Oh Dear, Oh, Deer in the Garden: Dealing with a Big, Brown-Eyed Problem

July 8th, 2013 § Comments Off on Oh Dear, Oh, Deer in the Garden: Dealing with a Big, Brown-Eyed Problem § permalink

White Tailed Deer - michaela medina harlow- thegardenerseden.com Peek-a-Boo: Playing Hide & Seek with a Young, White Tailed Buck in My Neighborhood

Handsome fella, isn’t he? Of course he is. There’s no denying the beauty of this graceful, tawny, brown-eyed creature. He’s just gorgeous… Until he gets into your garden. Then, much like Dr. Jekyll, beautiful Bambi turns into Mr. Hyde. A single white tailed deer can wipe out an entire vegetable garden and denude a lush landscape, overnight. In fact, when it comes to gardening challenges, I can’t think of a more difficult or devastating problem.

Short of completely enclosing a property with a 8-10′ high fence, all deer management strategies should be considered exactly that: strategies, not fail-proof solutions. Before designing and planting a dream garden in deer country, fence construction is an absolute must. However, where fencing isn’t an option, I have discovered a few ways a gardener can make the landscape a bit less enticing to those long-legged, midnight mowers. Here are a few that I’ve found effective over the years . . .

1) Plant aromatic plants and/or species that are toxic to or repel deer and rodents at the perimeter of the garden. Daffodils and Ranunculus are both examples of plants toxic to deer. When they encounter wide drifts of these plants, they will likely move on to more edible pastures. Deer also dislike many commonly cultivated herbs; particularly Lavender, Sage, Basil, Rosemary, Thyme and Yarrow. Surrounding a potager with herbs may repel deer before they find the tasty beans and lettuce at the center of your kitchen garden.

2) Surround your property with prickly and fuzzy plants. Thorny trees and shrubs —such as Roses, Raspberries, Hawthorn, Quince— tend to be less attractive to grazing deer. They may nibble, but after a few sharp stabs, they usually wander off. Consider a hedge of prickles around your property line or potager edge. Fuzzy plants also tend to be less palatable to deer. Black-eyed Susans, Lambs Ears and other wooly plants are not the first choice on Bambi’s menu.

3) Keep deer favorites —particularly Hosta, Azalea, Daylilies, vegetable plants and fruit trees— toward the center part of your garden. Surround the more vulnerable plants with those mentioned above, and consider protecting these innermost areas with some form of additional defense (spray repellents, netting, electric fencing, etc).

Doe at Forest's Edge - michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.comWhite Tailed Doe at the Edge of My Forest

4) If deer are a serious ongoing and/or increasing problem in your area —and fencing isn’t an option— consider slowly adjusting and reducing the menu options in your backyard. Seek out plants that are less palatable to deer, and plant more of these in your garden. Although deer will eat anything when desperately hungry, they tend to snub gardens that are surrounded by hedges or layered plantings including some of the following trees/shrubs: Hinoki Cypress, Kousa Dogwood, Ginko, Green Ash, American Holly, Star Magnolia, Sourwood, White Spruce, Norway Spruce and Colorado Spruce, Red Pine, Black Locust, Sassafras, Boxwood, Inkberry, Spirea and Western Arborvitae. In addition, deer may nibble, but will usually walk on by the following perennial garden plants, bulbs and ground covers: Yarrow (Achillea millefolium), Monkshood (Aconitum), Alyssum, Columbine (Aquilegia), Artemisia, Asters. Astilbe, Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla mollis), Wild-Blue Indigo (Baptisia australis), Boltonia, Fairy Candles (Actaea simplex & A. racemosa), Peony, Foxglove (Digitalis), Jacob’s Ladder (Polemonium reptans) , Meadow Sage (Salvia), Hellebore, Loosestrife (Lysmachia), Beebalm (Monarda), Catmint (Nepeta), Russian Sage (Perovskia), Yucca, Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia), Meadow-Rue (Thalictrum), Foamflower (Tiarella), Speedwell (Veronica), Scabiosa, Ginger (Asarum), Bearberry (Arctostaphylos), Bugle Weed (Ajuga), Lily-of-the-Valley (Convularia majalis), Snow-in-Summer (Cerastium), Dead Nettle (Lamium), Creeping Juniper, Pachysandra, Lungwort (Pulmonaria), Squill (Scilla), Summer Snowflake (Leucojum), Winter Aconite (Eranthis), Snowdrops (Galanthus), Grape Hyacinth (Muscari), Sedum, Hens-and-Chicks (Echeveria), Myrtle (Vinca), Potentilla, Lavender-Cotton (Santolina), Cotoneaster, Bergenia, Sweet Woodruff (Galium), Ferns, Daffodils (Narcissus), Allium and Barrenwort (Epimedium). This is an abbreviated list containing the more deer-resistant plants. Many more can be found in the resources listed below.

5) Experiment with organic, commercial spray repellents or homemade hanging repellents. I find some of these are more effective than others. Plantskydd, and Bonide Repels-All —both organic— have worked for me when strategically sprayed and repeat applied after rain. There are two downsides to these products: they stink and they can be expensive to use in the long-run. Bars of soap and baggies filled with pet or human hair can be effective within a narrow range of space, and for a short time. Hanging these at the perimeter of a vegetable garden can be a bit of a deterrent, but I wouldn’t gamble my harvest on it!

6) Walk your dog, or invite neighbors to walk their pooches at the perimeter of you garden on a regular basis. Deer fear the canine scent, and regular urine marks will lead them to believe danger lies within your garden. The key here is consistency. Bottled coyote urine can also be used if no dogs are available, but again these spray-application deterrents can be both expensive and unpleasant to use.

7) Fencing. Yes, I will say it again. Although the initial cost is high, fencing is the most effective method for controlling deer. A fence must be 8-10 feet or taller, in order to protect a garden from deer. If not solid, the fence should have wire mesh or netting between the posts to keep deer from climbing through cross bars. Electric fencing —including solar-powered electric— can be an excellent barrier option for smaller plots —particularly vegetable gardens and small fruit groves— if properly installed and maintained. Some gardeners have had success with motion-detection fences. These devices usually trigger a sound/light combination or blast of water. I have not tried motion detection devices for deterring deer, and clearly, there’s a limit on where and when they can be used.

Dealing with Deer in the Garden - Resourced - michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.comSome helpful guide books for gardeners challenged by deer:

Gardening in Deer Country (contains a recipe for homemade deer repellent), Deerproofing Your Yard & Garden, Outwitting Deer and Deer in My Garden.

Photography & Text ⓒ Michaela Medina Harlow/The Gardener’s Eden. All images, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Please do not take my photographs without asking first. Thank you! 

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Well Fiddle-Dee-Dee: Unfurling Spring Pleasures in the Forest at Ferncliff…

April 30th, 2010 § 4 comments § permalink

Fiddlehead ferns unfurling in the Secret Garden – Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia pensylvanica)

Lady fern ‘Lady in Red’ (Athyrium filix feminina), in my garden

Oh yes, we are smack-dab-in-the-middle of fiddlehead season here in the Northeast; one of spring’s most delightful and ephemeral pleasures at my forest home in Vermont. Here on my ledgy site, Ostrich ferns, (a member of the cliff fern family), are abundant; producing large, tightly curled heads as they emerge from the ground in April and early May. Of course fiddleheads are beautiful to behold, and in my garden I enjoy their delicate springtime beauty paired with spring bulbs and emerging perennials such as Lenten rose, (Helleborus x hyrbidus), and native ephemerals including foam flower, (Tiarella), dogtooth violet, (Erythronium), woodland phlox, (Phlox divaricata), bloodroot, (Sanguinaria), and spurge, (Euphorbia). All ferns produce fiddleheads, from which their feathery fronds unfurl, (I dare you to say that 10 times, fast). And some, such as the red-tips of the Lady Fern, (Athyrium filix feminina) ‘Lady in Red’, and the silvery fiddles of Cinnamon fern, (Osmunda cinnamomea), are quite stunning. But there is another reason for my fern-euphoria: this is tasty, tender fiddlehead harvest time!

Collecting Ostrich Fern Fiddleheads at Ferncliff

The Ostrich fern, (Matteuccia pensylvanica), and the Cinnamon fern, (Osmunda cinnamomea), are the most commonly harvested fiddleheads in the Northeast, and for good reason. These two large-sized native ferns produce the most delicious fiddleheads in the forest. If you’ve never gathered a fresh meal of fiddleheads from the woods, let me just give you a hint of what you are missing. To me, fiddleheads taste a bit like asparagus, only sweeter and more earthy. Although you can buy this gourmet treat in markets at this time of year, there is really no substitute for the taste of a hand-harvest. Fiddleheads can be eaten raw, (not advisable in great quantity due to possible health risks), but usually they are cooked. One of the easiest ways to prepare them is by cooking in a pot of boiling, salted water until tender, (7 -10 minutes for super fresh fiddleheads and slightly longer if the harvest has been refrigerated for a few days), and then serve them warm with a bit of butter. Although fiddleheads can be added to a variety of dishes, and also be preserved by pickling or freezing, one of my favorite ways to eat them is simply prepared in a Fiddlehead and Feta omelette…

Ferncliff Fiddlehead and Feta Omelette

Ferncliff Fiddlehead and Feta Omelette

Ingredients (makes one omelette)

3    medium sized fresh eggs

2    teaspoons of butter

1    handful of freshly harvested and lightly cooked fiddleheads

1/4 cup of fresh feta cheese

salt and pepper to taste


Whisk three eggs together in a small bowl with a fork, (just enough to combine the yolk and white), add salt and pepper to taste. Melt butter in an 8 inch skillet on low, (do not brown). When the foam subsides, add eggs to the pan, wait a few seconds and slowly pull the egg toward the center of the pan, (this creates a fluffy, evenly cooked omelette). Cook on medium/low, and after about a half a minute, scoot the omelette over to one side and add the feta and fiddleheads. Fold the omelette in half. Cook for another half a minute or so, (pat if you like). Turn off the heat and then place a plate over the pan and flip the omelette over. Serve with a helping of fresh blanched or steamed fiddleheads and a bit of feta crumbled on top. Delicious!

Fiddleheads and Feta: Ingredients for the Perfect Morning Omelette


Ostrich fern unfurling at Ferncliff © 2010 Michaela at TGE

Shadow of a Lady Fern © Michaela at TGE


Words and Pictures copyright 2010 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden. All Rights Reserved.

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Welcome Autumn…

September 22nd, 2009 § Comments Off on Welcome Autumn… § permalink

The first golden leaves. American Beech, (Fagus grandifolia).

Thought I would take you along for a stroll through the woodland path on the first day of autumn here at Ferncliff. Early morning fog lifted briefly to reveal a slice of heavenly blue sky and a season’s worth of kaleidoscopic color just beginning to develop in the forest. Welcome to Autumn…

A backlit branch of beech leaves stands out like a stained glass masterpiece by Henri Matisse…

Sky blue hues of Aster oblongifolium, ‘Raydon’s favorite’, brighten the woodland edge at Ferncliff…

Leaves shed early by two nearby maple trees stand out against the gray stone in a washout…

Hay-scented ferns, (Dennstaedtia puctilobula), just beginning to turn gold along the forest path…

A red maple leaf, (Acer rubrum), settled into new moss along the edge of the woodland…

A common puffball mushroom, (Lycoperdon perlatum), brings to mind a sea urchin when viewed up close on the mossy forest floor.


~ Click to enlarge photos ~

To learn more about American woodland gardening, and North American deciduous forests, I highly recommend Rick Darke’s beautiful book, The American Woodland Garden, published by Timber Press. Although we have never met, Rick’s gorgeous photography, insight, and the beautiful woodland garden he created in Pennsylvania with his wife Melinda, has been a great inspiration to me. To learn more about Rick Darke and his work, please visit his website by clicking here: rickdark.com. Thank you for your many fine books Rick.


Rick Darke’s The American Woodland Garden from Timber Press


Article and Photographs copyright 2009, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All content on this site is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without express written permission. Inspired by what you see here? Please give credit where credit is due. Link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…


Ode to a Fiddlehead…

July 16th, 2009 § Comments Off on Ode to a Fiddlehead… § permalink

The woodland path at Ferncliff – Image ⓒ Michaela Medina – The Gardener’s Eden

Call me a fiddle-head, it is true. I have a long standing love-affair with ferns. Ostrich and Cinnamon, Maidenhair and Lady, Autumn and Christmas; even their names delight me, and I can never seem to get enough of this delicate, feathery species. My affection can be traced back to the summers of my childhood; those long, hot afternoons and fading twilight hours spent exploring abandoned stone foundations and hidden brooks in the forest beyond my home. There, beneath the shade of tall trees, ferns became woven crowns and verdant skirts fit for imaginary forest royalty. To my eye, when it comes to beauty in the plant world, foliage truly equals flower. What could be more beautiful than the fern? Shimmering, silver fiddleheads unfurling from damp earth, luminous feather paths winding through dark tree-trunks, and lacy plumes softening rugged outcroppings of rock and ledge; ferns possess some of the most dramatic foliage in the forest.

Native to North America, the cinnamon fern, (Osmunda cinnamonea, pictured below), is a perfect example of the long-lasting beauty of this foliage plant. In very early spring, the fuzzy, silvery-white tipped fiddle-heads of cinnamon fern emerge from the forest floor. As the first tightly wrapped heads unfurl, (reaching upward 2-4 feet), they quickly transform into stunningly beautiful, rich cinnamon stalks, followed by rapidly emerging, bright green fronds. By midsummer, the foliage of the cinnamon fern deepens to a regal emerald hue. Later, in autumn, the bold foliage turns a brilliant gold that absolutely glows in the forest. As lovely as it is in a natural setting, the cinnamon fern is also a spectacular addition to the garden. This non-aggressive plant forms thick but contained clumps of growth. As a companion to spring flowering bulbs, and a contrast to the exfoliating bark of trees, (river birch, stewartia and paperbark maple spring to mind), the design possibilities of both the lush foliage and cinnamon-colored stalks make the cinnamon fern one of my favorites.

cinnamon-fern-stalksCinnamon Fern (Osmunda cinnamonea) – Image: Georgian Court University

Cinnamon fern’s close relative, the interrupted fern, (Osmunda claytonia), is another gorgeous native plant. As the fiddle-heads unfurl to a height of 2-3 feet, the foliage on this fern’s upright, fertile fronds is interrupted midway by sporing pinnae. This break gives the plant its common name, ‘interrupted’ fern. The non-sporing fronds arch away from the plant dramatically, creating an attractive, flowing green mound. Interrupted ferns prefer slightly damp conditions, where they forms natural groupings in the wild. As a garden plant, the interrupted fern is endlessly useful in dappled light and partly sunny conditions. Though large, the airy fronds of this fern combine well with many trees, shrubs and perennials.

interrupted-fernInterrupted Fern (Osmunda claytoniana)

The Christmas fern, (Polystichum acrostichoides), is an evergreen fern, and one of the most shade tolerant members of this species. Another North American native, this leathery-leafed plant can often be found carpeting steep banks in densely forested areas. As a garden plant, the soil-stabilizing qualities of Christmas fern make it an excellent choice for shady slopes and other places where erosion is a concern. In Northern woodlands, the beauty of this plant’s glossy, deep green foliage is well appreciated in late autumn and early winter, when most deciduous trees have shed their leaves and the forest floor has turned brown.

christmas-fernChristmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides)

It is easy to understand how the enormous, feathery plumes of Ostrich fern, (Matteuccia pensylvanica, pictured below), earned their name.  This gorgeous fern is also one of my favorites, and placed with care, it can be a fantastic garden plant. Ostrich fern spreads by aggressive rhizomes, making it useful as a ground cover in damp areas. If planted in a dry spot, (as it is in my secret garden), however, Ostrich fern is mild mannered and easily contained. In it’s ideal conditions, (moist, dappled shade), this fern can reach nearly six-feet in height. And although there is no autumn color, if the plant receives ample moisture, it will remain attractive and green through late autumn.

naturally-occuring-ostrich-fern-at-ferncliffOstrich Fern (Matteuccia pensylvanica) is a member of the cliff fern family.

The delicate and airy, native maidenhair fern, (Adiantum pedatum), and lady fern, (Athyrium felix-feminina), are commonly used in gardens, and with good reason. Both of these plants are not only beautiful but tough, tolerating a wide variety of soil conditions and changing light. Although both ferns prefer dappled shade and moist soil, they will succeed under less favorable circumstances, and need not be coddled. Lady fern in particular has become popular with commercial growers, and it seems a new variety is available whenever I pick up a magazine or catalogue. Beyond the commonly available lady fern, (a member of my favorite group, the cliff ferns), I have come to enjoy the sanguine stems of Athyrium felix-feminina, “Lady in red”, as they emerge along my garden wall.

lady-fernLady Fern (Athyrium filix-femina) ‘Lady in Red’ and companion Huechera ‘Green Spice’

maiden-hair-fernThe northern maidenhair fern (Adiantum pedatum) planted with Hosta.

Many of the other ferns native to North America, such as the bracken fern, (Pteridium aquilinum), and hay-scented fern,(Dennstaedtia puctilobula), are lovely in naturalized settings, or singular landscape uses, but are far too aggressive for mixed borders or perennial gardens. Hay-scented fern forms dense carpets, and it is particularly beautiful and useful along woodland paths, hedges, walks and driveways, and beneath dense foliage trees.

natural-grouping-of-bracken-fern-at-ferncliffBracken Fern (Pteridium aquilinum) beautiful in naturalized areas, is an aggressive spreader.

natural-grouping-of-hay-scented-bracken-and-interrupted-fern-at-ferncliffA natural grouping of hay-scented, bracken and interrupted ferns in the forest at Ferncliff.

In addition to the many ferns native to North America, introduced garden ferns and hybrids, such as the Japanese painted fern, (Athyrium nipponicum, “Pictum”), are spectacular plants for light to dense shade situations. Beautiful, subtle color variations in fern foliage can be played against one another and in combination with other plants to create breathtakingly beautiful patterns. A ground-cover of perennial ferns can become a living tapestry to be enjoyed throughout the growing season, year after year. Athyrium x “Ghost” is a particularly beautiful fern, and I have found the color varies a bit by placement and light. The frosty white fronds are stunning at twilight in darker corners of my garden.

Athyrium x ‘Ghost’ planted to with Hosta ‘August Moon’ , Astilbe, Lamium and Cryptotaenia japonica

Athyrium nipponicum ‘Pictum’, planted with Cryptotaenia japonica ‘Atropurpurea’

japanese-painted-fernJapanese painted fern, Athyrium nipponicum ‘Pictum’, nestled beside Hosta and seeded Heuchera ‘Palace Purple’

Having named my garden Ferncliff, it should come as no surprise that I am a true fern-fanatic. When designing gardens here and elsewhere, I am always on the look-out for new ways to use ferns in garden settings. Ferns are remarkably versatile plants; softening formal designs and lending elegance to modest buildings and simple features. Ferns can be planted in urns to flatter classical architecture, or in geometrically precise planters to harmonize with more modern landscapes. The airy quality of ferns provides movement in shady nooks with the slightest breeze, and the textural qualities of fronds enliven the edge of still or slow-moving water features and smooth wall surfaces. The possibilities of ferns are limited only by imagination.

fern-in-courtyardOstrich Fern, (Matteuccia pensylvanica), softening the edge of the secret garden at Ferncliff.

For more information on ferns, see Martin Rickard’s The Plantfinder’s Guide to Garden Ferns, (copyright 2000, Timber Press).

Image of Cinnamon Fern: Georgian Court University

Article and all other photographs copyright 2009 Michaela Medina – The Gardener’s Eden

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