Gardening

HOPE ‘SPRINGS’ ETERNAL

Alyssa Cutler took this photo of a forsythia branch in Port Jefferson on April 2. She writes,  ‘[This was taken] right after the snow stopped on April 2. This is what Long Islanders are about. Strong backs to weather storms, eternally hopeful and rejoicing in the beauty around us. Also, we smile a lot more in the spring and summer!’

Send your Photo of the Week to leisure@tbrnewspapers.com.

A young tree hydrangea, after late-winter pruning, collects some April snow. Photo by Kyrnan Harvey

By Kyrnan Harvey

Naturalized snowdrops (deerproof) have been a delightful sight for weeks, and my favorite crocus (not deerproof), the rampant self-seeding Crocus tommasinianus, has been braving the snows for a long time already. But, really, signs of spring have been scant. The beginning of the baseball season always corresponds neatly with the beginning of the gardening season. I am seeing forsythia-yellow here and there, albeit only in sunny, sheltered locations, and I just got a text that the first Little League practice is Wednesday. So I think it is fair to assume that baseball season is under way, which means there’s an awful lot of gardening work to do.

The snow has melted away and the ground is not frozen, but the low standard for “a nice day” through this past March has been 40 degrees but at least with sun and no wind. Thanks for nothing. Only last week did we begin to see the landscape trucks and trailers lumbering around, but we had started a week earlier with cutback of perennials, especially the many grasses we grow.

I do prefer to leave nature’s mulch, the leaves, un-removed through winter. But there are places were they do accumulate too much and, wet and matted, they will smother to death germinated seedlings of desirable perennials. So we do remove leaves occasionally. But the best thing a gardener could do, where feasible, is to spread a thin layer of compost over the leaf litter. Any organic mulch will do, bagged or delivered by the yard. You get the tidy, uniform look of freshly mulched beds — but without disturbing the soil ecology provided by nature’s mulch.

If you have a garden of many naturalized perennials, like I do, then mulching in April is not recommended. Biennials like forget-me-not, foxglove, black-eyed Susans, sweet rocket (Hesperis) and love-in-a-mist will have germinated the previous summer, and thus have attained enough stature to push through light leaf litter. But naturalizing perennials like columbines, hellebores and coneflowers will be smothered equally by heavy, wet accumulations of leafage — and by landscapers’ mulch. 

The easiest way to a romantically wild, not overly manicured, garden is to let desirable perennials self-seed. Let your Echinacea and Salvia and Verbena bonariensis go to seed, and then be sure not to crush and smother them in the spring and you will have that cottage garden you admire in books.

There is a lot of late-winter/early-spring pruning of woody shrubs and subshrubs to do. It confuses novice gardeners but it needn’t. Spring-flowering shrubs (lilacs, viburnums, Spiraea thunbergii and Spiraea × vanhouttei, brooms, Japanese quince, forsythia) bloom on last year’s growth and should be pruned, if necessary, after flowering. Any and all summer-flowering plants get pruned hard, now, before new growth starts. Buddleia, Caryopteris, peegee hydrangeas (H. paniculata ‘Grandiflora’), Spiraea japonica varieties, rose of Sharon and, last but not least, roses. These flower on the current season’s wood and must be pruned in March or April to avoid legginess.

There are some woodys that are grown for the color of their leaves or stems. Willows, like the blue arctic willow (Salix purpurea) and Salix integra ‘Hakuro Nishiki’ (ubiquitous in garden centers in the last few years) and shrubby red-stem or yellow-stem dogwoods get cut hard at the end of winter.

The marginally hardy Mediterranean subshrubs (rosemary, lavender, culinary sage, Santolina) did take a beating this winter — remember the two or three near-zero nights in December? — but wait a week or two before cutting down to live wood. In the meantime, if your perennial cutback is complete and end-of-winter pruning too, there are plenty of cool-season weeds to pull, like the hairy bittercress, henbit, chickweed, shepherd’s purse and dandelion. Get ‘em before they go to seed.

 Kyrnan Harvey is a horticulturist and garden designer residing in East Setauket. For more information, visit www.boskygarden.com.

by -
0 571
A view of Northport Harbor and Estate boathouse from the Vanderbilt Museum’s rose garden. Photo courtesy of Vanderbilt Museum

The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum, located at 180 Little Neck Road in Centerport, will host its first Gardeners Showcase, “Bringing Back the Gardens,” during the spring and summer of this year. The museum invites local nurseries and garden designers to show off their skills and creativity in one of the gardens that grace the 43-acre waterfront estate, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Spots are available for nine showcases, and will be available on a first-come, first-served basis.

In return for their effort and contribution, participants will receive:

* Signage that identifies their business at each garden showcase site. This signage will be viewed by the more than 100,000 anticipated Vanderbilt visitors during the spring, summer and fall.

* Recognition on the Vanderbilt website and publicity on its social-media platforms (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram).

* Publicity through news releases sent to regional media including Newsday, News12, Patch, and Long Island weekly newspapers.

* A one-year, Associate Membership to the Vanderbilt Museum.

To secure a spot in this year’s Gardeners Showcase, or to obtain more information, please contact Jim Munson, the Vanderbilt Museum’s operations supervisor, at 631-379-2237 or at jim@vanderbiltmuseum.org.

Grama grass (Bouteloua gracilis ‘Blonde ambition’) is a welcome presence through winter. Photo by Kyrnan Harvey

By Kyrnan Harvey

At the High Line, the exemplary greenway planted over the abandoned elevated railroad on the west side of Manhattan, the professional horticulturists wait until March for the “cutback” of herbaceous perennials. The dry foliage and stalks gone to seed offer shelter, food and perching possibilities to birds. Leaving them uncut through winter also protects the dormant crowns of plants from winter cold and wind.

But there is a third reason practitioners of the New Perennialist movement delay until March — along with the ecological and the horticultural, there is also the aesthetic. The art of close observation has rewarded us with appreciation of the browns of winter: the lines, the textures and the patterns, especially with the white counterpoint of snow underneath and fresh snow draping the skeletal remains.

The 19th-century Irishman William Robinson was the progenitor of the movement that steered away from formal, geometrical, Victorian bedding-out schemes and garish patterns of hothouse flowers. Through his illustrated books, “The Wild Garden” and “The English Flower Garden” (readily available in reprints); his journal, The Garden; his famous garden Gravetye Manor in Sussex; and through his friendship and collaboration with his contemporary Gertrude Jekyll, he introduced many gardening traditions that today are synonymous with “the English garden” — herbaceous borders, mixed borders (small trees, shrubs, vines, perennials, biennials and annuals grown together in informal drifts), ground covers and rock gardens.

Robinson rejected the artificial, statuary, topiary, fountains and carpet bedding and extolled the naturalistic, the wild and the untidy. His inspiration was not Italian grandeur but rather the simple cottage garden: hardy plants from around the world naturalized to blend into their surroundings. “The best kind of garden grows out of the situation, as the primrose grows out of a cool bank,” he writes in “The English Garden.”

It is an aesthetic that discovers and appreciates the subtle beauties of the natural world in all its diversity near and far. Karl Foerster (1874-1970) was a German nurseryman and writer who discovered a great many perennials, not least grasses, and elevated their status within gardening cognoscenti.

Many of these are North American natives — asters, coneflowers, goldenrods, and most importantly, grasses — but it was European plantsmen, nurserymens and philosopher-gardeners (Ernst Pagels, Mien Ruys, Rob Leopold, Henk Gerritsen, James van Sweden, Wolfgang Oehme) who in the mid-to-late 20th century introduced and popularized many dozens of plants — and the naturalistic aesthetic — that today we take for granted and that is now known as the New Perennialist movement.

And it is a Dutchman, Piet Oudolf, who today is the most acclaimed and influential plantsman and garden designer. The planting at the High Line is the embodiment of his celebrated aesthetic, and is merely one of his many public gardens revealed in a documentary that premiered last November titled “Five Seasons: The Gardens of Piet Oudolf.” He has written numerous books but my favorite is “Oudolf Hummelo,” co-written with Noel Kingsbury. (Hummelo is his family garden in Holland started in 1982.) It is in his beautiful books (or his Instagram) that you will quickly appreciate the merits of delaying until March the cutback of perennials.

As winter drags on, I only just started to cut back the grasses to expose the pushing daffodils. I know of a gardener who uses a mower at its maximum cutting height, but I have Narcissus, Camassia, Allium and Eremurus visible already, so I use my gas-powered hedge trimmer, which makes really quick work of cutting down even the most beastly Miscanthus, and I can be careful not to step on the precocious perennials.

Nor am I in any rush to get to work on the late-winter pruning and cutback of summer-blooming shrubs like Buddleia, Caryopteris, Hydrangea paniculata and roses. I prefer to wait until late March, when any threat of arctic blast is past.

Kyrnan Harvey is a horticulturist and garden designer residing in East Setauket. For more information, visit www.boskygarden.com

Children can discover the wonder of plants the Brookhaven Ecology Center next month. Photo from Town of Brookhaven

Spring Pee Wee Gardening

The Town of Brookhaven Highway Department offers Spring Pee Wee Gardening classes for ages 3 to 5 at the Wildlife Education & Ecology Center, 249 Buckley Road, Holtsville on Thursdays, April 12, 19 and 26, May 3, 10 and 17 or Fridays, April 13, 20 and 27, May 4, 11 and 18 at either 10 to 11 a.m. or 1 to 2 p.m. The children will learn about the environment, animals and plants through crafts and stories. $50 for six-week session. For more information, please call 631-758-9664, ext. 10.

Adult Horticulture Classes

The Town of Brookhaven’s Department of Highways will present Adult Horticulture Classes at the Holtsville Ecology Site, 249 Buckley Road, Holtsville on Wednesdays, April 11, 18 and 25 and May 2, 9 and 16. Participants will learn about starting plants through propagation, growing vegetables from seeds, spring gardening techniques and unique gardening crafts. Fee is $50 for six-week session. Deadline to register is March 29. For more info, call 631-758-9664, ext. 10.

Above, Begonia ‘Pink Minx,’ with its constant bloom of bright pink flowers and unique Angel Wing leaves, is easy to grow, making it a top contender for the title of perfect houseplant. Photo courtesy of Logee’s Plants for Home and Garden

By Kyrnan Harvey

As a plantsman and gardener, I have always been more generalist than specialist. There are avid collectors of day-lilies or hostas, roses or rhododendrons, Japanese maples or dwarf conifers, snowdrops, dahlias and peonies. There are rock garden enthusiasts who have to grow every Saxifraga and Primula and Penstemon. In the U.K. and Ireland there are 630 National Plant Collections in which special-interest plant groups are identified, documented and conserved in private gardens, nurseries, local parks, botanic gardens and historic estates.

I love all these plants. Phases of zeal come and go for me, but of paramount importance to the garden designer is the creation and sustaining of harmonious environments, keyed in to the genius loci, pleasing to our senses and attractive to wildlife too — the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Houseplants too can inspire passions. Cacti and succulents are ideal objects for homes with plenty of bright light but excessively dry heat. If you are not one to turn your thermostat down to 60 at night, but keep your home uniformly cozy at 72, then you can have a dozen or more different African violets featuring delightful colors on extremely compact plants. Following International Aroid Society on Instagram has been an eye-opener for me: stunning foliage in unbelievable variety. I would collect these Philodendron and Anthurium and Monstera and Alocasia if I had a large airy home or lived in the tropics.

Above, Begonia ‘Potpouri’ is the perfect houseplant for winter months, covering itself with fragrant rose-pink blooms from January to June. Photo courtesy of Logee’s Plants for Home and Garden

But I must say, if I were to amass a small collection of a single plant group of houseplants, it would be begonias. There was a great bookstore back in the aughts on Bedford Ave in Williamsburg. The owner Miles kept a solitary cane begonia in a glazed Oriental jardiniere in the center display table a good distance from the storefront window. I donated an old jade plant for the window and neither it nor the begonia ever received water. When my brother was moving last summer, I adopted two cane begonias. They hadn’t been watered in months. I cut the woody stems down to a few inches; then repotted and watered the plant. A few weeks later it was gorgeous.

The wax begonias that we plant as annuals are dead easy to grow, and cane begonias (these are the old-fashioned “angel-wing” begonias, now also called “fibrous”) are nearly so. They are very resilient and tolerant of neglect. Let them dry between waterings indoors, cut the canes hard at the end of winter, and move outdoors in bright — but indirect — light from May to October. The leaves can be reddish or green and mottled or spotted in white or silver. Logee’s catalog has a couple dozen varieties, and in the summer they will outdo themselves with the most charming sprays of pendant flowers in varying shades of pink. Such dignified plants, begonias give much more than they require.

The leaves of rhizomatous begonias are even more stunning, a limitless variety of color, texture and form. More compact than cane begonias, they also will be covered in flowers. Be sure to let them dry between waterings, but then water until it reaches the saucer.

Rex begonias are a type of rhizomatous (creeping rootstocks) begonia, in the prima donna class: showboats with their psychedelic leaves but demanding more accurate watering, humidity and temperature. Even then, they go dormant in winter for two or three months. A well-grown rex is spectacular, but their flowers are inconspicuous.

Any and all houseplants should summer outdoors. Indeed, this is crucial to their prosperity. Best to resist the temptation of moving them outside too early; wait until well into May and acclimate them by moving them during a forecast of two or three mild, sunless days. I like soft rain on warm days.

Do not leave them, in the first week or two, exposed to full sun, even for a couple hours, or desiccating wind. Situate them in bright, filtered light, and you will treasure your begonias when, in October, you can cut the exuberant growth and bring them indoors.

Kyrnan Harvey is a horticulturist and garden designer residing in East Setauket. For more information, visit www.boskygarden.com.

Begonia

By Kyrnan Harvey

I follow Logee’s Plants on Instagram and the other day photos of some of their old catalogs, a 1962-63, a damp-stained 1988-90 and a 1997, were posted. These latter sure looked familiar, oblong, tall-and-narrow, staple-bound. Logees’s greenhouses have been in existence since 1892, in northeast Connecticut, their first catalog in the 1930’s. They offered scores of different cultivars of geraniums, and of begonias,  and the old catalogs are great reference sources as well as interesting horticultural ephemera.

My mother was — and still is! — an amateur horticulturist. My architect father designed and built a house in the 70’s that was ahead of its time with open floorplan, cathedral ceiling, and a lot of glass. Plants flourished and a heated lean-to greenhouse was almost redundant. Through the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s my mother was active in a L.I. chapter of Hobby Greenhouse, as well as in the garden club. She and her friend Annette grew many orchids and begonias.

Above, the dancing bones cactus, aka drunkard’s dream prefers certain locations in the house to thrive. Photo by Kyrnan Harvey

I have my hands full March through November with my horticulture business, so it’s better to not accumulate many potted plants that require watering while summering outdoors. Unfortunatly I don’t heed my own advice. There is a 15-year-old Ficus benjamina ‘Variegata,’ grown as a standard (tree-form, not bushy), hugging a north-facing dining room window. In the kitchen a large drunkard’s dream (Hatiora salicornioides) cascades from open shelving, a poinsettia with white bracts recently purchased at Home Depot nestles against the espresso machine, and a pair of the very diminutive Sansevieria ‘Fernwood,’ spotted at Ikea, are on the sill with a tiny venus-flytrap.

A Stop&Shop Kalanchoe, over-summered a couple years and now large, is in full bloom on a stand in a south-facing living room window. At another drafty, albeit historically correct, window a flowering spike of a Phalaenopsis orchid, as yet unopened, is expanding.

Upstairs are a very old, dwarfed, jade plant, crammed into a square cinnabar-glazed ceramic container; my wife’s Kaffir lime tree, from Logee’s; a wild banana (Strelitzia nicolai) and an Alocasia ‘Polly’ that I bought, also at Ikea, to stage the open house for the sale of our Bushwick condo three years ago; a Sansevieria ‘Bantel’s Sensation,’ with vertically white-variegated leaves sourced at Hick’s a few years ago for a client’s wrought-iron urn; a lovely maidenhair fern (Adiantum raddianum) which is an offspring from mom’s defunct greenhouse; two agaves, one that is the straight-species of the century plant (Agave americana), an offset that Richie at Half Hollow Nursery gave me, and the other is A. americana ‘Mediopicta Alba,’ propagated by the legendary Mattituck plantsmen at Landcraft Environments.

Above, a vigorous fibrous begonia. Photo by Kyrnan Harvey

Also upstairs is a variegated myrtle, Myrtus communis ‘Variegata.’ This is the myrtle of ancient Mediterranean lore and has aromatic leaves, but it, like my agaves, gets scale, which I spray with insecticidal soap once or twice a year. There is a bonsai ficus in the north-facing upstairs bathroom window and a rooted cutting of the common heart-leaf Philodendron cordatum, tolerant of low-light, in an antique highball of water in the bathroom below.

Likewise, a neon pothos, with chartreuse leaves, grows downward from a vase I bought on the pottery island (Ko Kret) in the Chao Phrya river in Bangkok. This has grown in just water for about a decade, presumably nourished by the minerals in the clay.

There is a poorly heated wing to our house, a converted porch, in which I stubbornly overwinter a dwarfed lemon verbena, delightfully scented in summer, woody and gnarly at 20 years, and another true myrtle, M. communis ‘Boetica,’ also inherited from mom’s collection. Rounding out the census, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the 20 lantanas potted up from the garden and left dormant in the 50 degree basement.

But I still haven’t mentioned the begonias, the pictures of which in Logee’s old plant lists is what got me started today. Logee’s still mails out catalogs, now 8×10 and full-color glossy, but their website has many more rare, fruiting, and tropical plants listed.

Kyrnan Harvey is a horticulturist and garden designer residing in East Setauket. For more information, visit www.boskygarden.com.

Chokeberry can be planted in most soil conditions including sandy soil. Stock photo

By Kyrnan Harvey

Single-digit overnight temperatures and daytime highs of 16 degrees with howling winds are as bad as it gets in winter on Long Island, unless your property is at sea level, in which case flooding makes the gardener yet more miserable. Port Jefferson locals were reminded by the Jan. 4 storm that their village was called Drowned Meadow. Elsewhere, “from swerve of shore to bend of bay,” and to varying degrees the blast of blizzard was dramatically exacerbated by saltwater flooding.

I had, for many years, such a garden on Manhasset Bay. Nor’easters and hurricanes coinciding with full moons were likely to inundate the garden, and it sure got ugly if it was a blizzard at that time of the month. The salinity of the water was resented most by rhododendrons and other broad-leaved evergreens that had no business growing there, but for the rest — the tulips and daffodils, the roses and forget-me-nots, the hydrangeas and crape myrtles and garden phlox — come May and June and hot summer, they were as happy as Larry, naturalized in their waterfront setting.

Of perhaps greater deleterious effect than the salt water from the coastal flooding was, on the one hand, the enormous deposits left in the garden — a thick layer of Phragmites seasoned with driftwood and plastic detritus, some of which I would add to my collection of ready-mades — and, on the other hand, the stripping of humus and mulch by the receding tide, leaving feeder roots exposed and begging for amelioration. In that case the gardener has no choice but to have a truckload of mulch — or better yet, compost — delivered as soon as possible. Inflate the tire of your wheelbarrow or call in a professional landscaper.

My garden on Manhasset Bay was not only right at sea level but it was entirely flat. There were many storms in which the salt water and flotsam reached into the garden some 20 or 30 feet, but there were also three or four times in 20 years that the entire acre of garden was inundated.

Of course, you could certainly leave such a plot to open lawn and the random privet and black locust. However, what if you want to garden on it, where coastal flooding is not an infrequent occurrence? What planting strategies are there?

Go with the flow and select a few native plants that are adapted to Long Island coastal and establish them in mass plantings. Use these to create a less exposed ecosystem, a cozier environment, a more distinctive sense of place and to minimize erosion. Of course, as always, there are the deer to consider, which unfortunately eliminates sumac (Rhus), eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana), winterberry (Ilex verticillata) and bayberry (Myrica), all of which fit the bill of desirable LI coastal natives. These can be tried in future years.

However, in order to establish a durable and dependable infrastructure impervious to saline and cervine, let’s select chokeberry (Aronia), arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum) and grasses, like switchgrass and panic grass (Panicum).

There is a superb source for all these and many more in Eastport (between Moriches and Westhampton), a grower and nursery called Long Island Natives. They may have suggestions unknown to me and firsthand experience that contradicts my own.

Very rarely is there coastal flooding in spring. September through December are the months when the coincidence of heavy storm and full moon will inundate the shorelines. Thus spring is the time to plant in gardens where there is coastal flooding. Let plants have a long season to establish in the soil. If you have established beds and plants that are not known to be adapted to this condition, and they were flooded in the storm of Jan. 4, you must immediately spread at least an inch of compost or mulch.

Email your horticultural questions to kyrnanh@yahoo.com for possible inclusion in this column.

Kyrnan Harvey is a horticulturist and garden designer residing in East Setauket. For more information, visit www.boskygarden.com.

Above, the flowering quince is one member of the rose family that deer avoid. Stock photo

By Kyrnan Harvey

Previously, I have suggested a good many options for plants that possess presence in the winter landscape, that can be fully relied on not to be browsed by deer, and that can thus be employed to establish the bones of a garden.

Come spring, what flowering shrubs likewise won’t be ruined by the unpredictable predations of the white-tailed deer, Odocoileus virginianus? What can be planted, without worry, that is fully exposed to their perambulations at dawn and at dusk?

First off, let’s appreciate our native spicebush, Lindera benzoin, the swelling flower buds of which are most conspicuous in the sunlight of the first warm days of March. As true a harbinger of spring as snowdrops (truer actually, because snowdrops often open on warm days in the dead of winter), these are large shrubs that populate the understory of our woods and will seed themselves into your propitious beds and borders. Swallowtail butterfly larvae feed on their leaves, which turn bright yellow in fall, and the berries on female plants are an important food source for migratory birds. Scratch the stem or crush the leaves and you will know it’s a spicebush by the delightful scent of grapefruit.

Now let us praise forsythia, very common, and for good reason: they survive neglect, drought and shade. Their long arching stems root in, and thus spread, as their tips reach the soil. Prune them soon after flowering and leave them to themselves for the next 12 months. In other words, don’t let the landscapers buzz them in August. April 1 is when forsythia typically start flowering. In 2017 they were nearly two weeks late, as winter lasted right through March. Their ubiquity detracts from their appeal, but they should be utilized for their strong color in a still-gray landscape, for their durability in tough locations and for being … reliably deer proof.

Flowering with the forsythias are the PJM rhododendrons, precociously in shades of lavender-pink. Their leaves, mahogany-plum in winter, are aromatic when crushed and thus avoided by deer, unlike the glorious rhodies of May. I planted three in the late fall of 2015. One was promptly browsed, but not at all the last two years so I can, not without reservations, recommend them. Their shock of hot pink is surely a highlight of the year.

Grow flowering quince, Chaenomeles, in an obscure corner, in a location that is sunny but not prominent. The stunning flower colors — unusual tints of orange, watermelon-pink and peachy coral-pink — present such a jolt of pleasure that their messy tangled mass of stems can be forgiven. It will light up a forsaken location and a single cut spray will transform a room. Flowering quince (or Japanese quince, as distinguished from the quince used for jellies, Cydonia) is a classic subject for ikebana and a recurring motif in Asian art. I saw ‘Double-Take Orange’ and Double-Take Pink at Home Depot last April and ‘Cameo’ has been available at garden centers in recent years.

Lastly, for the purposes of this article on early spring flowering shrubs that are deer proof, or at least nearly so, there are the lilacs. They are all delightfully perfumed, of course. There are many varieties of the old-fashioned lilacs (Syringa vulgaris and S. × hyacinthiflora), flowering around Mother’s Day and for many a Proustian madeleine to their childhoods. Less well known, but also readily available, is the later flowering, smaller-leaved, broader-than-tall, S. meyeri ‘Palibin.’ It does not get gaunt and leggy, nor is it prone to mildew. This is truly one of the 10-best flowering shrubs to include in a garden, deer or no deer.

By mid-May the bridalwreath spirea, the Koreanspice viburnum and the Warminster broom are in full bloom and are assiduously avoided by deer. But there is a long winter ahead. In the meantime, email horticultural questions to kyrnanh@yahoo.com for possible inclusion in this column.

Kyrnan Harvey is a horticulturist and garden designer residing in East Setauket. For more information, visit www.boskygarden.com.

Plant heavenly bamboo (Nandina) for deer-proof cheer all winter.

By Kyrnan Harvey

A deer tragically impaled itself last month on the spears of a metal fence — way west in Glen Cove. But perhaps fences are not the best strategy to deter the white-tailed herbivores, especially if your fencing is that ubiquitous and regrettable closed-top black aluminum or only 4 feet high.

Nandina graces a front door all winter.

The first 25 years of gardening for me were mostly further west of Glen Cove, but even in my gardens in Oyster Bay and Huntington Bay deer were then not a problem. If your backyard is enclosed all around by 6-foot stockade fencing, then you can reliably garden with a fully free hand by planting aucubas, rhododendrons and azaleas; hostas, roses and hydrangeas; and tulips, daylilies and coralbells.

But, if you are like me and see fresh deer hoof prints and droppings every day, see deer gracefully browsing at dawn or dusk once a week, and can’t plant a tree without its trunk getting destroyed by rutting bucks, what deer-proof planting strategies can you employ if you really still want to have a garden?

Let’s begin with plants that establish the structure of the garden, plantings that, when all else is bare from November through March, articulate garden spaces and dictate how we walk through the garden and that enhance and enliven the winter landscape.

Privet for screening hedges: Only semievergreen at best, but privet is 100 percent deer proof, whereas arborvitae and yew and euonymus will be heavily browsed, Japanese holly moderately. Plant privet close (12 to 18 inches apart), and in a few years it will be dense enough to obviate penetration and tall enough to prevent jumping. Add gates where desired.

Boxwood, for low hedging, rhythm and winter green, is 100 percent deer proof. Avoid the dwarf English boxwood Buxus sempervirens ‘Suffruticosa’ of yesteryear, beautiful as old billowing plants can be, because of boxwood blight. There are numerous other options, and I will elaborate in a future column.

Inkberry (Ilex glabra) is a fine, dark-green leaved alternative to Japanese holly, looser, less stiff and less dense, and thus more casual than boxwood too. Deer do not touch it.

American holly (Ilex opaca) is a tree, with the spiny leaves (don’t plant it poolside!) and red berries (on female plants only). These will self-seed, even in shade, and are, unlike other large-leaved hollies like the beautiful “blue” hollies and the English and Chinese hollies, 100 percent deer proof.

Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Goshiki’ is a deer-proof broad-leaf evergreen.

Osmanthus is in the olive family but is mistaken for holly because of its spiny leaves. There is a variegated Japanese cultivar called ‘Goshiki,’ which translates as “five colors” and which has recently become readily available. It is a useful broad-leaved evergreen, the gay coloration of which (creamy- gray- and yellow-green with new leaves of pink) is not as gaudy as it sounds and thus a welcome presence to any garden setting in all seasons — and unappetizing to buck and doe alike.

Clump-forming bamboo (Fargesia) by definition does not run and is not invasive. It is much less tall but with the distinctive evergreen bamboo leaves. These will, in just a few years, present a dense, substantial, voluminous mass of deer-proof greenery.

Heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica) is a member of the barberry family, unrelated to the graminaceous bamboos. Its leaves only superficially resemble them, and it bears huge trusses of bright red berries. Birds do not touch them, and they last right through the winter.

Ornamental grasses do well where there is an abundance of sun. See my first article in this space (Sept. 12, 2017). Where there is shade, the wonderful Japanese forest grass Hakonechloa does well. Granted grasses are not evergreens, but they provide winter interest, so I don’t cut them down until March.

Well now, there are actually quite a few excellent deer-proof plants for the winter garden. Why do I complain?

Kyrnan Harvey is a horticulturist and garden designer residing in East Setauket. For more information, visit www.boskygarden.com.

All photos by Kyrnan Harvey

Social

9,189FansLike
0FollowersFollow
1,102FollowersFollow
33SubscribersSubscribe