No Welcome Mat for Odocoileus Hemionus in This Garden!



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

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27 Responses to No Welcome Mat for Odocoileus Hemionus in This Garden!

  1. hillsmom says:

    We had quite a controversy over the same problem on a much larger scale in Valley Forge National Historic Park. This is what was done.

    Yes there was quite a flap when it was first proposed, and there were, besides the forest
    not regenerating, too many deer auto collisions. The meat went to food banks, also.
    You might give the information to your local government. As to the deer repellents
    suggested for gardeners, you need to switch off on them periodically. If you can get
    a younger man to “pee” around the area, that will work, too. It’s the testosterone (which is decreased in older men) that works. Good luck

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      Oh, wow! Something new to me! I’m anticipating a visit from my 22 year old grandson soon…what a hoot! Your information is helpful, and I’ll go to the link you suggest. Thank you!

  2. hillsmom says:

    So the link I sent didn’t show 8-(
    Just google White-tailed deer management in VFNHP Oct. 2016. there is plenty of
    information and links to other sites. Good Luck from Gussie, too. =^..^=

  3. It’s hard to know what to do since humans invaded deer territory to such a great extent starting about 150 years ago. These lands are their home, and they have adapted well, including enjoying new things to eat, like your garden! I have heard of several methods to deter them, including the pee you mentioned, plus hanging used pantihose (unwashed) on shrub branches, planting marigolds whose smell the deer don’t like, and guard dogs. Good luck!

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      I don’t think I’ll be trying the pantyhose solution in this public area (LOL), but I do like the idea of marigolds! And large dogs are not allowed here, so there goes that idea! Yes, Rin, I believe that we are to blame, since we have invaded their feeding grounds, displacing them and other animals such as cougars.

  4. The big problem is we killed off all of their predators. Years ago I read Walt Disney did it with the movie Bambi, so most people are anti-hunting. My sister-in-law calls them forest rats. And I’ve read they cause more human deaths in the U.S> than any other animal — because of automobile accidents, of course.

    Anyway, welcome to our world! Learn to love plants in cages.

  5. tammy j says:

    a lot of it has to do with expectations I think.
    like the lady from back east who was a client of Bob’s. she wanted the exact same landscape designed here that she had back there.
    he told her she was in a totally different zone. she couldn’t have the same plants. they just wouldn’t survive.
    the lady might have to give up her roses and have things that are more indigenous to the area. decorative grasses and such. (or maybe she should move back home.)
    mankind always thinks THEIR way is the only way and the only worthwhile scenario.
    Albuquerque gardens are decorative STONES mostly. and they’re quite beautiful!
    I’m for the salt peter approach! although here we have strict and successful hunting seasons that seem to work very well.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      Our climate is conducive to the classic English garden, resplendent with roses and other delicate perennials. Until the deer turned up, all those plants flourished with no difficulty. I never thought about salt peter. I’ll add it to my list! Thanks for the tip.

  6. Derrick John Knight says:

    That is a real problem. I hope your cliffs are more stable than ours.

  7. Rummuser says:

    From your description of the cliff garden I get a picture of danger. I live very close to the Western Ghats, our long range of mountains and such places tend to result in the lips collapsing during heavy rainfall. Metal wire mesh is used to prevent this from happening along roads if they abut such sites, but they often are not strong enough to prevent the fall.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      No danger from the cliff crumbling, but I have to have my wits about me, and not look down! Have to admit, though, that as I grow older I don’t venture so close to the edge. I use various tools so that I can reach out and snag the weeds.

  8. Cathy says:

    Well Diane, I may not have Deer or even Kangaroos chomping on my garden but I do have b****** Ringtail Possums 😊
    Some say they are lovely and sweet to look at – others say they are a nuisance – however they are ‘protected’ so there’s nothing much we can do with them.
    This article from a local paper explains it all

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      Some people may think they are dear and cute, but to me, they look like rats! I think they are even more damaging than our deer. The article is about Victoria (Australia, I would think). I live in Victoria, Canada. Similar climate, different problems!

  9. in some areas of NZ we have a “rabbit” problem – and then there (nationwide) are the possum (not the sort you have in USA, but the same protected animal in Australia) somehow they invaded NZ, and what they have to here to eat, tends have them flourishing unheeded.
    However, both these animals aren’t big in body, as are your deer…and as you’ve said, the populace of deer has expanded, possibly also the loss of their natural habitats due to human populace growth etc…
    Interesting that successive people/councils/bodies – can’t make a solution come to fruition…here the 2 pests are regularly culled, you can get quite good money for possum skins – not sure the rabbit fur is all that popular, but they have competitions with reasonable sums of money for #s killed…

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      People here get quite queasy when it comes to culling any animal—they would prefer a type of birth control. That’s not a bad idea, but they can’t quite make up their minds!

  10. Big John says:

    I only get the odd fox visiting my garden, but now in many urban areas deer are entering parks and gardens at night here in the UK, and are a real nuisance in wilder areas and forests as they have no predators, so much so that there are plans to reintroduce the lynx, an animal not seen in this country for about 400 years.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      Yes, Big John, we have successfully removed their predators, and now must cope with the fallout. Humans are constantly disturbing the balance of nature, which did fine without us, I’m sure!

  11. Penelope says:

    A friend of mine who lives near Cook & Haultain has a garden of veg, shrubs & flowers with no fence has been able to largely fend off deer with Bobbex, a deer repellent, which is generally available at local garden shops. It has a website, too. I have also read that it is pretty effective. I sure hope this helps!
    From another keen Victoria gardener.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      Thanks, Penelope! My daughter lives in that area, and is trying to establish a beautiful garden. Unfortunately, the deer have discovered it this year!

  12. Yeah, Another Blogger says:

    Philadelphia (near where I live) has a lot of deer in various parklands. There populations are thinned out (by Man) now and then when their numbers become just too large.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      We wouldn’t have to do the nasty business of culling, but humans have brought this on themselves, by interfering with the balance of nature. For now, we need to control the deer population, no matter how unpleasant the process!

  13. aunt beulah says:

    My small town of Craig has debated and disagreed on this same problem for the twenty years I’ve lived here with no solution in sight except for a city ordinance making it illegal to fee the resident deer, which many people ignore, including my dear little old neighbor lady. We had nearly given up on our flowers, particularly roses (as you know) and begonias which seem to be a favorite of our nighttime visitors. Then a fellow gardener recommended a product called Liquid Fence, which we purchased, spray monthly on all our green growing things, and the deer quit munching in our yard — except on occasion after a rain when the spray has been washed off and the deer make a quick night raid and ruin the roses yet again.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      Aunt Beulah, thanks! This is very encouraging, although too late for this summer. Thankfully, I’ll have all winter to research the various products readers have suggested, and be armed with them when spring comes! Liquid Fence will be first on my list!

  14. worzeloddii says:

    I like the downtown deer, but note every morning bewildered ones out where the Mckenzie by-pass is creating a mess. I think if deer did not destroy gardens, human thieves would. There was a grass fire, lit by an idiot in the park below my window today, with it so windy and dry. Wisdom points to the deer.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      I marvel at the mess created by construction of the bypass. Hope it’s worth it! But I never question the wisdom of the highways department! LOL

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