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When we moved from Chicago to Des Moines, Iowa, we were excited about the deck on the back of our home, the many oak trees providing shade and beauty. We formed the habit of opening our windows to the night air, falling asleep to the sounds of the woods—the chirps of crickets, hum of insect mandibles chewing. Ah, the country, a little bit of heaven.

Think again. One night I was awakened by a piercing screech, so intense I couldn’t sleep. I knew it would keep up until the owl had killed its prey or our neighbor’s cat could free herself from the local fox. Tooth and claw, the survival of the fittest, very alive and functioning just beyond our fence. But the point was we had a fence. I had my territory and they had theirs and we would just keep it that way.

Eventually my neighbors explained that the reason my hosta plants had morphed into razor-edged sticks was because of something called browsing—a word meaning the deer were enjoying a salad. But come on, this was so new to us, we spent a few evenings watching the deer from my son’s treefort. We counted the points on the male’s rack, called the folks back in Chicago bragging about our amazing wildlife.

But then there was the large doe finishing off my impatiens. I clapped my hands, shouted, picked up a stone (a small one) to lob at her. Inner-city deer. She kept on chewing.

Thus the mythology of dealing with deer bloomed. “Put out bars of soap. Scatter human hair. Let your son relieve himself on your plants.” Whatever!!!

The gardening center had shelves of products. I read the labels. Apply frequently; apply when it’s not going to rain; apply and cover each frond of the plant! I had about 90 hostas. And this stuff wasn’t cheap. I bought something called Liquid Fence which when applied leaves a stench that will keep the deer away and your best friends. But I sprayed. And I had my fence, right?

The deer were jumping the fence.  And the rest of nature was just beginning to gear up. The word had gotten around in the critter community—we’ve got fresh meat living in the grey house, go for broke.

There was scratching below our deck. Then I saw a creature scuttle to its new home—under that deck. I found a picture of my critter—a woodchuck. SO…go ahead, start singing the old rhyme. But like skunks, you don’t want one of these living with you.  They are more territorial then I was surely becoming. Oak trees, acorns—this  woodchuck was set for life.

The critter-catcher set up three traps. We caught two possum, two raccoons and the neighbor’s cat. Finally one afternoon I actually saw the critter walk right into the trap. I was so excited I called my husband at work. I’d gone over the edge. The critter-catcher wasn’t far behind. He brought a camera . “I’ve never caught one of these,” he told me happily. We were a pair.

Then at two a.m. there was the bat, fighting the circles of the ceiling fan above our bed. And me with a broom, a baseball cap and a towel—you use the towel to throw the bat to the ground. I was learning!

Now I’m definitely dreaming of a condo—no trees, no animals. But can I give up listening to the sounds of nature as I fall asleep?

A few nights ago: bump, thunk! It’s four a.m. and something has just knocked over the bird bath. I’m awake. Is it deer in the hostas? I haven’t sprayed. A raccoon? My husband says a raccoon is eating through our roof shingles. He’s starting to crack too. I closed my eyes, but all I could see was the yard below swarming with wild life, every inch crawling with nature, vivid with its slither and instinct, its hunger and need.

In the morning, the lawn was full of squirrels and chipmunks. For even if the legal documents for our dwelling has the name HAVEY on it, we now know who truly owns the place.

If you have critter problems, please share.

P.S. This is a favorite, but older post. I loved my life in Des Moines! We then moved to California….loved that too. No deer. And now we are back in Chicago, with a tall fence around our garden, the bustle of city streets in our neighborhood. And thus I have yet to see a deer. But they are adaptable, love hosta plants, and I have MANY.  You just never know. 

Deer-Proof Perennials:

  • Black-Eyed Susans – classic daisy flowers with dark eyes.
  • Bleeding Hearts – traditional, heart-shaped flowers.
  • Coreopsis – colorful, daisy-like flowers.
  • Daffodils – terrific trumpet flowers, toxic to deer.
  • Coneflowers – cone-shaped native flowers with prominent eyes.
  • Ferns – a varied family of foliage plants.
  • Irises – beautiful bearded flowers.
  • Lavender – very fragrant flower spikes with namesake color.
  • Mint – excellent edible with strong fragrance to ward off deer.
  • Monarda – pincushion flowers adored by pollinators.
  • Ornamental Grasses – beautiful, but not as appetizing as a lawn.
  • Sage – spikes of fragrant flowers.

14 Responses

  1. Beth… you are telling my story in the house I currently live in… thank you for the smiles 🙂

    1. Would love to know what your WILD THINGS are. Now back in Chicago, we have mostly birds, but also squirrels and an occasion possum. NO DEER. Do I miss them, Yes!

  2. We’ve always said, if we could see what wandered through our yard late at night, we’d faint. Our most exciting was a bear casually going through our garbage one morning. My mom saw a bobcat. So glad I missed that. You’re right, this is really their home, we’re just renting.

  3. Oh, I just moved to a rural community in December. I saw deer in my yard a few times. More often, I saw their prints in the snow. I want to grow flowers in my front yard, but the locals are telling me that I need a 6 foot fence to keep the deer out! All my best to you as you sharing your property with the long-time locals.

  4. I’m grateful I live in a city/suburban setting. We have groundhogs, chipmunks, squirrels, raccoons and skunks but no bears – not yet, anyway. Deer are a problem in our community garden but not here- not yet. Nature always finds a way. It’s spring, so let the battle be joined again! Alana ramblinwitham

    1. I loved living with the critters. For me, it was such a change…one day I looked up from my computer and a deer was staring at me through the window.
      Ah life, the variety is wonderful. Thanks for reading, Beth

  5. I don’t have that problem living in LA, although I lived up in the hills for a while with tons of coyotes, raccoons, hawks, and rabbits, even mountain lions. I loved observing them in their habitat but wasn’t growing anything to worry about. My son lives in Tehachapi where herds of mule deer congregate in his backyard at night. They have to put fences over their vegetable plants.

    1. Love this Rebecca. You might remember that we lived in Thousand Oaks for 7 wonderful years. One of the first walks I took, so joyful, a beautiful day and along a major avenue and there by a tree, a coyote. Okay. I turned around and walked back. I knew they were up in the hills, and yet I never saw that one again in that area. Bu that doesn’t mean that every time I walked by that tree I thought of him! Thanks for reading. Beth

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