started the seeds indoors under grow lights in February of this year and by early spring they were large enough to prick out into individual 4″ plants. (My Stumpdust dibber was the perfect tool for transplanting).

Dibbers make easy work of seed sowing. Ours are made from salvaged wood

Dibbers make easy work of seed sowing. The ones from Stumpdust are individually hand crafted made from salvaged wood

I really wasn’t expecting them to do much this year so used the sturdy 4″ plants to edge a raised bed of basil in my vegetable garden, planting both out at the beginning of June.

The 4" transplants quickly grew to large flowering sized plants in 10 weeks

The 4″ transplants quickly grew to large flowering sized plants in 10 weeks

Wow did they GROW! Each plant quickly formed a compact mound at least 12″ wide  and bloomed in such profusion that they became a colorful highlight in the garden just six months after starting them from seed. In fact the plants are so big I may be able to divide them next spring.

Arizona Sun is perhaps the best known variety

Arizona Sun is perhaps the best known variety

The two varieties I grew were the popular Arizona Sun with its distinctive rays of red and yellow petals and the softer Arizona Apricot; golden yellow petals deepening to warm apricot at the center.

Apricot Sun - for those that prefer their blanket flowers without red

Arizona Apricot – for those that prefer their blanket flowers without red

There are lots of other colorful varieties and seed is readily available from many vendors including  Swallowtail Garden Seeds, Burpee, Park Seed

If you prefer to grow the native blanketflowers looks for common blanket flower (Gaillardia aristata) which is a perennial that attracts native bees as well as butterflies. You can buy that wildflower seed here. Alternatively the annual, native Indian blanket (Gaillardia pulchella) may self-seed in ideal conditions. Available here

Design Ideas

Use in a drought tolerant border with lavender, sage and succulents. Perfect either in your landscape or even for a parking strip

IMG_1334

Parking strip planting – Portland, OR

Use in containers – they bloom for months without a break! Although I did deadhead spent blooms during the peak summer period, the seed heads themselves are attractive. These newer varieties lend themselves well to mixed containers, being more compact thus ‘hiding’ the foliage with flowers.

Celebration is a vibrant shade or orange-red that looks stunning with this variegted mirror plant (Coprosma repens) and a golden elderberry (Sambucus 'Lemony Lace')

Celebration is a vibrant shade of orange-red that looks stunning with this variegated mirror plant (Coprosma repens) and a golden elderberry (Sambucus ‘Lemony Lace’)

Cultural Conditions

  • Hardy in zones 3-8
  • Full sun
  • Water; average-low. Drought tolerant once established
  • Soil; well drained soil is essential. Sandy or average loam is ideal. Avoid non-amended clay.
  • Deer resistant (and said to be rabbit resistant – I’ll let you know!!)
I'm watching you......

I’m watching you……

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