Can you smell it? It’s almost spring. Soon our gardens, whether in Connecticut, Colorado or somewhere in between, will be bursting into life. The problem with many gardens I see as a landscape designer is that they are full of … Continue reading
Fall is a time of transition in many gardens. From the exuberance of summer to the sleepiness of winter. It’s a time when those plants that do double-duty, you know the ones…those with ‘multi-season interest’, begin to take center stage again.
While every gardener wants an eye-catching autumn garden, instead of focusing on vibrant fall foliage as the only way to add color and interest to your fall garden, consider adding a few berrying shrubs, too. Not only do shrubs with berries add a pop of fall color to your garden, they are also a vital ingredient in any wildlife-friendly garden.
There are lots of options for fall-berrying shrubs, but two of the most versatile groups of shrubs are hollies and viburnums.
Hollies (Ilex) can be an excellent choice for many gardens. Tough, often evergreen shrubs, hollies come in any array of sizes, from small to quite large and a variety of shapes, from round to upright to conical. Many hollies have brightly colored berries that are an important staple in the diet of birds and small mammals and also add a brilliant spot of color to your garden.
Hollies are at home in both formal and informal gardens. They are the classic foundation plant – used to hide the ‘uglies’, soften the corners of houses or flank the front door. Most hollies respond well to pruning, making them easy to incorporate into gardens of all sizes.
Remember, hollies bear male and female flowers on different plants so you will need a male plant to fertilize your females in order to get berries.
Evergreen hollies also provide much-needed shelter and nesting spots for birds and add structure to your garden all year long. Want to learn more about hollies? Check out the book Hollies for Gardeners by Christopher Bailes.
The Under-Used, Unsung Superstar
As a genus, viburnums (Viburnum) are probably my favorite shrub. But they are woefully underused by many gardeners, even though there seems to be a viburnum for virtually any garden situation.
Looking for a shrub you can plant in both full sun and full shade? Try V. trilobum (American cranberry bush) or V. prunifolium (blackhaw viburnum). Got dry soil? Try V. rhytidophyllum (leatherleaf viburnum). How about wet soil? Consider V. opulus (European cranberry bush).
Viburnums look their best when allowed to attain their inherent beauty and grow into their natural size and shape. Pruning should be done to keep the shrub healthy, not necessarily to control its size. Keep in mind, most viburnums should be considered large shrubs, easily growing to over 8′ tall and wide. There are many ‘dwarf’ cultivars but they should be considered medium-sized shrubs since many will grow to at least 5′ tall and wide.
It can be difficult to pinhole exactly how to best use viburnums in a designed garden since their growth habits vary so widely. They can be used as specimen plants, planted in mass as a privacy screen, as part of a mixed bed or border, or as a transition plant for the edge of a woodland garden.
Since many viburnums can be self-sterile, for the best fruit set, plant another viburnum of the same species nearby. Just make sure the flowering time overlaps.
For much more info on all things viburnum, check out Viburnums by Michael Dirr.
To whet your appetite for these berried beauties, here’s a quick look at a few hollies and viburnum that will make worthwhile additions for your garden…
If you garden around deer, you understand how difficult it can be to create a garden that is visually pleasing to people while at the same time being as unappealing as possible to deer. We all know the best strategy for keeping deer out of our gardens and away from our plants is to erect a deer fence. But let’s face it, that is not an option for every gardener, either from a financial or an aesthetic standpoint.
If Only Deer Could Read
While lists of deer resistant plants abound, they are only so helpful. First of all, the deer don’t read them. They don’t know that plants like lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis), lilac (Syringa vulgaris) and forsythia (Forsythia intermedia) are widely touted as being deer resistant. All are recent deer favorites in my garden. That’s another inherent problem with lists of deer-resistant plants, what’s deer resistant in my garden might not be in yours. And vice versa. Finding the right deer-resistant plants for your garden is truly a case of trial and error.
The best advice I can offer, regardless of where you garden, is to start off with a palette of deer-resistant plants for your region and then pay close attention. A great place to find a list of locally deer-resistant plants is at your independent garden center or check with your local Cooperative Extension office.
There are so many factors that influence ‘browsability’ of plants, including the time of the year, extreme weather conditions and the taste buds of your deer. Knowing a little bit about deer and their likes and dislikes can go a long way towards helping you create a deer-resistant garden.
Keep ‘Em Guessing
◊ Deer are creatures of habit. More than likely, they enter and exit your garden at the same points and follow the same general path around it each time. That means a deer-resistant plant located on a known deer pathway may see more damage than the same plant located elsewhere in your garden. Take notes about what’s happening in your garden and transplant deer favorites if needed.
◊ Deer seem to like plants that have been over-fertilized. According to some scientists, deer are attracted to the excess nitrogen in some plants. Rather than adding all sorts of extra fertilizers to over-stimulate your plants, simply top dress with compost once a year to provide your plants with the balanced nutrition they need.
◊ Deer do not like to navigate grade changes in a garden. They dislike anything that affects their footing or hinders a quick getaway. Use berms, terracing and steps to deal with natural slopes in your garden. Make it as difficult and uncomfortable as possible for the deer to cruise around your garden.
◊ There are certain times of the year when deer browsing is especially intense so you’ll need to be extra vigilant. These include times of drought (deer get almost 1/3 of their water from the moisture in plants), heavy snow coverage (when deer can’t access their usual food sources they often turn to typically resistant plants to survive), and spring when plants are pushing out new growth.
◊ ‘Hide’ deer candy among deer-resistant plants. This seems to work best if you use highly fragrant deer-resistant plants, like herbs. I have to admit I’ve had limited success with this strategy, but I know gardeners who use this camouflaging technique all the time.
◊ It can be more difficult to protect perennials than shrubs or trees, so design your garden with as many shrubs and trees as possible. Simply limbing up susceptible trees out of deer browsing range, typically about 5′ – 6′ off of the ground, can greatly expand your plant options. This is an especially effective strategy if you are a wildlife gardener who plants fruiting tree to attract birds, such as crabapples, service berries or hawthorns.
◊ As you’re waiting for newly planted perennials and shrubs to fill in, fill gaps with deer-resistant annuals. Teach deer early on that there’s nothing yummy in your garden.
A Last Resort
And here’s another tip that probably is not for everyone (kind of like a fence) but it seems to work. Install a cattle grate at the entrance to your driveway. This one, that from a distance looks very similar to the ubiquitous Belgian block aprons seen in this area of southwestern Connecticut, protects a 5-acre property that is full of deer goodies. The property is surrounded be a deer fence so the only access point for deer is straight down the driveway.
Since deer hate to walk on uneven surfaces, the cattle grate keeps them away from delicacies like apple, pear and cherry trees. Not to mention a lush veggie garden and plethora of plants that will never be found on anyone’s list of deer-resistant plants.
For more tips on creating a deer resistant garden, especially for your west coasters, check out Gen Schmidt’s post, Putting Your Deer on a Diet.
So tell me…what strategies for deterring deer work in your garden?
Before you leave, don’t forget to check out my post on Deer Off deer repellent. If you’d like to be eligible to win a free bottle of Deer Off, leave a comment on that post, too.
This quote embodies the heart and soul of The Living Garden: A Place That Works With Nature. The author, Jane Powers, is the gardening correspondent for The Irish Times. She spent two years writing the book and taking almost all of the accompanying photos, too.
Like many other gardening books, The Living Garden is partly a practical, how-to gardening book with tips on making your own compost, sowing seeds and pruning. It also has loads of lists of plants appropriate for an array of different site conditions. Since the author is irish and the publisher, Frances Lincoln, is based in the UK, it’s not surprising to find that many of the resources listed in the book are UK-based.
Where The Living Garden really shines and sets itself apart from similar books is in the author’s view of gardening and its role in the larger ecosystem. Addressed succinctly in a chapter entitled Circles and Cycles, Powers attributes her philosophy on gardening to paying keen attention to the many circles of live found in every garden. From planting a seed, to harvesting flowers, fruit and veggies to composting the plant and finally using the compost to nurture new plants, this simple cycle feeds the garden and the gardener.
This is a book for the thinking gardener, one who wants to understand why certain things are done in the garden and then tweak those practices so they fit seamlessly into their own gardening routine. While you may not agree with everything Powers does in her own garden, you soon realize she speaks from years of experience and is happy to pass her wisdom onto her readers.
Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher, Frances Lincoln Limited, for the express purpose of reviewing it.