Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010

Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010
Photo by R.E. Berg-Andersson

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The good and bad at Greystone

There are a lot of good things about living across the street from a large piece of undeveloped land.

There is quiet during early morning walks. There are the many birds that enliven the area and come to my feeders.

And then there are the deer, which isn't so good.

I recently read a blog post elsewhere complaining about deer and the resulting comments ran to the "stop whining, they were here first" camp. That is true, they were here before I moved here, before my 1960s-era house was even built.

Tough. I live here now and discovering what one deer can do in damage has changed the way I garden. Had I known when I was landscaping in 1993 what I know now, everything would be different.

No way would I have taken my friend's hostas when she had to break up her garden. Nor would I have planted hydrangea - since deceased - to remind me of those in my mother's backyard. Nor would I have put in six yellow and green euonymous bushes, although they do bounce back whenever a deer has gotten past the netting.

Ah, yes, the netting. There is no such thing as just going outside and picking a flower or two when you have to get behind deer netting. The planning is reminiscent of battle. I've restrung my netting many times over the years as I refine the process of allowing access to me while blocking it to the deer.

But most of the flowers I now grow would not be here, starting with the azaleas I thought were so pretty in the garden shop.

The same garden shop that NOW so proudly trumpets "We have deer-resistant plants!"

There are no such things, by the way. A hungry deer will try anything once. Many of my "deer-resistant" plants have been nibbled including the canna, the monarda and the maidenhair grasses I put in a plot where there was once an apple tree, another casualty.

The previous homeowner had a lot of apple trees, which are very pretty for about a week when they blossom but become a royal pain when the apples come out, the squirrels drop them and the deer poop all over the yard while visiting to pick up the leavings.

One tree succumbed to illness, another to having young bucks rub against it to lose the velvet off their antlers. Two others I took down because the apples weren't very tasty to me but they did draw the deer. I replaced them with a dogwood (currently behind netting so it isn't rubbed into oblivion) and a blue spruce (that has hidden some juncos in winter).

For two weeks a year I must go out to pick apples for my cooking from the one remaining tree or dispose of half-eaten ones to minimize the attraction for deer. Judging by what I find in the grass, I am only partly successful.

More of my neighbors are either putting netting around their plants or putting out "deer-resistant" plants that are mainly spiny shrubs that hurt to eat. If any have flowers they are in hanging baskets.

We don't keep a dog so the other obvious answer would be to surround the yard with a tall fence, at least 8 feet high. (I have seen deer casually jump over a 6-foot fence. They have powerful hind legs.) There are two problems: in my part of town the requirement is for a "park-like setting" and so no fencing in the front yard. In the back, my husband likes being able to look beyond the yards to the streets and see who is driving or walking around and says he would feel shut in.

I don't see the difficulty in this. But since MH works in our home and I do not, I must net the two gardens in front and one in the back that is dominated by yews, another deer favorite, and what is left of the hostas.

I have learned to think like a deer. I know to stay to the side and behind the group so they keep going forward - a deer that goes back the way it came will likely be back as soon as you go into the house. I know that if a horned buck looks you in the eye and puts its head down, back away slowly because otherwise it will charge you (particularly in rutting season). I have learned that if you try to chase off a doe and she just stands there, there is usually at least one spotted fawn somewhere nearby - the sooner mother and child are reunited, the sooner they both leave.

I know, they are only animals. It is not their fault that large tracts of meadowland were cut into suburban yards with just enough space to feed them and not enough space to allow humans to hunt them.

In rural New Hampshire, my sister-in-law doesn't have to worry about deer eating her flowers. The properties are not close together and the woods are full of wolves, coyotes and, in season, hunters.

In short, they are afraid of people. Not like the deer in New Jersey. New Jersey deer have attitude to spare.

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