My Current Crush: Arum Italicum

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Just as most garden perennials begin to die back and prepare themselves for a ‘long winter’s nap,’ Arum Italicum begins to grow.  Its fresh green leaves push up through the moist autumn soil and fallen leaves to begin their nearly nine months of gorgeousity.

Last winter’s experiment has grown into this autumn’s crush.  These beautiful plants performed so well, for so long, that I bought 50 more tubers in September to ensure masses of them for the coming season.  With such a royal horde of the beauties, I also shared about a dozen with friends, in hopes they will find them useful and beautiful in their own gardens.

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This Mediterranean and European native, hardy in zones 5-9, begins its annual growth in the fall with huge, gorgeously marked leaves.

Now please understand that these leaves will look just this pristine until they begin to die back next summer.  We saw absolutely no damage from frosty nights or icy blankets of snow.  And all of our Arum spent at least a few days under snow last winter.   Because they are thermogenic, the snow melted first around these plants, allowing them to emerge, undamaged.  New leaves kept emerging, from time to time, until mid-spring.

Like Colocasias, Alocasias, and Caladiums; Arum Italicum belongs to the family Araceae.  And like these other beautiful foliage plants, their flower is rather plain.  The tall, narrow spadix is partially enclosed in a modified cream colored  leaf called a spathe.  This elegant, but unremarkable bloom lasts for a few days in early May before the spathe fades away, leaving the spadix.

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The spadix will stand tall for the next couple of months as green berries swell and ripen along the top several inches.  They become far more interesting than was the flower, especially as they begin to turn bright crimson.  By late July or August, as the berries fully ripen, the leaves begin to wilt.  By mid-August the plant has faded away for its late summer dormancy.

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July 22, 2016 sunset 008

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Like other members of the Araceae family, Arums grow from a tuber.  These tubers grow and multiply each year, so that a single plant soon forms a small colony.  These colonies look especially nice growing under and around shrubs and small ornamental trees.  They form a bright, vibrant ground cover, and also work well in beds where spring bulbs will emerge in late winter.

After growing Arum italicum for nearly a year, I came across a warning that they can become invasive in some areas.  The National Park Service issued an invasive plant alert in 2012 because birds and animals disperse the plants seeds, and the tubers spread easily if you try to lift or remove a plant.  It is prolific….

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Brent and Becky Heath's Gloucester display garden December 4, 2015

Arum italicum grow beneath a blooming Mahonia in Brent and Becky Heath’s Gloucester display garden December 4, 2015

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I shared this bit with a Master Gardener friend as I was giving her a few tubers last month.  Her face brightened, and she said, “That’s wonderful!”  We’re neighbors, and share the same challenges with gardening in this forest filled with hungry deer.  This has proven to be a ‘bullet proof’ perennial in our garden, untouched by deer, rabbit, or squirrels.  Many members of the Aracea family, including this one, contain toxic calcium oxalate crystals.

If you are now interested in adding a few of these beautiful and tough plants to your garden, you will have to seek them out.  This isn’t a garden center favorite.  In fact, I’ve never seen these for sale already in leaf.

You will find them in some catalogs, but the price varies wildly from company to company.

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Brent and Becky's display garden features many blooming shrubs, including this lovely Camelia. The Heath's call Arum and 'shoes and socks' plant because it works so well around shrubs.

Brent and Becky’s display garden features many blooming shrubs, including this lovely Camellia. The Heath’s call Arum a ‘shoes and socks’ plant because it works so well as a ground cover around shrubs.

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We bought ours from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs last autumn, and I ordered my new bag of 50 from them in September.  They offer large, healthy tubers at an exceptionally good price.  But I’m glad I ordered early, because they have already sold out for the year.  They sold out early last year, too.

I’m mystified as to why this wonderful plant hasn’t entered the garden center trade in our area.  It is beautiful, easy to grow, tough, deer proof, and fills the winter niche in the garden.  These beauties should prove popular and profitable.

You will find its cousins, Anthurium, Dieffenbachia, and Philodendron on offer wherever ‘tropical’ houseplants are sold.  You’ll find Calla lily, another cousin, in most grocery store florists these days.  Why not the hardy perennial Arum?

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January 3, 2015 Arum with Violas in our garden

January 3, 2015 Arum with Violas and hardy Geranium foliage  in our garden

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If you’ve grown Arum italicum, I hope you’ll leave a comment with your experience of them.  If you’ve not yet tried them, they grow well in many different places.  They are perennial over much of the United States and tolerate many different types of soil.  They grow well in most anything from nearly full sun to nearly full shade, preferring partial shade at our latitude.

Because they will naturalize, you don’t need to be overly fussy with amending the soil, fertilizing, or mulching.  Doing these things will of course result in lusher, larger leaves… but they will survive on benign neglect.  I do water ours during a dry spell, especially during these last few weeks of unusually warm and dry weather.  I want to get them off to a good start as they emerge.

They grow as well in pots as in the ground.  I’ve added a few tubers to my autumn pot designs.  Thus far, my crush on our Arum has only grown stronger.  I can’t tell you a single annoying thing about them, yet.

I harvested last summer’s seeds and have them planted out, waiting to see how the seedlings emerge and grow.  But so far as I’m concerned, more is better; and I will happily spread them to every gardening friend interested in giving them a try.

Woodland Gnome 2016

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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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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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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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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:

Butterfly Ginger lily with Black Eyed Susans

!  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.

# * + 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

$ Elephant’s Ear, African Mask Alocasia species

#*$ Italian Arum, Arum italicum

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

* $ Elephant’s Ear Colocasia 

* $ 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

*$ Calla Lily Zantedeschia species

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

Rudbeckia laciniata

* + 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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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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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

Voodoo Lilies Rise Again

Voodoo lily, , emerging with it s first leaf this summer.

Voodoo Lily, Sauromatum venosum , emerging with it s first leaf of the season.

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The Voodoo Lily bulbs we brought home from our visit to Brent and Becky Heath’s  Gloucester garden in early April have not disappointed us.  Their first leaves of the season are emerging in weird and wonderful form.

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May 28, 2015 garden 006

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These African natives, Sauromatum venosum offer a flower first, followed in early summer by one or more large, tropical looking leaves.  The leaves will last in the garden until frost.  The first leaves are just emerging in our garden this week.  They are as odd looking, and as poisonous, as the huge flowers which preceded them.   These plants aren’t poisonous to the touch, by the way.  But they are poisonous if ingested, which protects them from grazing.  They won’t harm us,our cat, or nearby wildlife ….

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Sauromatum venosum, just planted last night.

Sauromatum venosum, just planted in April, with its huge flower.

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Many of the bulbs had already produced flowers when we purchased them.  We planted them with their flowers lying on the ground, and only a few managed to perk up a little before withering away.  We expect next year’s blooms to be fabulous, as these tubers slowly spread, and the lilies propagate themselves from seeds, which ripen in the autumn.

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May 28, 2015 garden 005

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There are three Voodoo Lily plants spaced in a border near our driveway.  I’ve transplanted offsets of Colocasia, ‘China Pink,’ around them.  C. ‘China Pink’ grew vigorously for us last summer, and I expect this area to remain interesting as the season progresses.

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May 28, 2015 garden 004

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Woodland Gnome 2015

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May 28, 2015 garden 017

 

Another Weird, Wonderful and Poisonous Plant

Sauromatum venosum, just planted last night.

Sauromatum venosum, just planted last night.

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Yes, we’ve brought home another weird, wonderful and poisonous plant.

Its name says it all:  Sauromatum venosum.  Get it?  Venosum?

It is also called “Voodoo Lily” because it begins to grow, as if by some strange magic, without water or soil.

That is how we found it, actually.  It wasn’t on my shopping list per se…

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A second of the several tubers we purchased, planted about 18" away from the first.

A second of the several tubers we purchased, planted about 18″ away from the first.

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But as we were browsing the summer flowering bulbs offered in Brent and Becky Heath’s bulb shop yesterday, there they were:  the already growing flowers of Voodoo Lily reaching out of their bin for our ankles.

They put me in mind of cats reaching through the bars of their little cages at the animal shelter, vying for attention and maybe a new home….

How could I ignore them?  Some of these flowers were already more than 18″ long, poking out of the holes in their little red mesh bags.  Phototropic, they were reaching for the light.  They were ALIVE!

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This was the only barely growing tuber of the lot... which is how I missed planting it last night.  It went into the lower fern garden this morning.

This was the only barely growing tuber of the lot… which is how I missed planting it last night.   It went into the lower fern garden this morning.

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Actually, some weird plantophiles (much like yours truly) will buy these Voodoo Lily tubers and simply set them, dry, on a shelf to watch them grow.  They will grow happily for weeks on the energy stored in their tuber.  Eventually, one must plant them up, of course.  Which is what I did with these poor little guys last night.

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See?  Not a hint of a root...

See? Not a hint of a root…  Like a Caladium, this is a tuber, not a true bulb.

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Keep in mind they’ve been growing in a bin of bulbs on the floor.  One mustn’t expect too much yet in terms in statuesque form.  The flowers will grow several feet high, open, release a putrescently musky scent for a few days, and then die back.  The scent is to attract the right insects for pollination, of course.

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April 9, 2015 planting 018

This flower stalk is only just getting started. It will grow to several feet high before dying back to the ground. Leaves will follow in early summer.

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Once the flowers have died back, one or more leaf stalks emerge and add a lovely tropical note to the garden for the remainder of the season.  Native to Africa, Sauromatum venosum remain hardy from Zone 7 south.  They will spread by tuber and by seed indefinitely.  Phototropic, they will reach for the light if grown in too much shade.

I hope that as these little guys get established and sink some roots into our garden soil, the flower stalks will lift themselves and continue growing towards the sun.  Plants will do amazing things, given the opportunity.

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Plant the tuber 2" to 3" in good, moist soil in bright partial shade.  Keep moist.  I've heard these guys stay hungry, and grow better with occasional meals of compost.

Plant the tuber 2″ to 3″ in good, moist soil in bright partial shade. Keep moist. I’ve heard these guys stay hungry, and grow better with occasional meals of compost.

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Whether the flowers right themselves or not, the leaves will still emerge properly by early summer and offer some interesting foliage in the garden for several months.  They will die back with the fall frost, but the tuber can remain in the garden, mulched, over winter.

So we’ve covered ‘weird’ and we’ve covered ‘wonderful.’  Why poisonous?

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Yes, another stump garden.  I've been planting around the stump of a peach tree we lost in 2010.  That is a Hellebore to the right, also poisonous.  A deciduous fern will emerge soon, and the 'Voodoo Lily' will complete the set.  I'll add compost and extend this garden outwards bit by bit as the plants fill in.

Yes, another stump garden. I’ve been planting around the stump of a peach tree we lost in 2010. That is a Hellebore to the right, also poisonous. A deciduous fern will emerge soon, and the ‘Voodoo Lily’ will complete the set. I’ll add compost and extend this garden outwards bit by bit as the plants fill in.  The decaying stump retains moisture and feeds the plants as it and the tree’s roots decompose.

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Poisonous plants don’t get eaten by miscreant deer who sneak into our garden for dinner. 

I’m becoming something of an aficionado on poisonous plants.  For more on this, you might enjoy an earlier post titled, Pick Your Poison.

After losing our early investments in Phlox and lilies, roses, impatiens, holly shrubs, tomatoes and Camellias; we realized that tasty plants disappear in the night.  Poisonous plants manage to grow all season.

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These N. "Katie Heath,' growing in our garden, were hybridized by Brent Heath and named for his mother.  These have been growing in our garden for several years.

These N. “Katie Heath’  were hybridized by Brent Heath and named for his mother. These have been growing in our garden for several years now.  We continue to plant lots of new daffodils each year to protect other plants, as every part of a daffodil is poisonous.

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So now it is a bonus when I find beautiful plants for the garden which also happen to be poisonous.  Like Hellebores and daffodils, all parts of the Voodoo lily are very poisonous.  Not only will they not get eaten to a nub; their roots offer protection from tunneling voles to nearby plants.

So there you have my take on the very weird, wonderful and poisonous Voodoo Lilies we brought home yesterday from our shopping excursion in Brent and Becky’s Bulb Shop at their farm in Gloucester.

I’ll show you follow up photos of these lilies as they grow.

A pair are planted at the top of the garden, visible from the street.  If you’re in the neighborhood, you can keep a watch on them as they come along.  And if you smell something like rotting meat when you pass our garden, you’ll know they have come into full bloom.

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It's Alive!

It’s Alive!

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Woodland Gnome 2015

Let The Planting Begin!

February 9, 2015 Rhodie 010

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We had a taste of spring here yesterday and this morning.  We actually hit 70 F yesterday afternoon!  It was the perfect day for a drive out to the country, and so some loved ones and I took off for destinations west after lunch.

Just over the county line, in the eastern edge of Amelia, Clay Hudgins of  Hudgins Landscape and Nursery, Inc., is preparing for his first spring in his new location. We had visited last fall and been impressed with the excellent condition of the plants and friendliness of his staff.

What else to do on the first 70 degree day of the new year, but go wander through a nursery?  Although I was in search of potted Hellebores, Clay interested me in shrubs instead.   Many of his shrubs were on sale, and most of his Espoma products.  So I stocked up on Holly Tone and Rose Tone; and adopted a gorgeous Rhododendron.

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February 9, 2015 Rhodie 001~

Our neighbors have successfully grown Rhododendron, even without fencing out the deer; and so we are going to try this one in a spot where a Camellia failed this autumn.  The poor Camellia had been nibbled by deer multiple times during its short life.  Sadly, most of its roots had also been eaten by the voles.  It was too abused to even take a photo of it.

But I’ve learned a trick or two to protect new shrubs since that Camellia went into the ground in 2011.  Today I planted both the Rhodie, and a potted dwarf  Eastern Redbud tree, Cercis canadensis, which was already growing with Heuchera ‘Caramel,’ spring bulbs, and an Autumn Brilliance fern.

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February 9, 2015 Rhodie 003

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This is a cool and partially shaded area, part of our fern gardens behind the house.  These plants will get afternoon sun, and should grow very happily here.

The first line of defense to protect a shrub’s roots from vole damage is gravel in the planting hole.

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February 9, 2015 Rhodie 004

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I dug this hole about 4″ deeper than needed, and about 6-7″ wider.  You may notice a clam shell stuck to the side of the planting hole in the photo.  That is plugging up the main vole tunnel, which is now back-filled with gravel behind that shell.

Like earthworms, voles dig and tunnel through the soil.  My job is to make that as difficult and hazardous as possible.  In addition to gravel, I like to surround the new shrub with poisonous roots.  There were already a few daffodil bulbs growing in front of the deceased Camellia.  You can see their leaves just poking through the soil in the bottom left corner of the photo, if you look closely.  I’ve added a few more daffodils now, planted near the new Redbud, a few feet behind the Rhodie.

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These roots are beautiful; not potbound at all.  I still scored vertical lines in several places around the rootball with the tip of a knife to stimulate growth and prevent any 'girdling' of the roots .

These roots are beautiful; not pot bound at all. I still scored vertical lines in several places around the root ball with the tip of a knife to stimulate growth and prevent any ‘girdling’ of the roots as they grow .

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I’ll plan to plant more daffodils in this area when they come on the market again in fall.  But, until then, I’ve surrounded the Rhodie with seedling Hellebores, spaced about 12″ apart.  Hellebores are one of the most toxic plants we grow.  Every part, including the roots, is highly poisonous.  Once these roots begin to grow and fill in, they will form a poisonous “curtain” of plant matter around the Rhodie’s roots, protecting the root ball as the shrub establishes.  Just for good measure, I’ve laid a light ‘mulch’ of the old Hellebore leaves we pruned this morning.  They will quickly decompose into the soil, and their toxins will offer this area additional protection.

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From top left: Yucca leaves, Heuchera, 'Caramel," a tiny Redbud tree, emerging bulbs, seedling Hellebores, Hellebore leaves, Rhododendron Purpureum Elegans, daffodil leaves, and a mature Autumn Brilliance fern.

From top left: Yucca leaves, Heuchera, ‘Caramel,” a tiny Redbud tree, emerging bulbs, seedling Hellebores, Hellebore leaves, Rhododendron Purpureum Elegans, daffodil leaves, and a mature Autumn Brilliance fern.

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Japanese Painted Ferns are already established in this area.  Their first fronds will unfurl over the next six weeks.  I’ll add additional ferns, and most likely some Wood Anemones to this planting.  It is mulched in pea gravel and some shells at the moment, to further thwart creatures who might want to dig here.

A little Holly Tone is mixed into the bottom of the planting holes and is also dusted over the mulched ground.  Mushroom compost is mixed with the soil used to fill in around the root balls.  Finally, I watered in all of the plants with a generous wash of Neptune’s Harvest.  It smells so foul that hungry creatures give it wide berth.  Just for good measure, I also sprayed the Heuchera and Rhododendron with deer repellent just before going back inside.

Overkill?  Not at all!  I want these plants to get off to a good and healthy start!  I’ll show you the progress here from time to time.  This gorgeous Rhodie is absolutely covered in buds, which will open in a beautiful shade of lavender later in the spring.   I’m so pleased with this shrub, having seen its beautiful roots and abundant growth, that I’m seriously considering purchasing a few more Rhododendrons from this same lot while they are available, and still on sale.

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February 9, 2015 Rhodie 013

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2015

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Hellebore with a bud emerging in another part of the fern garden.

Hellebore with a bud emerging in another part of the fern garden.

Pick Your Poison….

January 29 snow 025

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The other evening, just after dusk, as I was walking from computer to kitchen; I happened to glance out of our front windows at the patio.  Gazing back was a beautiful doe, interrupted from perusing the buffet of our potted garden by my passing.  Her calm gaze told me she had snacked on our Violas before, and had every intention of finishing this meal, too.

Now, my friends know the extraordinary lengths my partner and I have gone to keep the deer out of our garden.  Deterring the deer has consumed our efforts, and resources, and become something of an ongoing conversation among our extended family.

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These newly emerging Heuchera leaves are growing into replace the many mature leaves recently eaten off by hungry does.

These newly emerging Heuchera leaves are growing in to replace the many mature leaves recently eaten by hungry does.

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Not yet willing to give up gardening or move elsewhere, I’ve devoted the last two gardening years to planting mostly “deer resistant” plants.  I’ve studied and compiled lists of plants the deer are “supposed” to leave alone.

We’ve surrounded vulnerable plants with smelly herbs, trialed a half dozen “deer repellents,” made the fences higher, chased the deer who have found their way in, and experimented with lighting.  My “deer resistant” Oakleaf Hydrangeas ended up nibbled to sticks. The Heuchera and Violas grown in pots at the foundation to the house have been decapitated. And, we still find hoof prints and deer scat to prove the deer’s efforts at getting in and out, on both sides of our fencing.

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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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So what is a “deer resistant” plant?  There are plenty of things I perhaps don’t enjoy eating, but will in a bind.  Same with any creature bent on self-preservation.  And the overpopulation of deer in Virginia this year is at legendary levels.

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August 27, 2014 Parkway 022

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We’re seeing stories about them on our news.  Too many Bambis, not enough hunting, and intense pressure on the environment have left our deer especially hungry this winter.  Local drivers are encountering deer with deadly consequences here in James City County. Rutting season is now underway, and deer are running across our roads more than ever.

That is why, as I consider plant choices for the coming season, “deer resistant” is no longer good enough.

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January 7 ice on beach 023

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Have you ever considered how members of the Plant Kingdom defend themselves?  Some have thorns.  Some have tough bark.  And many are poisonous.

The topic of poisonous plants is not polite conversation.

We may hear whispers of Belladonna and Oleander, but most of us have left the topic strictly alone.  Until now.

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Mountain Laurel, a small evergreen tree, blooms each May.  Since every part of it is poisonous, deer leave it alone.

Mountain Laurel, a small evergreen tree, blooms each May. Since every part of it is poisonous, deer leave it alone.

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In my reading about plants that are “deer resistant,” more and more I’ve noticed notes about some of those plants also being- poisonous.  Sometimes just the seed is poisonous, or just the leaves.

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Does this look poisonous to you?  The daffodils and Columbine are both highly poisonous.   The tiny periwinkle blue flowers and evergreen leaves of Vinca shine among the leaves.  Although not listed as poisonous, Vinca contains over 50 alkaloids and is never nibbled by the deer.

Does this look poisonous to you? The daffodils and Columbine are both highly poisonous. The tiny periwinkle blue flowers and evergreen leaves of Vinca shine among the leaves. Although not listed as poisonous, Vinca contains over 50 alkaloids and is never nibbled by the deer.

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We all know that both potatoes and tomatoes were considered poisonous until fairly recently in our history.  Their leaves are highly poisonous, as are the leaves of the poinsettia plant.  Potatoes which have turned green must be peeled due to the poisonous substances in their skin.

Sometimes the poison has a mild effect, sometimes a deadly one.  One bean from the Castor plant (Ricinus communis) is said to be sufficient to kill a cow.  Some plants may have alkaloids which cause burning of the lips and tongue, or which cause nausea without being fatal.

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Daffodils and Columbine are poisonous, and so left stricltly alone by the deer.  Daffodils are useful planted around other plants as their roots are also poisonous, and offer protection from voles.

Daffodils and Columbine survive in our garden.  The pink Phlox to the left didn’t survive the season.  It is too tasty…

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So, as I work on plans for the spring garden, I’m also compiling a list of poisonous ornamental plants which will grow in our region.  But not out of a malevolent desire to inflict harm on our beautiful and gentle woodland creatures, mind you.

Some of my best friends are Bambi lovers, and I hope to keep their friendship.  In fact, some of those friends and I have commiserated over their grazed flower beds.  Rather, I want the plants in our garden to actually have a chance at survival.

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Elephant Ear, Colocasia, contains poisonous compounds which irritate the lips, mouth, and throat.  The coleus and sweet potato vine behind it are, sadly, tasty.

Elephant Ear, Colocasia, contains poisonous compounds which irritate the lips, mouth, and throat. The Coleus and sweet potato vine behind it are, sadly, tasty.

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Whereas birds will nibble a seed here and there, and bees will suck nectar and collect pollen; deer graze a plant to oblivion.  Deer will eat every scrap of edible material, and walk away looking for more.  They have no sense of conservation or sharing.

They have no awareness of the cost of the plant they just grazed, or our anticipation at watching it actually live, and perhaps grow.  Worse, many of the plants destroyed by deer would have benefited other creatures in the forest, had they been allowed to grow.

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Every part of Hellebores are poisonous from root to flower.

Every part of Hellebores are poisonous from root to flower.

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And so it’s come to this.  Your gentle Woodland Gnome is compiling a list of poisonous plants in the hopes of making our garden a shade less appetizing and alluring.

Our hope is that the deer are canny enough to leave these lethal buds and twigs strictly alone.  This list I’m preparing is not exhaustive.  It’s culled from ornamental plants suited to our climate.  And there are probably a few plants you can add, that I’ve overlooked.

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Elephant Ears, Colocasia, and Canna lilies are never grazed by deer.

Elephant Ears, Colocasia, and Canna lilies are never grazed by deer.

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If you know of others, or can make suggestions for your own region, please be kind enough to leave a note in the comments.  At least these plants will stand a chance to survive in our forest garden this year.

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January 24 ice 008

Ligustrum leaves are poisonous to deer, although the berries sustain birds each winter.

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Poisonous ornamental shrubs: 

Angel’s Trumpet:  Brugmansia and Datura

Daphne

European Holly Ilex aquifolium

Elder Sambucus

Ligustrum

Mountain Laurel Kalmia latifolia

Oleander

Rhododendron

Yew

Some species of Oak are poisonous

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July 24 2013 garden photos 007

Artemesia, also called Wormwood.

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Poisonous Perennials and Bulbs

Artemesia

Wolfsbane, Monkshood Aconitum

Columbine

Caladium

Daffodil

Bleeding Heart  Dicentra cucullaria

Elephant’s Ear Colocasia

Foxglove Digitalis

Hellebore

Hyacinth

Lily of the Valley  Convallaria majalis

Larkspur Delphinium

Plumeria

Sauromatum venosum, Voodoo Lily

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The Passionflower vine is poisonous, and strictly ignored by deer, although its fruit is edible.

The Passionflower vine is poisonous, and strictly ignored by deer, although its fruit are edible.

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Poisonous Annuals

Castor Bean Ricinus communis

Tomato leaves (though the deer have grazed my tomatoes)

Potato leaves

Poisonous Vines

Ivy Hedera

Poison Ivy

Poison Oak

Passion Flower Passiflora Caerulea (leaves)

Many of these plants, like daffodils and Mountain Laurel, already grow in our garden, and have for decades.  They pose no problems for pets or people.

I was frankly surprised to learn some of these are poisonous.  But these are the plants left growing, untouched, as their less lethal neighbors suddenly are eaten.  Handled carefully, and with awareness, all of these plants can be used to create a beautiful garden, even in areas, like ours, with ever growing herds of deer.

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August 27, 2014 Parkway 024

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All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2013-2015

Deer Resistant Plant List

Keeping Deer Out of the Garden

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