Drawing the Skirmish Lines

As the days start to creep closer and closer to summer, it’s time to strategise about the deer, because the deer are coming. The writing, so to speak, is on the wall. I see them out there, little creepers, clearly preparing for launch. They try to act all innocent, but we all know they’re plotting something. I can tell when I walk out in the morning and they all jerk their heads up to stare at me, but don’t actually give ground. They just look. They know.

The thing about deer is that in the spring, they’ve got all sorts of things to eat. The meadow is grassing over nicely, things are putting out new growth, young tender plants are sprouting, and the world is their smorgasbord. Oyster? Anyway, the point is, there’s so much to choose from, they don’t have to make a point of reminding me that much of the garden is exposed and they can waltz their way on in there any time they feel like with nary a care in the world. They are perfectly content to wander around the pasture, occasionally looking shocked when I appear, like they’ve completely forgotten I exist.

But with summer comes a shift. There is less water, and things will start to dry up. The grass withers and dies, nothing new is growing, everything starts to turn dusty and dull. And then, patiently watered gardens start to seem mighty appealing. They are everything a deer could want in this world, really. Green and lush. New growth every which way. Delicious flowers. They are the deer equivalent of a chocolate shop, with the scent wafting out into the street and the big open sign and the door that sighs open invitingly as you walk past and trigger the sensor. While some can resist these evident temptations, many cannot.

The first salvo came in February, when I came out one morning to notice that one of the primroses had been uprooted. It was clear that the deer were trying to eat the flowers and tugged too forcefully, pulling the whole plant up in the process. I replanted it and it seemed to recover okay; it started blooming again and put out fresh foliage and looked rather perky, really. Primroses are remarkably hardy, you actually have to work pretty hard to kill them. Leave them in relentless sun and don’t water them and they will start to look droopy, but other than that, they’re pretty golden.

Then I established the columbine, and looked out the window one morning to see the buck just standing there. Next to it, not actively eating it, not really looking at it, but loitering. I could tell he had mischief on his mind and I glared at him and opened the window to shout something impolite, and he darted away, white flag of a tail bouncing.

‘That’s right,’ I shouted. ‘YOU RUN, DEER!’ I hadn’t fully woken up so my voice sounded like a frog who’d had a few too many cigars, which somewhat detracted from the image of gravity and authority I was trying to project. Fortunately I was spared from having to charge out in my bathrobe, waving my hands vaguely in the air and bellowing. I saved that for the following week, when one of the little blighters cruised right on up to the porch to investigate the flowerboxes.

Luckily, living where I do, there usually isn’t anyone around to notice me looking completely ridiculous as I impotently attempt to scare off the deer. The cats sometimes peer skeptically at me, but they keep their commentary to themselves[1. Loki doesn’t really seem very interested in the deer, other than being horrified when they walk up onto the porch because he thinks they might be people coming into the house, which would be bad, because people are evil, so he hides under the bed and growls until they go away. On the other hand, he is completely mesmerised by the chickens, and will sit muttering to himself in the window whenever they are out in the pasture.]. Usually. I suspect they know the deer are too big to tackle, and while Mr. Bell likes his venison flavoured cat food[2. Yes really.], I’m not sure he connects the contents of the can with the tawny menaces roaming the yard.

I have a couple of options for dealing with the deer. I thought about planting some sacrificial offerings and suggesting that they eat those, but my deer communication skills are limited, and I think it’s going to be a tough sell. I could put up fencing, but I’m not really sure I want to surround my house with a stockade. I also, you know, don’t know how the landlords would feel about that, seeing as how they’d have to look at it all the time. Considering you need about 10 feet of concrete with electrified razor wire, glass, and armed guards, a suitably deer-proof fence could be pretty obtrusive.

I did plant ‘deer resistant’ plants, but we all know that doesn’t count for much in the driest months of the summertime. Deer, just like everyone else, need to eat, and they don’t pay attention to tags from the nursery. I’m thinking of experimenting with various deer urban legends, like using hair and urine, to see how effective they are at driving deer away. This, of course, means that I have to warn anyone who wants to go out and smell the flowers so they don’t get too close. I suspect the urine treatment will be more effective at horrifying house guests than deterring deer.