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  • Writer's pictureHelen Newling Lawson

Deer-resistant Dreams

Updated: Jul 23, 2020

Now that we've officially reached spring (hooray!), it's time to start putting my deer-resistant test garden spring planting plans into action. If you follow me on Instagram (@spoton_gardens) or Facebook, you know that I have already gotten a jump start on adding some of the plants I want to trial this year, by adding Supernova 'Purple Bicolor' primrose (Primula polyanthus), snapdragon (Antirrhinum majus), 'Champagne Bubbles' Iceland poppy (Papaver nudicale), and crested leopard's bane (Farfugium japonicum 'Crispata'). Sidenote: looking up that last variety in The New Southern Living Garden Book, I see that this is also sometimes called pie crust ligularia, which is adorable, and therefore what I will call it from now on. So far, so good—I haven't had any deer damage in the two weeks since they've been in the ground, although inadvertently using some really stinky organic fertilizer about a week after planting may have helped them.

I'm also seeing the Spanish bluebells I ordered last year from Brent and Becky's bulbs come up, and so far those are undamaged as well. I'll post pictures to social media when those come into bloom; hopefully at the same time as the surrounding Lamium (which I kind of regret planting due to its aggressive nature, but then again not else seems to survive in that spot).

Here are the others on my wish list (so far).

Stachys 'Hummelo'

Recently named the 2019 Perennial Plant of the Year, this species of Stachys was unfamiliar to me. Sounds like I'm not alone, since their description is careful to point out this is not the fuzzy-leaved silver variety known as lamb's ear. Stachys officinalis is commonly known as betony, and the leaves are a bright green (although still hairy on inspection). It's grown for its bright purple spikes, which attract pollinators throughout its long bloom season. This plant can also multitask as a groundcover. Photo here is courtesy of Walter's Gardens.

Allium 'Millenium'

And this one was last year's Perennial Plant of the Year (Check out my post on other past winners and the strong trend toward deer-resistant plants in the Perennial Plant Association's selections). I saw lots and lots of it during my tour of Chicago-area private and public gardens with GardenComm (the below picture was taken at Garfield Park Conservancy), and it was a knockout every time. It offers a great contrast between soft lavender bloom color and strong architectural form, with those masses of globe shaped flowers above clumps of spiky, onion-scented foliage.


I've bypassed this perennial in the past, despite its lovely sky-blue flowers, because it seems like one of those plants that appeal to impulse buyers in the big box stores, without long-lasting appeal. But reading about its fairly long bloom period and potential to be semi-evergreen in my area, I feel like it's time to give it a shot.


Not sure how well this one (also known as avens) will hold up in the heat of a Georgia summer, but I fear it won't last long. Still, those pops of bright color on the wiry stems really spoke to me last year when I saw the variety called 'Mango Lassi' (see image at the top of this post) at the Bellevue Botanic Garden outside of Seattle. That is a much more suitable climate for this plant, but I'm thinking this might be worth trying as an annual.

Gomphrena Truffula™ Pink

I'm eagerly awaiting my shipment of this new annual from Proven Winners. I realized looking through photos taken at the Morton Arboretum last summer (another stop on my whirlwind Chicagoland tour) that they trialed this plant in combination with spider flower (Cleome) - possibly another Proven Winners variety. Speaking of trial gardens, the UGA Trial Garden also found this one to be one of the "Best of the Best" contenders for their Classic City Award. (Psst: If you want to get inspired by more of these two- or three-plant combos, follow me on Instagram at @spoton_gardens to see a new Deer-Resistant Designs #QuickFix every Friday, featuring a simpler, scaled-down plant combo you can plant in a flash—ok, maybe a weekend.)

Hesperis / Dame's Rocket

Despite (or maybe due to) being billed as an "old-fashioned favorite," I've never grown this or seen it in the trade before coming across it at a local nursery with a deer-resistant icon on the sign. Hopefully, this is a deer-resistant option worthy of coming back into fashion. If so, it's a strong candidate for the deer-resistant design I'm working on for a cottage-style garden.

Bergenia / Pigsqueak

Cuter even than "pie crust ligularia" is the common name for Bergenia, which refers to the noise made from rubbing the thick, rubbery leaves of this perennial with multi-season appeal. Read more about it in my deer-resistant design for shade. I actually tried this years ago, but think my dry shade spot was too dry. I recently spotted a variety with tall, showy flower spikes in a magazine that I'm dying to try, if I could jut put my hands on it again to remember the name.... Or I might try 'Baby Doll', shown here, which is featured in the New Plants gallery found under the Plants & Plans tab on this site. I'll be adding lots of 2019 intros, if you want to stay on top of the latest and greatest deer-resistant plant varieties.

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