By birth and early training, I am an optimist. Born in that magical era of the early 60’s, when the Kennedy presidency was young; after Korea and before things exploded and went to rot in Vietnam; I grew up to the sound track of the Beetles, Joan Bayez, Arlo Guthrie, and Peter, Paul, and Mary. John Denver saw me into adolescence in an era when I still thought he was singing about enjoying the hike.
My dad never failed to encourage me to give people and situations “the benefit of the doubt”, and his perennial optimism, having survived the Great Depression and World War II intact and educated, is ingrained in my character.
Perhaps that’s why I’ve always taken a moment to read the latest “how-to” articles in the popular press. From learning “how to” dye fabric with roots and berries as a teen, to “how to” clean the house with only fresh lemons, baking powder, and vinegar prior to Y2K; I’m still a sucker for good advice to do the impossible with almost nothing. My friend and I are still talking about the recent article in the “prepper press” about how to build a year round underground greenhouse garden for $300.00 or less.
So, when a respected neighbor and garden professional recommended Hydrangea quercifolia, or Oakleaf Hydrangea, “Snow Queen”, as a beautiful, hardy, deer resistant shrub to grow in our neighborhood gardens, I determined to give it a trial. These beautiful shrubs attract butterflies and hummingbirds. They are drought tolerant, need little care once established, and will grow into large plants perfect to enclose and screen an area.
I decided to use them in the lower corner of the garden, near the ravine, where I wanted a living barrier against the Bambies. These shrubs grow quite tall, fill out to nearly 10’ wide, and will be beautiful in all seasons from their sculptural branches in winter, through their white summer blooms, to their scarlet foliage in autumn.
Our friend, Joel Patton, owner of the Homestead Garden Center in Northwestern James City County, already had a crop of H. quercifolia, “Snow Queen” growing in his greenhouses this spring; so when they came ready for sale, I purchased a half dozen with high hopes for their success.
These shrubs were healthy and beautiful when I first planted them. They were about 2.5’ tall, growing in gallon pots. I planted them with plenty of compost and gravel to protect their roots from voles and get them off to a fast start.
I did everything for these little shrubs that I’ve recommended to others: I sprayed them with Plant Skydd, doused them with smelly Neptune’s Harvest, mulched them with gravel, and planted them against what appeared to be an impenetrable barrier. The only thing I didn’t do was cage them in their own little enclosures, but, these native Oakleaf Hydrangeas were supposed to be unappetizing to the deer, Right??
Wrong. They’ve been grazed all summer. In fact, despite repeated spraying, dousing, and reinforcing of the “deer fence”, they look more pathetic now than they have all season. At first it was only one, and the other two continued to grow. Now they have all been eaten back to the stem.
But, not one to give up easily, today I’ve tried yet another plan to protect them.
I bought a half a dozen pots of garlic chives and onion chives on Homestead’s summer clearance sale, and planted a little smelly clump at the base of each shrub. And, just to add another layer of protection, I’ve mulched them with moldy coffee grounds.
Onions, garlic and chives are recommended in both Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home Scale Permaculture, by Toby Hemenway and in Rick Austin’s Secret Garden of Survival as excellent plants to use around fruit trees and shrubs as protection from deer. These hardy perennials clump and spread. Their odor is a deterrent to grazing deer. These edibles are a good addition to a “guild” of plants in a forest garden. I hope they prove effective planted around these struggling Oakleaf Hydrangeas.
Coffee grounds are an excellent soil amendment, providing nitrogen and improving the texture of the soil. They can be added to compost, dug into a new planting, or used as a mulch. When allowed to age and mold on the kitchen counter in a sealed container, they develop an unpleasant odor, providing another layer of deterrent when spread around a planting.
So, am I still optimistic about this garden? Guardedly so, yes. I’m still climbing on that steep learning curve. There is no resting on any laurels, even as I watch the morning crowd of hummers on the lantana grow each week. Even as I harvest a handful of bright red jalapeno peppers to share with a friend, I’m still aware that this is a wild place, and the deer still rule the neighborhood- and graze my garden at will.
All photos by Woodland Gnome, 2013
- Serenity, and Joy (forestgardenblog.wordpress.com)
- Information About the Beautiful Oakleaf Hydrangea (landscaping.answers.com)