I have a cliff garden. Yes, it is exactly that—a garden perched on a cliff, 30 or so feet above a quiet street bordering the harbor.
I don’t own the garden. That would be impossible, given that I live in a condo. How it came about is a long story, but I’ll give you the short version.
Several years ago, our six story 25 year old building was restored, resulting in piles of building debris everywhere, and a general disturbance of the grounds.
The strip along the outside of our ground floor condo was an eyesore, and since no one came forward with a solution, I offered to clean it up. I’ve had lots of gardening experience, so I felt confident in starting this project.
This is an uncompromising piece of land, with porous soil that sucks the moisture down to the base of the cliff, and winds that bend the plants into pretzels at least 7 months of the year. But surprising, those first plants I dug in, lavatera, rosemary, lemonbalm and lady’s mantle clung to the sandy, powder dry soil, and survived the winter. The next spring I bought more small shrubs and herbs, amending the soil with a few bags of peat moss and soil mix, something I’ve done each subsequent year.
A wonderful start and a sorry end!
This spring, the ‘garden’ (a shrub and perennial border really), flourished. Scented with an abundance of lavender, mugwort and southernwood, it attracted bees, butterflies, dragonflies and hummingbirds.
But this month, I noticed signs of other visitors to the garden, creatures who arrive in the middle of the night, when my blinds are drawn, and the entire complex is asleep. They munch, undisturbed, on the roses and hydrangea, two plants which I treasure for their delicate flowers and appealing foliage.
After one of their visits, color fades from the garden, and plants seem to shrink in response to the invasion. A large rose bush perched on the edge of the garden is a case in point. The side overhanging the cliff, where the deer can’t reach, is covered with red roses, whereas the side facing the condo yields no blooms.
I can hardly bear to look at the garden after a visit from odocoileus hemionus. Murderous thoughts bubble up, and I plot ways I could send them off running, never to come back. I’ve tried several different methods, blood bone in pouches tied on branches, wolf scent spray, netting and more—all useless, expensive and ineffectual.
City officials don’t have a clear solution
This tiny plot is only one of countless gardens destroyed by deer each year. City officials are stalled in their discussions of what to do, as a Times Colonist article by Bill Cleverly reported in January:
“Resident frustrations with urban deer are percolating throughout the region, but communities are divided on what actions to take.”
“Late last year, Oak Bay asked the province to match funds up to $20,000, allowing the municipality to partner with the Urban Wildlife Stewardship Society to run a deer-contraception program. The province turned down the request, saying it wanted more research done.”
And the mayor of Victoria, where deer enter brazenly into the heart of the city, says this:
“I’m not happy to spend one cent on deer management, I don’t think we need to ask our staff to start looking at solutions.
But if we can make a strong case to the province — Oak Bay has a strong case [and] Esquimalt will be doing some of this work, from what I understand — then collectively we can go to the province and say: ‘We’ve done the research and let’s work together on solutions.”
Has there been any progress? In one word, “Maybe”. In June, Bill Cleverley again reported, citing ineffectual results to date:
“An attempted cull in Oak Bay in 2015 saw 11 deer killed in two weeks, but created a rift in the community and sparked protests by the B.C. SPCA and animal-rights activists.
Oak Bay’s latest effort at deer management involves a $40,000 project to outfit 20 deer with GPS tracking collars, and to install 40 motion sensor cameras to photograph the animals as they wander its trails. The program, funded jointly by the municipality and the province, is the first phase of a plan to reduce the number of deer through the use of birth-control drugs.”
No one stepping up to the plate!
‘But Victoria city staff say it’s difficult to determine the true extent of the deer situation’, the article continues, offering this comment:
Counselor Chris Coleman says the city will have to wrestle with the deer issue:
“I think there are increasing interactions between a growing population of deer, or at least a perceived-to-be growing population of deer, … and a whole bunch of people.”
So it’s difficult to determine the extent of the problem. Really? You think there is a ‘perceived-to-be growing population of deer? Not sure?
Just ask the next red faced gardener you see, running down a city street, brandishing a hoe!
Photo By Bruce Stotesbury