We couldn’t wait to move to our new house in a wooded neighborhood. With almost an acre of property, the gardening possibilities were endless — lilac trees and tulips, poppies and peonies. I could just see myself sipping homemade lemonade in an Adirondack chair on my deck, under a pergola of wisteria. Inside, I’d always have freshly cut flowers on my tables and countertops, their sweet-smelling perfume wafting from quaint little mason jars, right out of Martha Stewart Living.
Our new home barely boasted a bush. The previous owners placed four-by-fours around its boxy perimeter and filled in the space with cheap white quartz. The whole concept was a little sterile for my taste, so I couldn’t wait to get my hands dirty and create the paradise of my dreams. I never questioned why few neighbors displayed more than a hanging basket, a garden gnome or a lawn goose in a rain slicker. I just figured they weren’t garden people.
So over a sweltering Fourth of July weekend, my husband and I hauled out the stones and tilled the rock-hard soil. We planted purple rhododendrons, holly bushes, hydrangea, a weeping cherry tree, exquisitely sculpted topiaries and several varieties of hostas. For a pop of color, we staggered golden day lilies and purple salvia. Three days and $1,000 later, we sat on the front steps, toasting our showplace with a couple of frozen margaritas.
Little did we know the hell that was about to rain on our Miracle-Gro parade.
The next morning, we awoke to find every shrub we’d planted chewed to the root. Not only were the flowers eaten off the lilies; the buds were gone, too. Our hostas were half-inch stumps that wouldn’t grow back until next year. And our weeping cherry wasn’t just crying; it was hysterical. We’d unwittingly put in a five-star restaurant for the neighborhood deer.
I raced out to Lowe’s and purchased a $17 deer repellant — a thick, white coating we doused on our foliage, while wearing protective clothing and gas masks. Okay, I was too cheap to spring for a Hazmat suit and mask. I poked my head through a Glad lawn and leaf bag, held my breath and sprayed, then ran out 20 feet, gulped some air and went back in. Neighbors watched in amusement as I leaped around my lawn gasping in my trash bag dress.
Well I assumed the repellent would dissolve clear. Why would anyone spray paint their garden white? But one hour later, the front of our house looked like we’d sculpted it from paper mâché. It had an old-world Italian feel, minus the peeing cherub fountain. And after all that, the repellent only lasted until the next rain, when our wildlife returned to their buffet.
Now call us overly optimistic — or call us morons, but we continued with our master plan: a kidney-shaped privacy mound in the yard. This time, we chose plants that catalogs labeled “deer resistant.”
For days, we hauled dirt to the back of the house, graded it and covered it with weed-preventing mesh and mulch, before planting $1,500 worth of trees, shrubs and flowers. Again, we awoke to a massacre. Our dahlias were budless stalks, the lilies and lupine were gobbled down to the dirt, and an eight-foot Newport plum stood like a lightning rod, one pathetic branch left clinging for “deer life.” What those devils in deer clothing didn’t eat (like my butterfly bush) they trampled, like outlet shoppers at a Tory Burch sale.
“I don’t get it,” I said to my husband. “There are woods and streams out there. Why are they coming here? It’s like getting a cheese sandwich from room service on a cruise ship during the midnight buffet, where they’re serving shrimp.”
Still, we hung in there. At $7 a bag, we layered on cocoa mulch. We hung $16-a-box pouches of strong-smelling spices. We dangled mothball sachets at nose level. We hot pepper sprayed every leaf and collected human hair from local salons, placing it around the base of every plant. But leave it to us to have the one herd of deer that liked to eat a hot and spicy dinner in a barbershop that smelled like old people. In fact, a neighbor saw a deer jump up on its hind legs to slap our birdfeeder and knock some seed to the ground. (Really, Bambi? The salad bar isn’t enough? You need croutons, too?)
Desperate, I made a trip to a local nursery.
“Why don’t you try some coyote urine?” the lady said.
“There are coyotes in my neighborhood? How do I get them to pee in my garden?” I asked.
Then she held up a $20 bottle (I’m guessing the price has something to do with how tough it is to get a coyote to urinate in a jar). She also sold me a bag full of tampon-like wicks to poke into the ground around the perimeter of our garden and douse with my golden coyote shower. The theory here is that deer don’t like the smell. Unfortunately … neither do people.
We couldn’t open a window, better yet sit outside on the patio. It was about as pleasurable as setting up your lounge chair in a Port-O-Potty or a New York City subway tunnel drenched in homeless pee during a heatwave. Even the power walkers picked up the pace as they passed our house. The stench was so horrific, we packed our bags and left town for the weekend. When we returned, our remaining hostas were munched to a state of deformity and the urine-soaked wicks were lying in the middle of the lawn. Apparently, the deer stopped by, sneered “Man, something stinks,” and moved the smelly culprits out of the way, so they could eat in peace.
Frantically, I searched the Internet for every possible solution. I hung Irish Spring from the trees and tucked sweat-soaked T-shirts under the bushes.
A fellow gardener suggested encasing my shrubs with chicken wire, but who wants their garden to look like a M.A.S.H. unit? Martha Stewart doesn’t have cages on her bushes. She may have gone to jail, but her flowers didn’t.
I was determined. No stinkin’ deer was going to get the best of me. I showered my yard with motion-sensitive floodlights. Deer are supposed to be shy. Maybe they wouldn’t carry out their nightly stealth mission if they felt like they were on stage.
I quietly read by an open window, just waiting to hear even the slightest rustling. And when I did, I pounced outside yelling, “Aaaaaaaah!!!”
For weeks, I couldn’t sleep. I stayed up late into the night, trying to catch those lousy beasts in the act of destroying my hard-earned mound of loveliness. I got tired of yelling, so I decided to try singing … but nothing soothing, like Barry Manilow. I didn’t want them coming back for a nightly serenade. I decided to treat those damn deer to my best Ethel Mermon impression. When I heard them out there, I ran out of the house with a searchlight, belting Broadway show tunes through my nose.
When that didn’t work, I went after them with a Super Soaker. I was becoming the neighborhood crazy lady, belting Everything’s Coming Up Roses at Bambi and chasing him with a water-powered Uzi.
We’ve since sold that house and moved down south. It’s been good for me… healing. They’ve removed my straightjacket, and I’m enjoying a cold drink on my front porch swing, surrounded by skeletal corpses of gardens gone by. I don’t plant anymore. Neighborhood cats peed in my pots and killed my impatiens. Southern slugs slayed my begonias. Squirrels ate my bulbs.
I’m done fighting with Mother Nature. Someday I hope to afford professional landscapers who are more equipped to fight off vermin and don’t take it personally. Until then, I embrace my dead garden and live by a new Tao:
It’s just not worth it, man. Plant a couple of plastic flamingos, and call it a day.