Fabulous Friday: The Napping Bee

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I was trecking through the garden a bit earlier than usual this morning.  Thank the doe I spotted strolling in the lower garden, for that.  The cat and I were enjoying the best of early morning on our dew dampened deck when she strolled into view, gazing up at us way too innocently.

Not yet dressed for the garden, at least I had on some old jeans and a pair of deck shoes.  I took off for the back door, grabbed the long baton we keep there for such activities, and headed out to inspire her swift departure.  Since my camera was right there on the kitchen counter, I grabbed it too, and headed down the hill in pursuit.

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Mrs. Doe knows us well.  And she soon realized that since it was just me, she could lead me on a merry chase.

Across the bottom, back up hill, through the perennials in front; she thought she had found refuge by lying down under our stand of Mountain Laurel.  But I still saw her, still as she was in the shadows, and let her know it was time to go.

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Once she had leapt the fence back to the neighbor’s yard next door, I hung out for a while, taking photos and listening for her to try to sneak back in.

And that is when I spotted the napping bee.  These bumblies don’t have hives, like honeybees.  And it isn’t unusual to find them, sleeping still, in the cool of early morning, clinging to the same flowers they visited last evening.

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Breakfast at the Agastache…

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A few of its mates were lazily slurping their breakfasts nearby.  Perhaps their night time perch had already been warmed by the sun.

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Allium, Verbena bonariensis and Coreopsis all delight hungry pollinators.

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Our sunny perennial beds are planted to attract as many pollinators as we can. The Agastache, in its third year, has grown into a gigantic mass of nectar rich flowers.  It will bloom steadily now until frost.

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Agastache with white mealy cup sage, white Echinacea, purple basil, thyme, dusty miller and a calla lily offer plenty of choices for our pollinators.

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Looking around, the feast is definitely laid for the wild creatures who frequent our garden.  There are ripening berries and abundant insects for our several families of birds.  There are plenty of flowers beckoning bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.

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And, there are plenty of ants marching along in formation to feed the skinks who sun themselves on our porches.   A huge rabbit, maybe even bigger than our cat, was munching grass on the front lawn at dusk last night.  And we’ve found several box turtles, who eat most anything, sheltering among the perennials.

And how could the deer not look in through the fences, and use every brain cell they’ve got to find a way into the garden?  Sadly, unlike our other garden visitors, their munching harms the plants and destroys the beauty of the place.

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Oakleaf Hydrangea, although native in our region, is still loved by hungry deer. This is our first year to enjoy more than a single bloom or two. I keep it sprayed with Repels-All.

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The doe who called me outside this morning was the third deer in two days, and she returned with a friend just an hour or so later, while I was brewing coffee.  By partner and I teamed up to help them both find their way back out.  That was a respectable work-out for both of us!

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The summer blooming Crinum lily is poisonous. This is one of the few lilies we dare grow, as it isn’t grazed and the bulbs won’t be disturbed by rodents. Hardy in Zone 7, this lily is long lived and the clump expands each year.

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When I went back outside, a bit later, to begin my day’s tasks in the garden; my partner took off to Lowe’s for a fresh bag of Milorganite.   Inches of rain, earlier this week, must have washed away what was left.

The Milorganite really does work.… until it doesn’t.  It’s not hard to tell when it’s time for a fresh application.  It might last as long as a couple of months, unless we have a heavy rain.

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I ended my morning’s gardening by spreading the entire bag of Milorganite, making sure to also cover that sweet spot under the Mountain Laurel where the doe believed she could hide.

By then, the sun was fully warming the front garden.  Our napping bee had awakened, and gotten on with the serious business of sipping nectar and collecting pollen.

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When I was young, I collected bumblies just like her in a glass jar with holes poked in the lid, just to observe the bees up close.  The delight in watching these creatures go about their work has never faded.

Now, it is fabulous to watch our June garden host so many wild and beautiful visitors.

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“The keeping of bees
is like the direction of sunbeams.”
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Henry David Thoreau
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Woodland Gnome 2017
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Fabulous Friday: 

Happiness is contagious!  Let’s infect one another!

The Yorktown Onion

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Locals in our area enjoy the spectacular early summer bloom of naturalized “Yorktown Onions” as they drive the Colonial Parkway between Williamsburg and Yorktown.  Thousands of brilliant magenta flowers nod and bob in the breeze from late May through mid-June.

The National Park Service leaves broad areas along the roadsides unmown each spring, so that these distinctive flowers may grow and bloom, surrounded by beautiful grasses.   By late June, these stands of wildflowers will be gone; the fields and grassy shoulders neatly mown once again.

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The battlefields at Yorktown also hold broad swathes of these beautiful Alliums in early summer, to be followed by a steady progression of wildflowers, including thistle, as the months pass.  These historic Revolutionary War battlefields, now wildflower meadows, escape the mowers until fall.  But you’ll often see herds of deer grazing here in the early morning and at dusk, and clouds of wild birds feeding as the various seeds ripen.

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If you’re visiting, please resist the urge to pick or pull the onions.  York County passed an ordinance protecting the Yorktown Onion many years ago.  They may not be picked or harvested on public land.

But these are a quintessential ‘pass along plant.’   If you’re lucky enough to know someone growing them on private property, you may be able to beg some seeds or sets to start your own patch.

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I believe we make more drives along the Colonial Parkway when the onions bloom each year.  We marvel at their wild, random beauty.  Their tiny blossoms prove magnets for bees and other pollinators.  The Yorktown Onion is one of many beautiful wildflowers visitors enjoy along the Parkway each summer.

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Native in Europe and in parts of the Near and Middle East, historians suggest that seeds were brought to Yorktown during the Colonial or Revolutionary eras.    These particular Alliums are one of many Allium species you might choose for your own garden.  The Yorktown Onion, Allium ampeloprasum, may be purchased from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs  in Gloucester, along with more than 30 other Allium cultivars.  The Yorktown Onion, like other Alliums, wants full sun.  They are drought tolerant and hardy in Zones 4-8.

Also known as ‘wild leeks’ or ‘wild garlic,’ these beautiful flowers are exceptionally easy to grow.  Basically, plant them where they’ll thrive, and then leave them alone!  They don’t like to be disturbed, and will gradually increase to a more substantial display each year.

The Heath’s grow their onion sets from seed, thus the dear price they charge for the “Yorktown” Alliums in their catalog.  If you want the general effect, without the boutique pricing, you might try the very, very similar A. ‘Summer Drummer.’  This nearly identical tall (4′ +) burgundy Allium may be purchased in groups of 5 bulbs for the same price as a single Yorktown Allium bulb.

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Allium bud as it begins to open in our own garden, June 1 of this year.

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If you want something a bit shorter and less likely to fall over with the weather, consider planting chives, garlic chives, or even just onion sets or garlic cloves bought at a farmer’s market or the produce section of your grocery.  You might be a bit surprised at what beautiful flowers show up in your garden!

Chives thrive in our garden.  The clumps expand, and their seeds readily self-sow each summer.  Use them in cooking and enjoy their edible flowers as garnishes.   Dried Allium flowers look very nice in dried arrangements or used to decorate wreathes or swags.

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Allium buds in our garden, late May

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I began planting Alliums to protect other plants from hungry deer.  I’ve learned that their strong fragrance can confuse the deer nose, and possibly deter deer from reaching across them to nibble something tasty.  Like other deer deterrents, Alliums work often, but not always, to protect the garden.

That said, why not grow Alliums for their own special beauty?  It is one of the short list of plants with a fairly iron-clad guarantee to not be nibbled.

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We stopped along our drive yesterday evening at Jone’s Millpond to enjoy the view and the wildflowers.  It is one of the few places along the Parkway where you may park and get an up-close view of the Yorktown Onions.  Even at dusk, the bumblies were busily feeding on the tiny flowers which make up each globe.

There is something about seeings hundreds, or thousands of these flowers naturalized across a wild field, that mesmerizes.  This is an effect it would be difficult to duplicate in one’s own garden.

I hope you’ll find yourself in our area when the Yorktown Onions bloom some summer soon.  At the end of your trek, in old Yorktown proper, you’ll find a sandy beach and a little gift shop called “The Yorktown Onion” nestled under the Coleman Bridge.

The journey is the destination….

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Woodland Gnome 2017

“Will Deer Eat It?”

Polka Dot plant takes center stage in this fairy garden. It comes in white, pink and red.

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The lady checking out in front of me at McDonald’s Garden Center on Jamestown Road had two cute little pots of ‘Polka Dot Plant,’ Hypoestes phyllostachya, and she had a single question for the clerk: “Will deer eat it?”  For those of us living among free-roaming herds of deer, that is always the question!

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Hydrangea macrophylla attract deer, who eat both leaves and flowers.

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Do deer graze in your garden?  It seems that ever growing herds of deer continue moving into more and more areas across the United States.  Even suburbs and small town now have a problem with deer.  So many are born each year, and they have no natural predator.  There is no longer enough hunting to keep their population in check, and so they have learned to live among us.

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Maybe you, like some of our neighbors, enjoy seeing ‘The Bambis.’  But maybe you, like many of our friends, want to grow a garden around your home to please you and your family- not to offer a free dinner to the local herd.

It is a constant struggle here, in our forested community.  Each doe can have up to five fawns a year.  Triplets aren’t uncommon.  Each buck may have a harem of six or more does in his family group.  We saw a group of more than 20 running across our neighbor’s yard one day in late January.

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Plants with poisonous leaves, like these Colocasia, won’t be grazed by deer.

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Even if you are content to let nature take its course in your yard, and you aren’t an avid gardener; you may be concerned about deer ticks and the diseases they carry.  Ticks lurk in places frequented by deer.  They wait on grasses, shrubs, anywhere they can until a warm blooded comes near enough for them to jump on and catch a ride and a meal.

The last time we were at the doctor getting an antibiotic script for a tick bite, the doctor offered up some comforting news.  She told us that the tick must be attached for 24 hours to transmit Lyme’s disease.  That is reason enough to thoroughly check for ticks after a day of gardening!

We have so many neighbors who have contracted Lyme’s disease, and we have had so many tick bites, that we do everything in our power to keep deer out of our garden.

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Ticks linger in overgrown grasses and on shrubs and trees, waiting for a ride and a meal.

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And that is not an easy thing.  Unless you are ready to construct a 10′ high chain link fence around the perimeter of your yard, maybe adding a little razor wire on top, they will likely find a way in from time to time.  And so we do everything in our power to discourage the deer from coming in to start with.  And if they do sneak in, we dispatch them and encourage them to stay in the ravine in future!

Which brings us back to buying ‘deer resistant’ plants.  The McDonald’s clerk didn’t know whether annual Polka Dot Plant was deer resistant or not.  But she looked it up somehow in her system, and told her customer that she believed it was.  She was right.  Hypoestes is considered deer resistant.

But that is a very loose term.  When hungry enough, deer will try grazing many things they shouldn’t.

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Rose scented Pelargonium with Pineapple Sage and Rose.  Herbs with a strong fragrance can offer some protection to tasty shrubs, like this rose.

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We’ve had to learn a lot about what deer won’t eat in order to garden in our community.  My last garden was enclosed with a 7′ fence in a suburb which had no deer.  My azaleas were 8′ high and I could grow anything I wanted without a second thought.  But the past is the past, and we live in the present, right?

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Azaleas once grew abundantly in our forest garden, before the deer population skyrocketed. Ours are now badly grazed and misshapen.  Some barely hang on from year to year.

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So unless you have an eidetic memory, it might be easier to remember some basic principles of what plants deer avoid than trying to memorize a list!  I’ve read lots of lists over the years and listened to a few experts speak on the topic.  No one is 100% accurate. in part because deer develop different preferences.

But here are a few guidelines which might prove useful as you plan your garden this spring:

  1.  Deer don’t like strongly scented or strongly flavored foliage.  This means that almost any herb is ‘safe’ and won’t be grazed.  This includes plants you might not think of as herbs, including annual geraniums, scented geraniums, Artemisias, and some perennials related to the mint family.  All Alliums, including garlic, scallions and onions, repel deer.
  2. Deer don’t like thick, tough and textured leaves.  Your Yucca is safe, as is prickly pear cactus, Iris and Lantana.  I’ve never seen lamb’s ears, Stachys byzantina,  grazed, either.
  3. Many plants are naturally poisonous, and others have oxalic acid crystals in their leaves which irritate deer mouths.  Caladiums and their relatives are ‘safe’ due to the irritating crystals in their leaves.  That said, two friends told me their Caladiums were grazed during a summer drought last year.  We lose a leaf from time to time, but never a whole plant.  Colocasia and Alocasia, Arum italicum, and Zantedeschia all fall into this group.  If a plant is known as poisonous, like Helleborus and daffodils,  you can plant it with confidence.
  4. Deer avoid eating ferns.
  5. Deer avoid grey foliage.

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    Lavender has both a strong fragrance and tough, thick leaves. Deer never touch them and they are helpful as screening plants around tasty plants you want to protect.

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Now, here is what they do enjoy eating:

  1.  Any new shrub from the nursery, which has been grown with lots of fertilizer, looks delicious!  Even a shrub they wouldn’t think of grazing when it is mature will be tasty when young.  Nitrogen, a salt, makes the foliage taste good.  Think salt on french fries….. Give those newly planted shrubs and trees a bit of extra protection until they are at least 2 years old.
  2. Any plant you might eat, especially in your vegetable garden, will attract deer.  We’ve had fruit trees grazed, tomatoes devastated, bean vines harvested, and lettuce made to disappear in the blink of an eye.
  3. Any tender, soft, succulent, beautiful leaf, like a Hosta, Heuchera, Coleus, or Hydrangea, will interest a deer.  They also like flowers, otherwise known as ‘deer candy.’  You wouldn’t think deer would graze roses, but they do.  They adore eating any lily, especially daylily leaves and flowers.

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Grow tasty annuals, like sweet potato vine, in pots or baskets out of reach of deer.  Grown where they can get to it, expect it to be grazed from time to time.

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What can you do?  Like the lady with the Polka Dot plant, consider whether or not a new plant will attract deer before you bring it home to your garden.  Let the majority of your new plants be those the deer won’t graze.  I’ve learned how to create an interesting garden by growing lots of herbs and poisonous plants!

But I grow my favorites, too.  We gave up on a veggie garden, but we still have roses, a few Hosta, and Hydrangeas.  I defiantly grow a few tasty annuals in pots and baskets out of the reach of deer, or in pots right up against the house.  You would be amazed how brazen hungry deer can be!  And yes, I’ve had sweet potato vines and Coleus plants eaten off my front patio.

That is why the perimeter of our property is mostly planted with shrubs and trees that deer won’t graze.  We have wax myrtle, crepe myrtle, bamboo, red cedar, Ligustrum and Yucca along  the outer edges, somewhat hiding the more delicious plants in the center of our garden.

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Echinacea, or Purple Coneflower, is a favorite of nectar loving insects. A perennial, it is rarely touched by deer and grows more vigorous each year.

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I generally surround tender tasty plants with highly scented ones the deer will avoid.  We grow garlic, chives and onions in random places to protect certain plants.  Highly scented herbs can often give some protection, too, if planted around a shrub you want to protect.  I throw garlic cloves in pots of annuals.

We also regularly spread Milorganite around the perimeter of our property and around shrubs, like azaleas, we want to protect from deer.  You need at least a 4′ swath of this smelly fertilizer to fend off deer.  An interesting benefit is the drastic reduction in ticks we’ve found since we began using Milorganite last spring.

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Scented Pelargoniums and Zantedeschia prove a winning, and deer proof, combination.

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I keep a spray bottle of ‘Repels-All’ and spray the Hosta and Heuchera as they emerge; the roses and Hydrangeas as they leaf out.  Rain washes this product away, eventually, and so one needs to use it every few weeks.  Plants are more vulnerable in spring than in late summer, so you don’t have to make a life-time commitment to spraying this stuff.

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Hibiscus prove deer resistant.

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No one of us can solve the deer problem alone.  We’ve recently heard of some research in New York with contraceptive injections good for 22 months for an adult doe.  But this program is very expensive and labor intensive.  Hunting remains very controversial.  There are few ideas out there for a humane solution to this growing problem.

As undeveloped habitat disappears deer move in to our neighborhoods, sharing the land with us. And so it is up to us, as the brainier species, to adapt.  One way to co-exist with these gentle creatures is to design our gardens with plants they won’t eat.

Let them eat elsewhere!” becomes our motto, and  constant vigilance our practice.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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Our ‘deer resistant’ garden, filled with poisonous plants and herbs,  in early spring

Milorganite Update: Remarkable Success!

An Hydrangea brought as a cutting from our last garden, has been grazed each year in this one... until this spring.

This Hydrangea, brought as a cutting from our last garden, has been grazed each year in this one… until this spring.  Might it finally bloom this summer?

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The early results of our experiment in using Milorganite as a deterrent for deer remain all positive.  A month on, we haven’t seen a single deer in our garden since applying Milorganite in early April.  We haven’t seen a deer, a hoof print, deer droppings, or any damage to the tastiest of our plants.

This is absolutely remarkable!  Spring has proven one of the busiest seasons for deer breaking through our fences and into the garden, right as tasty and tender new foliage emerges.  Damage done in these crucial first few weeks of the growing season has stunted growth and marred the beauty of plants for the entire season… in past years.

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Deer stripped this struggling little Camellia of all its leaves this past March. It happens once or twice each year, yet the Camellia hangs on. New leaves have begun to emerge from its naked stems.

Deer stripped this struggling little Camellia of all its leaves in March. It happens once or twice each year, yet the Camellia hangs on.  New leaves have finally begun to emerge from its naked stems. 

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Deer pressure in the garden increased during the last two weeks of March.  A tea rose was nibbled back to its canes the day after I pruned away the Lantana skeleton protecting it.  All those early leaves and tiny buds simply gone overnight.  That was what pushed us into accepting the counsel of other gardeners to at least experiment with Milorganite.

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This four year old R. 'Pope John Paul II' was grazed within a day when I cut back the Lantana in early March. Protected by Milorganite, it is recovering and has a few flower buds.

This four year old R. ‘Pope John Paul II’ was grazed within a day, in early March, when I cut back the Lantana growing around it. Protected by Milorganite, it is recovering now and even has a few flower buds.

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Milorganite, or Milwaukee Organic Nitrogen, is the heated and pelletized remains from the city of Milwaukee’s sewage treatment plant.  See why I was reluctant to try it?  But it was much easier and more pleasant to use than the various deer repellent sprays I’ve tried over our years in this garden.  I wanted to simply hold my breath while using most of the sprays we’ve tried!

Milorganite is a clean looking, grey material made of tiny dry pellets; much like Osmacote or pelletized lime.  There is no dust or obvious odor to my human nose.

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milorganite~

Wearing gardening gloves, I simply scooped it and broadcast spread it using a discarded plastic food container.  I made a 4′ perimeter along the inside of our fence line, and added an extra stripe of it in the plantings along our street and along our drive.

I also spread it around specific shrubs which need protecting, as added insurance, and in areas we’ve seen deer moving through the garden in past years.

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We spread a double stripe of Milorganite on both the streetside, and the garden side of our deer fences nearest the street.

We spread a double stripe of Milorganite on both the street side, and the garden side of our deer fences nearest the street.  We have Azaleas, native blueberries  and Oak Leaf Hydrangeas to protect in this area.

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I used the entire 36 lb. bag, which is advertised to cover around 2500 square feet.  This was a huge bargain:  We bought the bag at Lowes for under $13.00.  If you’ve paid top dollar for animal repellent sprays then you know a single bottle can cost twice that amount!

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Our Hostas have emerged beautifully this spring. I simply abandoned this part of the garden last season due to pressure from deer crossing through the fence and grazing heavily here.

Our Hostas have emerged beautifully this spring. I simply abandoned this part of the garden last season due to pressure from deer crossing through the fence and grazing heavily here.

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Now, we wondered whether the Milorganite would repel other mammalian visitors to our garden.  Since spreading it, we’ve continued to see rabbits munching on the front lawn and squirrels running about.  But the squirrels already had nests high up in our garden’s trees.  The rabbits were grazing in areas where I hadn’t broadcast the repellent.  We haven’t found any plants damaged by their grazing.

The number of vole tunnels we’ve found this spring has dropped dramatically, too.  Several factors have helped control the voles, particularly the many Daffodils and Hellebores we’ve planted throughout the garden in recent years.  But we’ll assume that perhaps they are avoiding ground treated with Milorganite, too.

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This little Oakleaf Hydrangea, with ferns and bulbs, gets grazed once or twice a year. So far the Milorganite has protected it this spring.

This little Oakleaf Hydrangea, with ferns and bulbs, gets grazed once or twice a year.  The Milorganite has protected it this spring.

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And we’ve been delighted to see new growth on the rose which pushed us over the edge.  It has covered itself in foliage and formed new buds over the last month.  Other roses, heavily grazed in past years, are growing happily this spring.  Covered in buds, they have actually bulked up a little!

Little Azalea shrubs, planted by previous owners of our garden, show signs of recovery, too.  Grazed to their stems over the past few years, they have been barely holding on.  But new growth is bursting forth this spring, and many of them bloomed.

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Hydrangea, Azaleas and Rhododendrons grow in the open Connie Hansen Garden in Lincoln City, OR. Deer have free run of this garden.

Hydrangea, Azaleas and Rhododendrons grow in the open Connie Hansen Garden in Lincoln City, OR.  Deer have free run of this garden.

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We realize that deer, and their fawns, form habits in early spring for where to go each day to graze.  We believe that keeping them out of our garden in these first few months of spring will help them learn to avoid visiting us during the remainder of the year.

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I surround roses and other tasty treats with fragrant herbs, which generally protect them. This baby rose grows protected by chocolate mint.

I surround roses, and other tasty treats, with fragrant herbs, which give some protection from grazing deer. This baby rose grows protected by chocolate mint.

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Deer are actually quite intelligent and resourceful.  And so we opted to re-apply another bag of Milorganite this past week.  Even though we expect an application to last between 6 and 8 weeks based on our reading, we decided to go over the perimeter and the critical areas once again after only 4 weeks.

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The wider view shows Violas also untouched this spring.

The wider view shows Violas also untouched this spring.

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We’ve had a lot of rain, and we didn’t want to take any chance that the scent would weaken and a few deer might slip in.  We probably won’t apply it again until late June or early July.

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The first rose we planted here in 2010, this shrub rose has been grazed repeatedly. In rare years we actually see it bloom. This year it hasn't been touched by grazing and so is bulking up.

The first rose we planted here in 2010, this English shrub rose has been grazed repeatedly. In rare years we actually see it bloom. This year it hasn’t been touched by grazing and so is finally growing a bit.

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But we will continue our integrated approach to discouraging deer in the garden.  Not only will we monitor our perimeter deer fences, but I still plan to plant fragrant herbs throughout the garden.  I picked up a selection of scented Pelargoniums this weekend to plant near our smaller roses, along with Basil and Lavender.

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Pelargonium 'Skeleton Rose' has lovely scent and foliage. Rarely hardy for us, I search it out again each spring.

Pelargonium ‘Skeleton Rose’ has lovely scent and foliage. Rarely hardy for us, I search it out again each spring.

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And we continue adding plants with poisonous leaves and stems, which deer won’t graze anyway.  As awful as that might sound, many of our favorite ornamental plants, like Caladiums, Daffodils and Hellebores are poisonous from leaf to root.

Other favorites have leaves deer don’t care to eat.  Lamb’s Ears, or  Stachys byzantina, most ferns, Lantana, Comphrey, Geraniums, Iris and other garden favorites have leaves with objectionable textures and scents which deer leave strictly alone.  Many ornamentals can be planted in safety no matter how many deer visit one’s garden.

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Ferns and Hellebores won't be bothered by deer.... ever.

Ferns and Hellebores won’t be bothered by deer…. ever.  Here, transplanted seedlings of Hellebore surround a newly planted Maidenhair fern.

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I walked around the garden last week admiring this spring’s growth.  All of our Hostas have emerged and are growing undamaged.  Roses and Azaleas grow ungrazed.  Our beautiful Oak Leaf Hydrangeas are bulking up undamaged, for the first time ever.  Perennials continue waking from their winter’s rest, wildflowers bloom and even the low-hanging branches and fruit on our pear tree have gone untouched.  (Deep contented sigh….)

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Daylily emerges in this bed each spring, but rarely has the chance to bloom. So far the new leaves remain untouched.

Daylily emerges in this bed each spring, but rarely has the chance to bloom. So far the new leaves remain untouched.  Apple mint runs among the Columbines, Iris, Daffodils, ferns and Vinca minor.

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I overheard some of the volunteer gardeners discussing deer damage to new plantings at the Connie Hansen Garden, when I was in Oregon last month.  I didn’t admit to eavesdropping by breaking into their conversation; I’m shy that way most times.  Deer roam freely in their neighborhood, and the split rail fences around the garden present no obstacle to the deer at all.  They were discussing what a particularly damaging spring it has been for their garden.  But I wanted to interject, “Have you tried Milorganite?” 

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Epimedium grows this spring in one of our 'stump gardens.'

Epimedium grows this spring  with Salvia and Hellebore in one of our ‘stump gardens.’

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With the zeal of a recent convert, I’d like to share our success with everyone plagued by deer in their gardens.  Finally, at long last, we seem to have found a product which effectively repels deer; excludes them, actually, long term.  It is working thus far for us, and I hope others with deer problems will soon try it, too.  Please leave a comment if you have experience with Milorganite, or another product which protects your garden from grazing deer.

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May 2, 2016 garden 015

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Because beyond the obvious benefits to our plants, the most exciting benefit has been for the gardeners:  We haven’t found a single tick since our first Milorganite application in early April.  In fact, I’ve had only one tick bite this entire year, and that was in mid-March.  My partner hasn’t had any, despite the many hours we’ve both spent outside in recent weeks.

Keeping deer out of our garden has kept ticks out of the garden, too.

May our good fortune continue….

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May 2, 2016 garden 046~

Woodland Gnome 2016

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May 2, 2016 garden 048

Gardening In A Place With Deer

 

Plant ferns with confidence, knowing they will not be eaten by hungry visitors to your garden.

Plant ferns with confidence, knowing they will not be eaten by hungry visitors to your garden.

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Gardening friends across the country share a common frustration with us: deer grazing the valuable ornamental and edible plants in our gardens. This challenge feels as though it is getting more difficult each year as deer populations increase. And its not just deer who show up to feed at the buffet of our well-tended gardens. Rabbits, voles, moles, squirrel and muskrats also destroy plants and steal produce form our gardens each season

Discovering the damage is always a bit of a shock, and always creates frustration. Two Oakleaf Hydrangea shrubs which escaped damage until now were stripped of their leaves sometime yesterday. We’ve had enough rain that spray repellents were washed away. The careful planting of distasteful plants around them was not enough to keep these hungry deer away.

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Hydrangea, 'Ruby Slippers'

Hydrangea, ‘Ruby Slippers’

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A neighbor suggests we plant things especially for the deer, to feed them. While this may sound like a good idea at first, the reality is the deer will eat those plants to the nub, and then continue on to the rest of the garden. The more food available, the more the herd will increase.

Some neighbors enjoy seeing the deer in their yards. They find them beautiful. I have no argument with that. However, the reality is that these gentle and graceful creatures not only decimate the vegetation, they also carry ticks. The ticks often carry Lyme’s Disease and other dangerous diseases, which create life-long illnesses in those who develop the disease.

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August 27, 2014 Parkway 024

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That is why my partner and I have spent the last six years, since we moved to this deer ridden tick infested forest garden, doing everything we can to eliminate the deer from around our home. Some tell us up front we are on a fool’s errand. And maybe they are right. But since I love to garden, the alternative is to simply sell and move on in hopes we won’t find deer in our next neighborhood.

But as man develops nature into more sprawling neighborhoods, the native animals learn to live among us. Their fear of us diminishes with their options.

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Native Hibiscus fill our garden this week.  Deer never touch them, and they bloom for more than a month each summer.

Native Hibiscus fill our garden this week. Deer never touch them, and they bloom for more than a month each summer.

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I first wrote about gardening in spite of the deer two summers ago, in June of 2013. The techniques and plant list I offered then was based on three years of experimentation and conversation with other neighborhood gardeners; and extensive reading on the subject. After another two years of gardening, and watching deer continue to somehow slither in through the fences we’ve constructed to keep them out, I’m ready to revise the plant list and offer somewhat different advice.

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July 16, 2015 Hibiscus 015

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The bottom line is that there are a few plants the deer almost never touch. They will walk right past them without touch a single leaf. And these are the only species one may plant with total peace of mind. Planting other species the deer and other critters find tasty leads to loss. You may enjoy the plants at times, but will be faced with the damage done at others.

Now sometimes it is worth it. Many plants the deer graze will eventually grow to a height and breadth so that grazing may damage, but will not destroy the plant. Many of our roses have now grown to that stage.

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July 16, 2015 Hibiscus 008

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Yes, I love roses and have planted them despite the fact they are simply deer candy. I have lost many rose shrubs to the deer over the past few years. But a few have established and now flourish. I think the secret has been to chose large growing, hardy shrub roses. The smaller tea roses can rarely gain enough size to survive. The same can be said for Rhododendron, Azalea, Hydrangea, and other marginal shrubs.

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The Rhododendron I brought home in February has finally bloomed!  Some may find these electric purple flowers highly strange.....

The Rhododendron I brought home in February finally bloomed!

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Another factor to consider is that newly planted nursery shrubs are already rich in Nitrogen from the grower. A high Nitrogen content makes the plant tastier; like salted French fries to our palate. Nitrogen, and other elements in fertilizer, are considered salts. If we can keep a plant alive, through whatever means, for the first two or three years; it not only grows larger, it also grows less appealing.

When considering how much extra fertilizer to spread around your shrubs and trees, if any, this is an important consideration.  Growing your garden on the lean side might offer additional protection from grazing.

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Camellia susanqua

Camellia susanqua

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We have observed that plants which grow extremely well in some of our gardens, such as Camellias and Hydrangea macrophylla, also called Mophead Hydrangea, get eaten in others.  My mature Camellia bushes are left alone, but I’ve had tremendous damage done to some, but not all, newly planted Camellia bushes.   Sometimes shrub species and perennials that nurserymen and landscape architects recommend as ‘deer resistant’ get eaten, anyway.

Experience is the best teacher. Somehow, deer rarely stick to the published lists of plants they are supposed to avoid.

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Camellia

Camellias begin to bloom here in October.

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Maybe I’ve grown cynical, but now I seek out poisonous plants for our garden. No, I’m not planting poison ivy as ground cover and Castor beans in the flower beds. Although Castor beans have lovely foliage and I plant them some years….

I’m not interested in plants poisonous to the touch. I’m interested in plants which deer and other animals will not graze because of the poisonous compounds in their leaves.

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Caladiums, ferns and Begonias remain my favorite plants for shade.

Caladiums, ferns and Begonias remain my favorite plants for shade.

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These animals are smart, and they know these things instinctively. Even if you lose a Caladium leaf here and there, it won’t happen very much.

The other general group of plants the deer leave alone are the strongly scented herbs. They do not like, and will not bother most herbs. And herbs offer beautiful foliage along with some flowers. Ferns, likewise, rarely suffer from grazing. A frond may disappear from time to time, but the plant remains.

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Bumblebee on Basil

Bumblebee on Basil

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 Rough textured and strongly scented foliage protects other sorts of plants, as well. I’ve never had a Pelargonium grazed. Whether you plant Zonal Geraniums in a flower pot, Ivy Geraniums in a hanging basket, or scented Geraniums in a pot or bed, you can plant with confidence. In fact, I’ve had some success with planting scented Geraniums, some of which will grow very large in a season, around roses and Hydrangea to protect them from grazing. Deer dislike scented plants that much.

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hardy Geranium makes a lovely, deer resistant ground cover all season.

Hardy Geranium makes a lovely, deer resistant ground cover all season.

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Native hardy Geraniums are nearly as safe a bet. If tasted, they won’t be eaten. These make a nice ground cover at the front of a bed and around shrubs.

Many native shrubs and trees remain immune to grazing. Maybe this is why the deer leave naturally overgrown areas to shimmy into our garden buffet. There is a benefit in learning to appreciate the aesthetic of native plants. These may not be first choice from an ornamental point of view, but they will survive.

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Native Mountain Laurel blooms here in May for several weeks.  This small tree remains evergreen all year, with interesting bark and slender trunks.

Native Mountain Laurel blooms here in May for several weeks. This small tree remains evergreen all year, with interesting bark and slender trunks.

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It is very frustrating to realize there is absolutely nothing you can do, short of building an 8” high wire cage around your garden, to protect those fruits and vegetables you would like to grow for your own family. I’ve seen 10” high secured netting draped on heavy frames to protect tomato plants in my neighbors’ garden. Sure, the deer couldn’t get at the plants, but squirrels found their way in to steal the tomatoes. Ditto with potted tomatoes grown ‘out of reach’ on the deck.

Just remember, most animals haven’t a care in the world beyond finding food and staying alive. They have 24/7 to scheme a way in to your garden for dinner. So whether you want to plant blueberry bushes, apple trees, strawberries or a row of beans; it is likely it will be eaten before it ripens in a garden like ours.

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Re-blooming Iris, "Rock Star"

Re-blooming Iris, “Rock Star”

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That said, there are still many beautiful choices in trees, flowering shrubs, perennials, annuals, herbs and ferns from which to choose. Here is a freshly curated list for your consideration. We live in Zone 7b, in coastal Virginia. This list is peculiar to our climate, but many of these plants may grow well in your garden, too.

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Echinacea, or Purple Coneflower, is a favorite of nectar loving insects. A perennial, it is rarely touched by deer and grows more vigorous each year.

Echinacea, or Purple Coneflower, is a favorite of nectar loving insects. A perennial, it is rarely touched by deer and grows more vigorous each year.

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Key to symbols:

!  a native plant in our area

# attracts birds with berries, fruit, nuts, or seeds

*  a nectar producing plant which attracts butterflies and other pollinating insects

+ a nectar producing plant which attracts hummingbirds

$ poisonous

Flowering Trees and Shrubs

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Bamboo provides cover for nesting birds, shelter from the weather, and a steady supply of insects to eat. Deer never touch it.

Bamboo provides cover for nesting birds, shelter from the weather, and a steady supply of insects to eat. Deer never touch it.

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# * + Althea, Rose of Sharon Hibiscus syriacus

Beauty berry grows like the native (weed?) it is.  These self-seed around the garden, and never suffer from hungry deer.  Our birds take great delight in the berries as they ripen.

Beauty berry grows like the native (weed?) it is. These self-seed around the garden, and never suffer from hungry deer. Our birds take great delight in the berries as they ripen.

# * + $ Angel’s Trumpet:  Brugmansia and Datura

Rose of Sharon

Rose of Sharon

 

Bamboo (various species)

! #   Bayberry, or Wax Myrtle Myrica cerifera

! # * Beautyberry Bush Callicarpa americana

# *   Boxwood Buxus sempervirens

! # * + Butterfly Bush Buddleia (various species)

# * + Butterfly Tree or Glory Tree  Clerodendrum trichotomum

Butterfly tree

Butterfly tree

Camellia C. japonica and C. sasanqua

# * +Crepe Myrtle Lagerstroemia

! # * Dogwood Cornus florida

Edgeworthia

# * English Laurel Prunus laurocerasus

Crepe Myrtle begins to bloom in our garden, and will fill the garden with flowers until early September.

Crepe Myrtle begins to bloom in our garden, and will fill the garden with flowers until early September.

# Fig  Ficus carica

* Forsythia

! # * Fringe Tree Chionanthus virginicus

! * Hydrangea arborescens

# Japanese Maple Acer palmatum

# * + $ Ligustrum

* +Lilac Syringa vulgaris

# * Mahonia Mahonia aquifolium

! $ Mountain Laurel Kalmia latifolia (all parts of this plant are highly poisonous)

Lilac

Lilac

! # * Magnolia virginiana and other species

# *Heavenly Bamboo Nandina domestica (all parts of this plant are highly poisonous)

! * & Native Holly Ilex opaca

! # Oakleaf Hydrangea Hydrangea quercifolia

# * + $ Oleander

# * Fire Thorn Pyracantha (various species)

Yucca filamentosa

Yucca filamentosa

! # * +Red Bud Cercis canadensis

# * $ Rhododendron

# * +  Silk Tree or Mimosa Albizia julibrissin

# * St. John’s Wort Hypericum

! # Southern Wax Myrtle  Myrica cerifera

! # + Red Buckeye Aesculus pavia

$ Yew

! #* Adam’s Needle Yucca filamentosa and other species

Perennials and Bulbs

! $ Wolfsbane, Monkshood Aconitum

Echinacea

Echinacea

* $ Bleeding Heart  Dicentra cucullaria

! # * + Butterfly Weed Asclepias tuberose and Asclepias incarnata

* + Canna Lily Canna

Our garden on the fourth of July:; a Salvia grows through Colocasia, punctuated with a dark leafed Canna.

Our garden on the fourth of July:; a Salvia grows through Colocasia, punctuated with a dark leafed Canna.

*  Centaurea ( various species)

# * + $ Columbine

* $ Colocasia Elephant’s Ear

* $ Lily of the Valley  Convallaria majalis

! # * Coreopsis ( various species)

 * + Crocosmia ( various species) 

* $ Daffodil Narcissus ( various species)

! # * Daisy Asteraceae ( various species)

* $ Daphne

Butterfly bush with native Hibiscus

Butterfly bush with Canna and native Hibiscus

* + $ Larkspur Delphinium

# * Dianthus ( various species)

! # * Purple Coneflower Echinacea purpurea

* Euphorbia ( various species)

# * Fall Anemones A. hupehensis

Fern   (click for detailed information)

# * + Gaillardia ( various species)

Male Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly on Lantana

Male Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly on Lantana

* Geranium ( various species)

* + Ginger Lily Hedychium ( various species)

! * Goatsbeard Aruncus dioicus

* Goldenrod Solidago rugosa

Gingerlily

Gingerlily

* $ Lenten Rose Hellebore ( various species) (note, this plant is highly poisonous)

* $ Dutch Hyacinth Hyacinthus orientalis

 * #  Iris (Bearded, Dutch, Louisiana, Siberian, etc.)

# Ivy

! # * + Rose Mallow Hibiscus moscheutos

! * +Joe Pye Weed  Eutrochium ( various species)

Joe Pye Weed

Joe Pye Weed

# * Lambs Ears Stychys Byzantina

* + Mexican (Bush) Sage (Salvia leucantha) or Salvia Mexicana

* Muscari ( various species)

* Oxalis

* Pelargonium ( various species)

* Peony Paeonia ( various species)

* $ Plumeria

* + Red Hot Poker Kniphofia ( various species)

! # * Black Eyed Susans  Rudbeckia ( various species)

Oxalis triangularis grows in a pot outside as part of a small shade garden.  Although leaves are grazed from time to time, the plant is happy here in the partial shade.

Oxalis triangularis grows in a pot outside as part of a small shade garden. Although leaves are grazed from time to time, the plant is happy here in the partial shade.

$ Sauromatum venosum, Voodoo Lily

 

Herbs

Rose scented Pelargonium.

Rose scented Pelargonium.

* $ Artemisia

# * Basil

#*Catmint

apple mint

apple mint

* Comfrey

* Curry

# * Dill

* Fennel

* Germander

* + Lavender

*Marjoram

* Mint

!# *+ Monarda

Salvia with Colocasia

Salvia with Colocasia

* Oregano

# * Parsley

* + Pineapple Sage Salvia elegans

Rosemary

* Sage Salvia species

Annuals and Biennials

Pineapple Sage reliably fills the garden with beauty at the end of the season.  Here it is just coming into bloom as we greet October.

Pineapple Sage reliably fills the garden with beauty at the end of the season. Here it is just coming into bloom as we greet October.

* Angelonia

* $ Caladium

$ Castor Bean Ricinus communis (all parts of this plant are highly poisonous)

# *+Spider Flower Cleome hassleriana

* Dusty Miller Centaurea cineraria

# * +$ Foxglove Digitalis purpurea

# * + Lantana or Shrub Verbena Lantana camara

* + Mandevilla sanderi

* Mexican Heather Cuphea hyssopifolia

* New Guinea Impatiens Impatiens hawkeri

* + Pentas ( various species)

* Plectranthus ( various species)

* Purple Heart Tradescantia pallida

# * + Zinnia elegans

Vines

May apples with Vinca

May apples with Vinca and ivy

! * + Trumpet Creeper Campsis radicans

! * + Honeysuckle Lonicera sempervirens

# * $ Ivy

! # * + $ Passionflower Passiflora incarnata

*  Periwinkle Vinca major & V. minor

# * Star Jasmine Trachelospermum jasminoides

! # * + Virginia Creeper Parthenocissus quinquefolia

To have confidence your garden won’t be grazed, choose plants known to be poisonous. 

Pick Your Poison:

Poisonous ornamental shrubs: 

Narcissus

Narcissus

Angel’s Trumpet:  Brugmansia and Datura

Daphne

European Holly Ilex aquifolium

Hellebores

Hellebores

Elder Sambucus

Ligustrum

Mountain Laurel Kalmia latifolia

Oleander

Rhododendron

Yew

Some species of Oak are poisonous

Poisonous Perennials and Bulbs

Artemesia

Wolfsbane, Monkshood AconitumApril 13, 2015 spring flowers 007

Columbine

Caladium

Daffodil

Bleeding Heart  Dicentra cucullaria

Elephant’s Ear Colocasia

Foxglove Digitalis

Columbine

Columbine

Hellebore

Hyacinth

Lily of the Valley  Convallaria majalis

Larkspur Delphinium

Plumeria

Sauromatum venosum, Voodoo Lily

Poisonous Annuals

Castor Bean Ricinus communis

Tomato leaves (though the deer have grazed my tomatoes)

Potato leaves

Voodoo lily and a division of Colocasia 'China Pink' grow in front of our Edgeworthia in part shade.

Voodoo lily and a division of Colocasia ‘China Pink’ grow in front of our Edgeworthia in part shade.

Poisonous Vines

Ivy Hedera

Poison Ivy

Poison Oak

Passion Flower Passiflora Caerulea (leaves)

 

Plants that will need extraordinary measures to protect in a forest garden include:  Azaleas, Hostas, daylilies, Oriental Lilies, Roses, impatiens, some sedums, Tomatoes, squashes, sweet potato vines, cucumbers, beans, and mophead Hydrangeas.

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All photos by Woodland Gnome

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June 22, 2015 foliage 012

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Related articles

 

Garden Blogger’s Foliage Day: June

This little Acer Plamatum germinated in my parents' garden this spring.  I brought it home to grow on, here in a large pot with ferns and Caladiums.

This little Acer Palmatum germinated in my parents’ garden this spring. I brought it home to grow on, here in a large pot with ferns and Caladiums.

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Our world is leafy green this month; a thousand shades of green.  Yet there are many more colors found glowing on leaves in our garden.

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Coleus

Coleus

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Layer upon layer of leaves extend themselves to catch the sun’s rays.

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Canna lilies have reached about half their final height.  Hibiscus, behind them, will bloom with scarlet flowers in a few weeks.

Canna lilies have reached about half their final height. Hibiscus, behind them, will bloom with scarlet flowers in a few weeks.

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From the Oaks’ canopies down to the tiny chartreuse leaves of creeping Jenny, Lysimachia nummularia, which blanket parts of our garden; leaves bask in summer’s brilliant sunshine.

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June 20, 2015 garden 001

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I ventured into new territory last summer when planting a border of tall Canna lilies, given by a friend, and elephant ear Colocasia.  Both are well up now with the Cannas bursting into bloom.

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June 16, 2015 blooming in June 022

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They will continue growing for a few weeks, topping out above head high with blooms through the summer.

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June 16, 2015 blooming in June 017~

Tall, perennial Hibiscus join these tropical looking, large plants in the front border.  I’ve extended the grouping to a new area in the lower garden where growth has been slow.

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Colocasia 'Mojito'

Colocasia ‘Mojito’

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There is less light here, and the Cannas were purchased as roots just this spring.  I hope they will catch up in the summer heat and make a good show by mid-summer.

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June 20, 2015 garden 012~

They border the new bog garden, filled now with pitcher plants, Sarraceniaceae, which are native to the mid-Atlantic coast; with the African rose Hibiscus; Colocasia esculenta ‘Mojito’ and Coleus.  Two pots of milkweed grow here, too, in our hope to draw in Monarch butterflies.

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Oxalis triangularis has struggled here because deer frequently graze these beautiful burgundy leaves.

Oxalis triangularis has struggled here because deer frequently graze these beautiful burgundy leaves.

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The border of Oxalis I planted with such confidence in May is nearly gone, grazed by rogue deer who have somehow snuck into the garden through our fences.  I’ve sprayed what remains with deer repellent and hope they will re-grow from the tubers.

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This Oxalis has been protected with a clove of garlic grown here since fall.  In more shade, there are no flowers and darker leaves.  A division of hardy Begonia can be seen at the top of the photo, and a division of fern to the far right.  These will fill in fairly quickly.

This Oxalis has been protected with a clove of garlic grown here since fall.  In more shade, there are no flowers and darker leaves. A division of hardy Begonia can be seen at the top of the photo, and a division of fern to the far right. These will fill in fairly quickly.

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Oxalis is supposed to be ‘deer resistant,’ but anyone who gardens near deer understands the humor of that phrase.

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Voodoo lily and a division of Colocasia 'China Pink' grow in front of our Edgeworthia in part shade.

Voodoo lily and a division of Colocasia ‘China Pink’ grow in front of our Edgeworthia in part shade.  Rudbeckia, to the right, will bloom golden in July.  I just love these spotted stems!

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Our collection of poisonous plants has grown this summer to include the “Voodoo Lily,” Sauromatum venosum, bought at Brent and Becky’s Bulbs in April; and a hardy Calla lily, just ordered from Plant Delights Nursery near Raleigh, NC.

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June 14, 2015 calla lily 2 004~

I was pleased to learn that Calla, native to South Africa, is in fact poisonous.  The poisonous leaves have more staying power in our garden, and do no harm to those who aren’t grazing them!

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Helebores, also poisonous, protects this pot from grazing.  The Heuchera would be munched if unprotected.

Hellebore, also poisonous, protects this pot from grazing. The Heuchera would be munched if unprotected.

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There are many more leaves to share, but you’ll see them as the summer unfolds.

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June 22, 2015 foliage 012~

We continue to plant ferns, and we’ve added several new cultivars this year.

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June 22, 2015 foliage 002

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We have also found several interesting cultivars of scented Pelargonium.  This rose scented Pelargonium grows in a pot with Ajuga.

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June 22, 2015 foliage 007~

Herbs smell wonderful on hot sunny days, and have such beautiful foliage.

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June 18, 2015 bees 002

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 I appreciate Christina, who gardens in the Hesperides,  for hosting this Garden Blogger’s Foliage Day meme on the 22nd of each month. She challenges us to focus on the foliage in our gardens; not just the flowers.

Please visit her and follow as many links as you can to enjoy beautiful foliage posts photographed in a variety of different gardens.

But, before you do, we will end with a few more photos of my beloved Begonias:

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There will be another Begonia post soon.  These beauties continue growing better each week.

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June 14, 2015 garden 017~

Woodland Gnome 2015

Mystery Begonia

June 5, 2015 flowers 008

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Do you know her name?

I would love to know, although she is wonderful whether named or not.

I found this lovely Begonia in a farmer’s market plant stall nearly 10 years ago, and bought her on sight… as a gift for my dad.

He loved her, and kept her over winter in his solarium.  He gave me cuttings, and he and I have both grown those cuttings on and taken more ever since.

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June 11, 2015 garden 020~

We both grow this lovely Begonia now,  and I’ve passed on cuttings to many Begonia loving friends over the years.

This cane Begonia can grow fairly tall; to at least 3′.    Both stems and leaves are sumptuous red, and the generous bracts of  flowers rose pink.  She blooms year round, taking short breaks between outbreaks of loveliness.

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May 25, 2015 foliage 019

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I keep this cane Begonia watered but not wet, and feed with dilute fertilizer monthly.  Cane Begonias have harder, waxier stems than the tuberous Begonias, and so don’t rot easily at the soil line when the soil is too wet.  These are sturdy, forgiving plants.

I  also sprinkle Osmocote on the soil two or three times each year, and trim back long canes from time to time when they get too lanky.   I always plop those pruned canes into a jar of water to allow them to root.

Cane Begonias prefer partial shade, but appreciate time out of doors in the summer.  When we first move them out, they often lose leaves for a few weeks.  These are quickly replaced with sturdier, brighter leaves ready to process the stronger light available in summer.

They don’t like cold or drafts and so come back inside before the weather turns cold.

Deer normally leave cane Begonias alone.  However, they will nibble leaves from time to time when especially hungry.  We’ve had deer somehow sneaking into our garden too frequently in recent weeks.  And they have grazed some of our cane Begonias.  Such a waste….

The remedy is to throw a few whole cloves of garlic into each pot.  Deer hate the aroma of garlic.  Although unsightly, the garlic will protect the plants from grazing.

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This is one of my favorite Begonias from cuttings.  I bought one plant a decade ago, and continue to start new ones from it.  I've given cuttings from this special Begonia to many friends.

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My father asked me to re-pot his red Begonia last weekend.  I think it might be the original plant…

We moved her up to a 14″ coir lined basket, gave her some fresh soil and a sprinkle of Osmocote; and hung her back in her shady summer spot.

Oh, the joy of a basket of cane Begonias in the summer.

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August 2, 2014 010

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She will cover herself in flowers through all of the warm months to come.

Do you know her name?  After many attempts to find this plant online, I’m finally asking for help.  Surely someone else has grown her, too, and can add a bit of information to aid my quest.

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May 25, 2015 foliage 049

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Woodland Gnome 2015

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