There was a time when gardeners could actually garden without the deer problem. There was a time when Bambi stayed in the forests where gardens don’t exist. This really was what gardening was all about a mere quarter century ago in many parts of North Carolina. In a way this sounds like the time I told my grandchildren, to their great disbelief, that I grew up without a cell phone.
Gardening then resembled the fashion world. We would pour over catalogues the way fashionistas peruse the latest Vogue magazine. The fashionista wore short skirts to show off her legs while we planted the latest lily or rose to prove that we were — in a way — rather hip. Then we, like the fashionista, discarded the latest passing fancy when we tired of it, opting for something new.
It was lovely shopping for plants with no deer on my mind. I had the requisite rose garden, pushed off to the side where it could be sprayed within an inch of its life. Daylilies and hostas abounded — we had no idea we were living in a gardening utopia. We complained about our heavy clay soil, we wrung our hands when there wasn’t enough rain or when there was too much. In short, we did the usual things gardeners do.
Then the deer population exploded. Suddenly the rose garden, those two evenly spaced ridiculous rows of hybrid teas, consisted of two rows of ugly shrubs with no blooms. The hostas were gnarled down to their crowns while the daylily buds simply disappeared. Deprived of their ability to flower and set seed, they became the equivalent of shrinking violets.
As a result, the garden turned into a rabid anti-deer garden. I thought in terms of ornamental grasses, hellebores, euphorbias and amsonias. Daylily season was exhausting as I did little but spray, spray and spray, all to no effect, as the deer were relentless.
The garden was filled with boredom and sameness. You see, the hellebores and euphorbias seeded with great abandon while I found I could only marvel at the ornamental grasses for so long. In short, these plants didn’t race my engine.
In desperation I turned to spiky plants. Palms entered my garden, as did some agaves and yuccas. Soon it became a garden where you didn’t dare fall down. Gently put, this was not a suitable garden for tender grandchildren. I liked the palms, but I discovered that the garden could only incorporate so many of the heartiest of the palms, the needle palm.
In short, my garden began to resemble a wannabe tropical garden that belonged someplace in Florida. This was not the look I wanted. My theory is this: If you want the Florida look, by all means move there, but remember that in North Carolina, the N.C. look probably is preferable.
So there I was with my spiky garden, with its over-sprayed daylilies, roses that didn’t bloom, gnawed hostas and overrunning hellebores and euphorbias. My under-appreciated gardening utopia was rapidly becoming a gardening dystopia.
Suddenly one day I woke up, shouting, “Enough!” I called up my builder, announcing that I needed a six-foot fence as of yesterday, tore out all the hybrid teas, quartered the hellebores, ripped out the euphorbias and started anew.
I am now back in a gardening utopia — the difference this time is that I appreciate every minute of it. The hostas are lush, the daylilies are thriving and the sustainable roses scattered throughout the garden give me great joy.
To paraphrase that famous poet: Fences make great gardens.
Absent from their gardens, Kit and Lise enjoy roaming our region exploring the intersection of horticulture and suburban living. More on Instagram @AbsenteeGardener or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.