The flowering of the suburbs after WWII created a vast canvas on which homeowners could paint their individual landscapes and gardens. But the herds of white-tailed deer saw not so much a work of art as a tasting menu.
Deer populations have exploded in recent decades for a number of reasons. Among them: The forests and fields that were their former habitat were replaced by housing estates that provided delicious landscape plants for free. I am referring to such treats as hostas, roses, tulips, daylilies, tomatoes, azaleas – the list goes on. As exasperated as the owners became, most of them did not want an army of hunters in the neighborhood with high powered rifles or bows and arrows.
Unbridled commercial hunting was the main reason deer numbers were so low at the end of the 19th century. (It’s the same dynamic that killed the once ubiquitous carrier pigeon.) Back then, no deer could be found in many states, including Pennsylvania, a state we now consider to be the center of the deer. Today, Pennsylvania hunters routinely “catch” about 400,000 deer each season. However, the hostas are not safe.
Excluding deer is essential for getting the most out of the garden, but it’s easier said than done. You’ll find lists of deer-resistant plants, including members of the mint family as well as aster, goldenrod, grasses, ferns, and sedges. But no list is a safe bet.
Repellents are an option, but they represent a continuing and painful waste to the gardener’s time and resources.
The true liberation of gardening in the territory of deer takes the form of a fence. Fences should be high – eight feet is the standard advice – and while this is possible under local laws and neighborhood rules, fences are expensive. To the outside world, a fence can make you look like some sort of underground government agent or a shady oligarch when all you want to do is stir up thoughts.
If you can rule out the deer, however, it’s amazing how the landscape can heal itself. This applies not only to the garden but also to natural areas which are degraded by grazing by deer. Both environments are celebrated at Woodend Sanctuary, the 40-acre former private estate and longtime home of the Audubon Naturalist Society in Chevy Chase, Maryland. And the two are slowly recovering, four years after the completion of a fence and driveway about a mile long. cattle roast about 33 acres, built at a cost of $ 200,000 to exclude a resident herd of over 30 bucks, hinds and fawns.
A native plant demonstration garden has been expanded around the property’s red brick mansion. Previously, he was surrounded by an ugly plastic fence. Now, this is a larger, more mature display that shows how you can take plants from the Mid-Atlantic Mountains, Piedmont, and Coastal Plain and use them in nice combinations. At the heart of the garden, there are towering buds and bayberry shrubs amid lower patches of lobelia, aster, marsh mallow, goldenrod and winter berry. At the foot of a white pine, the partridge forms a fine-textured carpet.
In areas where meadows were installed, the flowers bloomed more abundantly and grew taller after the fence was installed.
A year after the deer were excluded, schools of golden ragwort appeared in the spring, followed by blue mist flowers in late summer. “We didn’t realize how much they were being suppressed,” said Alison Pearce, deputy director of programs at the shrine.
If your yard is disturbed by deer and you can’t put up a perimeter fence, Pearce has a strategy. Install localized and temporary fencing around newly planted ground covers, trees and shrubs. Once the plants are established – after a few growing seasons – they are less likely to interest deer, and you can remove the barrier and repeat the process elsewhere. “You don’t need to fence your entire property,” she said.
Much of Woodd is defined by a forested valley of streams, gradually degraded over the years with the help of deer and runoff from the suburbs. The woods, full of towering tulip poplars, oaks and other native hardwoods, did not regenerate. The deer ate all the seedlings and removed the bark from the surviving saplings. The only species that was not of concern was the Japanese maple, an exotic ornamental plant that ended up making up a quarter of the forest’s inventory. “We weren’t going to have a forest in a few decades because we didn’t have any regeneration,” Pearce said. “This situation has completely reversed.”
In addition to reseeding trees, native shrubs also grow back. Pearce showed me many specimens of spice bushes which have been grazed but are now suckering again.
After the fence was raised, the company turned to repairing the creek, which was eroding and silting up, to the detriment of habitat. Trees mined by rainwater were falling.
Today, the tributary to nearby Rock Creek has been reconstructed with weirs, basins and submerged sand pits to retain and calm stormwater. The old dirt logging road has been replaced with an eight-foot-wide wheelchair-friendly trail with permeable aggregate topped with glued gravel. The creek-fed pond has a boardwalk and stage for the many school and other groups that visit, and the banks of the creek have been planted with native ground covers and saplings. “We planted a lot of oak trees,” Pearce said. Hickory trees would have been nice, but they are taprooted and a heck to transplant as nursery stock.
The restoration project, called Nature for All, will be dedicated at a groundbreaking event on October 6.
“Deer fencing was Nature for All’s first project because it really set the scene. Without it, we wouldn’t have been able to do any of the home improvements, ”said Pearce.
Can I suggest a name adjustment? Nature for everyone except Bambi?
Before fall, buy a sturdy broom and leaf rake. They are much more soothing than a leaf blower.