By Kyrnan Harvey
Successful perennial plantings present landscaping solutions that endure for a few years at a minimum: right plant, right place. Yarrows, peonies, echinaceas, catmint, sages and grasses of all kinds are dependable year-in, year-out, with no worries that the deer will compromise the peak of their performance with unpredictable browsing.
But what about annuals? What possibilities are there for long seasons of color that deliver a strong return on our efforts, and that the deer will dependably leave alone? Here’s a few that my wife and I have successfully grown in our East Setauket garden, which happens to be Grand Central Station for deer. These plants supply many weeks of color and character and carry the garden from July through October, and they too can be counted on as year-in, year-out solutions. These here all require plenty of sun, so if you haven’t got enough, maybe it’s time to call an arborist and remove some Norway maples, Ailanthus (tree of heaven) or black locust.
Snapdragons flower in early summer. They are charming in a vase and there are some great colors out there. They self-seed for us and occasionally overwinter. We like the taller ones; the deer don’t.
Nor do they touch cosmos or zinnias. The former are charming daisies, the embodiment of simplicity in the garden; the latter have the colors that remind me of vintage psychedelic rock posters. Buy them at the garden center or start seeds in April. We prefer the tall zinnia seed strain, Giant. Dead-head spent flowers, especially the zinnias.
We love lantana. Readily available, we have certain varieties in certain colors that we look out for. The Bandana series is upright and not trailing. They are actually perennial, woody shrubs, native in the tropics and thus not hardy. Vibrantly colored, heat and drought tolerant, aromatic, they attract hummingbirds and butterflies.
We started years ago supplementing clients’ sunny beds with them, and we’d cut them back to about a foot in early November; dig them up and squeeze them into as small an azalea pot (broader than deep) as possible; water them in just once; leave them a day or two outside; and leave them alone to be dormant in a cold (but not freezing) garage or basement. We try to place them where there is a window, just a tiny bit of light, let them get good and dry, and water only every three or four weeks. We move them outside in May, they start growing, and by late May they are planted out again. They get larger from year to year, but we still pot them up, not without questioning our sanity, and are rewarded with lantanas a yard high and wide — a splendid filler after spring and early summer perennials are finished.
One might expect zaftig dahlias to be irresistible to deer, but astonishingly they are unmolested. My wife has become the in-house dahlia enthusiast at Bosky Garden Design, adding each year to her collection of favorites. And there are indeed so many gorgeous varieties. The best cut flowers, you can grow them just for that, or they are easily incorporated in mixed planting schemes, color combination possibilities are endless. We overwinter them, again in a cold basement, bare of soil, wrapped first in newspaper and placed in those 5-cent plastic bags with peat moss.
We love the shock of red of scarlet sage, if used wisely (i.e., segregated), but salvias of all kinds are avoided by deer. Salvia greggii is sold as an annual, but some varieties will be perennial given favorable conditions. This is a plant to look for; there is a wide range of colors, some hardier than others.
Cleome will self-seed prolifically, not until late May. Sparkler is a great seed strain that is tall and that repels deer for sure.
Last, and certainly not least, we have Verbena bonariensis, a short-lived perennial, technically, that succumbs to temperatures below 10 degrees but that self-seeds more abundantly than even cleome. For us it is a tall matrix plant that intermingles everywhere in the garden. Loved by butterflies, loathed by deer, it epitomizes and unifies the naturalistic planting style.
Kyrnan Harvey is a horticulturist and garden designer residing in East Setauket. For more information, visit www.boskygarden.com.
All photos by Kyrnan Harvey