While some deer may have differing taste pallets, over the years Pattillo has established a list of flowers, shrubs, and trees that the deer in her area don’t like. Lavender is one flower that deer won’t eat, but is great way to get bees buzzing around your garden. Daffodils, also disliked by deer, can brighten up a garden with sunny spring cheer. Santolina, a small evergreen shrub with yellow flowers, is another snack that the deer don’t prefer.
While deer love to dine on roses, peonies are a deer-proof substitute for them. Pattillo is also experimenting growing climbing roses, keeping them out of reach of deer, but she has yet to come to a conclusion as to if they will be a success.
In addition, pieris japonica, a flowering heath native to eastern China, Taiwan, and Japan, is too exotic for the liking of deer. Rhododendrons, of course, are always a safe bet. Centaurea montana, also known as mountain cornflower, is a spiky, blue flower that doesn’t interest the deer. Fragrant, easy to grow alyssum is also a safe choice and it creates a carpet of tiny white flowers in any garden.
If you’d like to bring more butterfly and hummingbird traffic into your garden, stick with Jupiter’s beard, a red flower that the deer can’t bring themselves to munch on. Pattillo explains that these flowers are self-seeding, so they’ll spread throughout your garden, but they are very easy to pull up.
Some plants that deer turn away from are also disliked by those pesky slugs – what a bonus! Hardy geraniums, which grow outside all winter, fall into this category and are a sweet addition to a garden with their pink, purple or blue flowers. Shrub-like germanders and flowery heaths/heathers will also be safe from deer and slugs.
Helleborus come in many different colors of flowers and are disliked by both slugs and deer. Pattillo explains that helleborus now come in variegated varieties and are an increasingly extravagant add to a flower garden. They bloom in late winter or early spring, a time when most of us are starved for color.
Finally, pulmonaria, a self-seeding, flowering plant, can be invasive, but is easy to pull up. The deer and slugs won’t munch on it either.
Pattillo also adds that if you have problems maintaining healthy plants, get your soil tested. Soil in this area tends to be acidic, while some flowers only grow in neutral soil, for example like lilacs and iris. When starting with a new plant, buy one or two of them to test how they do. You might need to move them around your garden to find soil of the right acidity for them.
Most importantly, when starting a flower garden, gardeners must learn through trial and error, Pattillo explains. As she was once told by another gardener, “The plants aren’t your children, you can throw them away.”