Top 5 deer-resistant annuals (I hope)


Love in a Mist (Nigella) seeds can be sprinkled directly onto the soil. Photo credit; Ian Sutton

I need more plants.

One of the joys and frustrations of starting a new garden is watching it grow. For once I’m trying to be restrained and allow room for the trees, shrubs and perennials to expand to their natural shape and size without jostling neighbors yet that means I can see bare soil -definitely not my usual garden design style.

The main problem exists in a large island border where all plants have to thrive in full sun, be reliably drought tolerant and deer resistant. I also need BIG plants that make an impact due to the scale of the border as well as its setting within our 5 acre property. No wimpy pansies here! Even though the deer have so far ignored the trees and shrubs I’ve planted they still seem to think that it is acceptable to walk through my new border rather than go around. (It seems my dog was easier to train in that regard).

So to eliminate the deer-freeway,  reduce visible bare ground and to fill the gaps between immature plants I have decided to use annuals in a few spots. For budget reasons I have grown these from seed but most can easily be purchased as plugs from the nurseries.

'Fireworks' is an apt name for this sizzling annual (Globe amaranth)!

‘Fireworks’ Globe amaranth (Gomphrena) – This one is new to me ; a good enough reason to include it! It quickly grows to form a full, dense, landscape sized specimen, eventually reaching 3-4′ tall and 1-2′ wide which equates to a lot of plants for a $3 packet of seeds. Tons of strong, tall stems are topped with exploding bursts of full, large 1″ blooms in hot pink tipped with bright yellow. A showstopper in the garden and conversation piece when cut for a mixed bouquet. Should be gorgeous.

At a glance you could easily mistake this 'Mahogany splendor' hibiscus as a Japanese maple. Photo credit;

Hibiscus ‘Mahogany splendor’ –  A beautiful foliage plant, this attractive variety has shiny, maple shaped leaves in deep, dark burgundy giving the appearance of a choice Japanese maple at a fraction of the cost. Every part of this plant is dark, making it a good choice for contrast with silver foliaged plants such as wormwood (Artemisia). Grows 3-5 feet.



Love-in-the-mist isn't nearly so delicate as it looks. Photo credit;

Love-in-the-mist (Nigella) – I have a love/hate relationship with this pretty annual. It self-seeds which means free plants next year BUT they will undoubtedly re-seed where I don’t want them! Thankfully the extras are easy to identify and pull out. Dainty, multi-faceted blossoms are followed by striped fairy lantern seedpods over delicate feathery foliage. Blue is the usual color but I have selected white and simply scattered the seeds amongst ‘Walker’s low’ catmint (Nepeta). This soft color scheme will break up areas of bolder colors and is anchored by my favorite narrow conifer;  false cypress ‘Wissels’ saguaro’ (Chamaecyparis l. ‘Wissel’s saguaro’).


'Violet queen' spider flower will gain plenty of attention from friends but thankfully not from deer. Photo credit;

‘Violet queen’ spider flower (Cleome) usually comes in shades of rose or white but this variety has unusual purple flowers which intrigued me. What really got my attention though was its promise of heat and drought tolerance and ability to survive neglect! It is also a butterfly and hummingbird magnet – my kind of plant. At 4’ tall and with a succession of blooms all summer long this may become a ‘regular’ even after the garden has filled out.

Castor bean plant makes a strong architectural statement in the summer garden. Photo credit;

‘Carmencita’ castor bean (Ricin communis ‘Carmencita’) –The deep red maple like leaves make quite a statement on stems that can reach 5’ tall. Flowers resemble red pompoms held high on bamboo like stalks. All parts of these plants are extremely poisonous so do not include in the garden if you have small children or pets who are likely to eat fallen seeds or leaves. I’m planting a large mass of these near some Canna ‘Tropicana’ which I saved from last year, with the burnt orange ‘Flasher’ daylilies in front and a wave of feathery blue star (Amsonia) to one side which will turn bright yellow in fall.

You don’t need to have deer in your garden to choose these plants! If you are looking for an inexpensive way to fill a large sunny space with color that doesn’t need deadheading and is remarkably drought tolerant then these top 5 picks could be perfect for you too.

Other sunloving, drought tolerant, deer resistant annuals you light like include;

snapdragons, poppies, helichrysum (great for foliage), sage varieties, zinnia, ageratum



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A Special Bouquet for Mother’s Day


Photo credit David. E. Perry

Flowers are the quintessential gift for Mother’s day. They are available everywhere – from cellophane wrapped bouquets at the gas station to artful arrangements at the florists. Yet do you know where these flowers come from or how they were grown? Do you care?

Truthfully my answer to both of these questions used to be ‘no’. They were flowers and they were available – end of story. I do not consider myself a granola-eating, Birkenstock-wearing tree-hugger (and have no issues with those who do), but I do care about the environment because I consider life a precious gift and feel a responsibility to avoid harming the land or the lives of those creatures who depend upon it. My complacent attitude about the cut flowers industry has been challenged and changed thanks to the recently published ‘The 50 Mile Bouquet’ written by well-known author and valued friend Debra Prinzing, beautifully photographed by David Perry. The subtitle to their book is ‘seasonal, local and sustainable flowers’ which made me think. Seasonal and local I could understand but sustainable? What does that mean exactly? Thus began my education.


Photo credit; David E. Perry

When my children were young they used to gather small posies of flowers for the table; primroses and forget-me-nots in spring or a sprig of lady’s mantle in summer. I still enjoy cutting a few flowers from the garden to bring indoors and it is a simple way to reconnect with Nature. My flowers are grown with love and whereas they may be humble offerings, David’s photo essays show us how perfect even a single stem can be on a sunny windowsill. Moreover such garden arrangements are a 50 feet bouquet. They haven’t been shrink-wrapped, treated with preservatives, cut days ago, trucked across the country or lost their fragrance. They have grown in rich soil, pollinated by bees and visited by butterflies. They are just minutes from garden to table.

In a world where we expect perfection at any cost and from any source an attitude adjustment is needed. The perfect floral bouquet can be prepared using stems from our own gardens or purchased from local flower farmers, freshly gathered and grown without unnecessary, harmful chemicals.

Photo credit; David E. Perry


This book is a more than a journey, it is an enlightening adventure. Within the pages you will meet inspiring people such as Bess Wyrick, founder of Celadon & Celery Events, a New York-based eco-couture event design and floral décor company.  Bess hosts popular hands-on workshops teaching hostesses and budget-conscious brides how to create table centerpieces and bridal bouquets without breaking the bank or harming the environment. Participants learn far more than how to cut a stem or de-thorn a rose, however. While learning designer tips such as threading  a rose stem through a hydrangea to give a multi-tiered effect, attendees gain an understanding and appreciation that using what has been grown locally (without chemicals) and is in season is rewarding on a deeper level. Debra describes this as “designing with intent rather than just tearing off the cellophane wrapping and shoving the stems into a vase”.

Photo credit; David E. Perry

Anyone who can make something beautiful from blackberries – besides a pie – has my respect. Yet a wonderful couple from the Skagit Valley, Washington does just that from their Jello Mold Farm. They consider themselves ‘stewards’ of their 8 acre farm and hold themselves accountable for protecting the various residents such as trumpeter swans and ospreys as well as their natural habitat. This is something I can very much identify with as I strive to maintain wildlife corridors, protect and enhance their habitats and be mindful of the fact that the bears, deer and frogs were here before I was. (Shame about the voles mind you!) Their definition of sustainability is leaving the land in better shape than when they found it. I can go with that. (We’re still digging out huge lumps of asphalt that were dumped into our stream years ago) And their blackberries? A cut spray adds an unexpected touch to more traditional floral stems in an arrangement. Why not?

Lest you think that such sustainably grown floral bouquets are little more than a handful of buttercups and daisies, venture into the book to meet Arthur Williams, Denver floral artist and owner of Babylon Floral Design. With more tattoos and piercings than I want to think about (I hate needles) you can bet that Arthur isn’t into cute posies. Rather he is known for his over-the-top, unconventional designs. On the day that David and Debra visited, Arthur was creating living theater using a hollowed out tree trunk for a vase which he filled with giant ornamental rhubarb leaves and flowers supported effortlessly by a few iris and lilies. Clearly this is no cookie-cutter floral design business! Yet the ingredients come from local growers who care enough about the environment to avoid the use of pesticides, together with clippings from  his own back garden.

Photo credit David E. Perry

Who else will you meet on this floral journey? Flower farmers, floral designers, market vendors and other creative individuals who are committed to enjoying what the land produces without harming it all tell their stories, each one unique yet threaded with a common passion.

How can I possibly do justice to a book which has taken years to document in just a few short paragraphs? This is not just another garden book, nor a book about flower arranging. It’s an invitation to learn how to fill your home with beautiful bouquets that have been grown locally and lovingly. Get designer tips, ideas for seasonal flowers (perfect for garden planning) and harvest the wisdom of seasoned growers. It’s also an invitation to a mindset change.

My Mum is 84 and lives in England. She has gardened all her life, wins an embarrassing number of awards for floral design (I missed out on that particular horticultural gene) and until she read this post had no clue she was ‘eco’ anything, let alone green! Mum just does what she does best – she grows a veritable bounty of flowers which fill her home year round with perfume and color, offering passersby an ongoing visual feast and frequently sharing her home grown bouquets with others (invariably over a cup of tea).

Happy Mother’s Day Mum – and I promise this book will be on its way to you by the time you read this!





Purchase your copy of The 50 Mile Bouquet here.



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Sunset Inspiration

I’ll often ask clients what their color preferences are for container garden plantings or as a palette for a new garden border. It can often be hard for them to articulate, however, and ends up being a series of Q & A – reds? Yes. Oranges?  Not sure.  Blues? Maybe. I find that I need to offer a new vocabulary and as always Nature provides.

I was looking for ideas for a color scheme for an area of my own garden. I had the warm cedar siding of the little guest cabin which formed a pleasing association with the peeling cinnamon colored bark of the  paper bark maple (Acer griseum). On a whim (and because I had them!), I also added orange crocosmia around the tree at which point I began to see a theme emerging of warm, somewhat mellow tones.


The emerging purple cones on this Skylands spruce offers some serious eye candy!

Next I added a golden ‘Skylands’ oriental spruce (Picea orientalis ‘Skylands’),  rich yellow ‘Zagreb’ tickseed (Coreopsis verticillata ‘Zagreb’) and dozens of yellow daffodils. As I planted ‘Crème brulee’ coral bells (Heuchera) in the cabin’s window box and adjacent container I was finally able to put a name to my color scheme; sunset.



Layers of color between the spirea, azalea and dark leafed barberry capture the essence of a glorious sunset.

Using a Nature inspired theme releases me from the frustration of having to decide if I prefer orange or red. It frees me up to select shades from deep burgundy to burnt orange, adding in softer highlights or more vibrant fiery shades as I choose.  It’s also proving to be lots of fun as I combined ‘Double play Big Bang’ spirea (Spiraea japonica ‘Tracy’) with a fabulous deciduous mollis azalea (Rhododendron x kosteranum) whose coral flowers perfectly echoed the color of the new growth on the spirea.

Plant late season perennials close to oriental poppies to disguise the fading foliage.

Looking to mid-summer I have mass planted black eyed Susan’s (Rudbeckia  ‘Goldsturm’)  thanks to the generosity of friends and intend to add a swathe of blousy red oriental poppies (Papaver orientalis sp.) nearby for an explosion of color later this month. As summer transitions to fall I’ll keep the color story going with the tall switch grass ‘Shenandoah’ (Panicum v. ‘Shenandoah’). This whispering  grass may start out olive green but quickly matures to rich burgundy blades which dance in the slightest summer breeze. I still have more plants to add  as well as  a small fountain using a 2’ tall ceramic brown ‘teapot’ which will be placed by the cabin porch.

Incorporating non-plant material such as containers, pathways or even the cabin is a way to add solidity to an otherwise seasonally changing picture. These elements can anchor the color theme and become a reference point around which other ethereal stars are showcased.

Your interpretation of ‘sunset’ may be different from mine and feature shades of pink, purple and midnight blue. The good news is that it doesn’t matter!  This is just a vocabulary to help guide you visually at the nurseries.

The chances are that if your color scheme is inspired by Nature – it will be fabulous. Surely we are simply students of Art seeking to learn and to share?

PS. If you’d like to read about the adventure of moving the cabin into this border you can do so here.



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Spirea – the poor man’s shrub no more.

Fabulous airy texture and bright foliage are just two outstanding traits of spirea 'Ogon'. Photo credit;

One thing’s for sure – there’s no room for snobbery when it comes to gardening.

Before moving to this house 2 ½ years ago I used to smile politely when clients mentioned they had a deer problem and gave my all-knowing benevolent nod while saying “Ah yes, deer will eat anything if they are hungry enough you know…..”. I swear if anyone says that to me any more I’ll scream! Yes I do know – and I apologize to all those whom I have insulted with this inane platitude in the past. I still say the only reliable thing about deer is that they read the price tags, but I now have a much better appreciation of the problems they cause and a vested interest in researching plants which have been proven, at least here in the Pacific Northwest as ‘seldom damaged’ by deer.

Any shrubs ignored by deer are worthy of a second look by me

One group of shrubs which I never really appreciated before were spirea. In England the old variety ‘Anthony Waterer’ (Spiraea x bumalda ‘Anthony Waterer’) was so overused that I lost interest in it. Yet moving here I noticed three huge, well established bushes thriving in my deer prone garden; reason enough to take a fresh look at the options. Here are a few of my favorites which are all reliably deer resistant, take full sun or partial shade and are ridiculously easy care.



Romantic sprays of white flowers on the Renaissance spirea.

Renaissance spirea (Spiraea x vanhouttei ‘Renaissance’). This graceful, deciduous shrub features a massive display of pure white flowers and colorful orange-red fall color and offers improved disease resistance over older varieties. 5-6’ tall and wide, this is a flower arrangers favorite. Water regularly. Zones 3-7

Think ahead to later seasons - spirea 'Ogon' promises a colorful display. Photo credit;




For fabulous foliage my favorite has to be ‘Mellow yellow’ spirea, also known as ‘Ogon’(S. thunbergii ‘Ogon’). The feathery foliage is reminiscent of the finely dissected bluebeard (Caryopteris) leaf except this is a bright shade of yellow-gold. Even if it didn’t bloom I would love it but the white flowers which dot its arching stems in April and May add an appealing freshness. Left to their own devices these shrubs become soft billowing bushes 5’ tall and wide. I have planted the dark leaved ‘Midnight wine’ Weigela in front for contrast, with a swathe of evergreen Rhododendrons off to one side. I am already thinking of other parts of the garden to add a cluster to. Hardy in zones 5-8.


I love the vibrant color of the new growth on 'Double Play Big Bang' spirea

Double Play® Big Bang Spirea (Spiraea japonica ‘Tracy’) –I have a group of these planted near my paperbark maple (Acer griseum) where the peeling cinnamon tree bark plays off the warm sunset tones of the spirea. The spirea foliage opens golden with orange overtones and shows rosy new growth before turning a fresh shade of summer green which acts as a foil to the tufty pink flowers. This variety offers the largest flowers of all and should be a butterfly magnet this summer.  2-3’ tall and wide and is hardy in zones 4-9.


'Limemound has it all - compact habit, bright foliage and blooms to attract bees and butterflies. Photo credit;

For those who insist on a chartreuse variety of every plant then I suggest spirea ‘Limemound’. (Spiraea x bumalda ‘Monhub’). The foliage opens yellow and softens to lime green before turning orange in fall. A good filler shrub for the mixed border where a compact 3’ dome is needed. Zones 3-9

My garden should have wheels according to my husband, who invariably has the task of heaving huge trees, shrubs and pots “just a few inches to the left”. On one such recent occasion, after hauling a 4’ “heap of twigs” from one side of the path to the other, I discovered several rooted cuttings left behind. I dug them up and planted them in an area of nasty, clay soil by the stream – and the cuttings have taken! (My husband is hoping they can live happily there as he’ll have to don waders if they need moving again). As far as I can tell this “heap of twigs” is just Japanese spirea (Spiraea japonica) with no particular claim to royal heritage. I include it simply to make the point that although of humble birth and lacking the jazzy colors or supersized flowers of others mentioned here, this really is a first class shrub.


Spirea – tolerant of most soil conditions, dozens of named cultivars and varieties all of which are ignored by deer and rabbits, easily propagated (i.e. free plants if you want them), foliage in shades of green, lime, orange, and dusky purple, flowers in white or pink, beloved by bees, butterflies and even hummingbirds and ranging in height from 1’ to 6’ tall –  I’m sure you have room for a few. No garden snobs here!



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Planting for Butterflies

Welcome butterflies into your garden. Photo credit and thanks;

Is our garden something we really own or a piece of this earth which has been entrusted to us? Are we caretakers rather than landowners who by association have the responsibility – and honor – of nurturing all that grows in and on it?

I’m no philosopher and this is not intended to be a post about environmental awareness although that is something which I personally take very seriously. I simply want to remind us all not to take our gardens, fragile ecosystems and their natural beauty for granted.

I watched a film while I was in England recently which discussed the decline of the British hedgerows and the negative impact that  had on agriculture as habitat for beneficial insects had been removed. Mass crop spraying then became common  which only  exacerbated the situation by killing off not only the ‘bad bugs’ but also the dwindling bee population together with other  beneficials who given time could have preyed on the insects causing crop damage. All in the effort to make fields larger so the big machinery could harvest more efficiently. How often do our ‘good ideas’ turn out to be not quite so good after all?

Photo credit;

I hope I never become complacent about butterflies. They bring magic and movement to the summer garden as nothing else can, flitting daintily from one flower to another as though dancing on tip toes. From the tiny spring azure with its periwinkle wings to the dramatic yellow and black Western swallowtail, I love them all. How can we not be in awe of such beauty?

Yet there are far fewer butterflies today than there used to be as a result of pesticide misuse and removal of natural habitat for both larvae and adults. By simply planting a few flowering trees, shrubs and perennials to provide  food for these creatures we can do our own small part to redress the balance and be rewarded tenfold by their presence.

I love the silvery foliage of the 'Lochinch' butterfly bush as much as the delicate flowers

Butterfly bush (Buddleia sp.) is considered the caviar on the butterfly buffet table and is a favorite of the swallowtail butterflies. I particularly like ‘Lochinch’ with its clusters of fragrant, lavender flowers each dotted with an orange eye on a beautiful felted silvery bush 8-10’ tall and wide. I grew mine in a container before transplanting it to the garden where it can now stretch out. Since hummingbirds also love it I have planted a mass of the scarlet Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ to one side to provide a veritable feast for these visitors. Now I just need a comfy bench (and my camera) to enjoy the show!

Ice chip’ is a new, compact variety which at 2’ tall can even be grown as a groundcover. Although covered in short white floral spikes all summer this variety has proven sterile – good news for those who live in areas where the species Buddleia davidii is on the noxious weed list.

‘Miss Molly’ takes the color spectrum to new heights with its vibrant magenta blooms creating a 5’ siren for all butterflies and hummingbirds. Other sterile varieties include ‘Asian moon’, the ‘Flutterby’ series (Ball Horticultural), ‘Lo and behold’ (Proven Winners).

'Sutherland gold' elderberry will shine like a beacon in the garden

Elderberries (Sambucus sp) grow wild in many areas of North America and England. I recall gathering the berries with my Granddad as a child which he then sold at the local greengrocer’s. I don’t think I was ever told, however, that they were being sold to make wine! The clusters of flowers are a valuable food source for butterflies and other wildlife in the forest but there are some truly outstanding ornamental cultivars which deserve a place in our gardens. ‘Sutherland gold’ is one which will light up the border in sun or part shade.    Conical clusters of creamy yellow flowers in mid spring are followed by glossy, bright red fruits while deeply cut, bronze juvenile leaves turn a bright golden yellow as the season progresses.

Two darker leaved varieties are ‘Black beauty’ and ‘Black lace’, the latter having more finely dissected foliage but both equally dramatic. The sprays of fragrant, frothy pink flowers draw butterflies and bees like magnets. The really good news is that the deer don’t like them! How many more excuses do you need to pick one up from the nursery? Elderberries can be left to grow into large shrubs or cut down (coppiced) to keep smaller as desired.

Coneflowers attract many butterflies including the Monarch. Photo credit; Wickipedia

Coneflowers (Echinacea) bloom in mid-late summer and are a favorite of the red admiral  butterflies. These old fashioned perennials are easy to grow, drought tolerant and deer resistant. They provide cut flowers for the home, nectar for the butterflies and seed heads or the birds. That’s great value from one $5 plant. In shades from pastels to flashy neon you’ll certainly find one to suit your color scheme.

Which is more colorful - the 'Dallas red' lantana or the butterfly? Photo credit; Great

Depending upon where you live, Lantana may be available for the garden as a hardy bush or a summer annual. In appearance they resemble Verbena (they belong to the same Family) with numerous heads of clustered, vividly colored flowers.  I use them a lot in hanging baskets and especially like the variety ‘Dallas Red’ which has bi-colored blooms in red and yellow. Lantana thrive in hot, arid conditions.


It may be stating the obvious, but if you want butterflies you have to accept the presence of a few caterpillars. That in turn may mean lowering your housekeeping standards and accepting a few nibbled leaves. For the life cycle to be complete these beautiful butterflies need to lay eggs on a host plant which will then provide food for the larvae. Not just any old leaf will do, however, as butterfly larvae are very host specific. For example the larvae of the Western tiger swallowtail prefer big-leaf maple, willow, poplar and cottonwood while painted lady butterflies prefer thistle but will also eat nettles, hollyhock and sunflowers.

Our 5 acre garden transitions into meadow and forest on the perimeters. There are large stands of native Pacific willow, alders and cottonwoods all of which support the lifecycle of various butterflies. We are fortunate to have such a large butterfly larvae pantry but it is also a reminder that we all need a little ‘wild side’ in our garden to enjoy its true potential.

We have been given a precious gift, whether our garden is an expansive acreage or a modest patio container. That gift affords us an opportunity to enjoy Nature up close with all its rich scents and vibrant colors and to encourage the fleeting beauty of butterflies by simply including a special plant or two.

Recommended books;

Landscaping for Wildlife in the Pacific Northwest by Russell Link 1999 (University of Washington Press) – an excellent book with information on natural habitat maintenance and enhancement as well as ideas for encouraging wildlife into the garden. I find myself referring to this often.


Useful links with extensive plant lists



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