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    three deer - photo (c) Brenda Grantland

    One of the best things about living in Tam Valley is having deer in our yards. Deer are beautiful, elegant and peaceful creatures. Unfortunately they eat our prize roses and just about anything else they want to eat, and they run out in front of our cars on rainy nights, causing accidents.
    But life wouldn't be the same without them.

    by Brenda Grantland 11-22-2001

    When my dad came to visit my new house in Tam Valley for the first and only time in 1999, he was fascinated with the deer. Every morning when I would get up, several hours after him, my dad would give me a report on the deer that he had seen that morning, and what they had done. He was particularly fascinated with a doe that had twin fawns so young they still had spots. That was in the spring of 1999. My dad died a year later.

    This fall I looked out my back window and saw the twin deer which I photographed above. I think these are the twin deer that my dad talked about so much! Just moments earlier, as I looked out the picture window, I saw these three deer seated on my hillside about 10 feet away. One of the twins was licking the other twin's face. The buck was eating my ferns. When I grabbed my camera, they stood up and posed for this picture. Later I realized the twins had been sitting on top of my newly planted irises. Oh well, they didn't try to eat them.

    I had heard that irises are one type of flowering plant which deer will never eat, and so far, no deer has expressed any culinary interest in any of the 95 varieties of irises I planted this summer. They also haven't taken any bites from my princess plant, ajuga, or lavender. But they ate just about everything I planted the first year I lived in Tam Valley. They loved the lobelia, carnations, columbine, clarkia, flowering maple (albuteron) and especially my roses - which they ate to the ground. They bit off my gladioli blooms and spat them out, then bit off some more. I guess they were mad that glads don't taste as good as they look.

    They also destroyed 12 of the 14 agapanthus I planted on my hillside -- eating them to the ground and sometimes pulling them out by their roots. Two of the agapathus escaped by rolling down the hill and taking root further below, and I still have them, sort of. One of them struggled back to being a healthy plant after a year, but was recently eaten to within an inch of the ground. The other fell into a crevice next to my house where it gets little light and rain, but the deer can't get to it. It's too bad the agapanthus experiment failed, because I met my favorite comedian Dana Carvey while buying them (at the Rite-Aid on E. Blithedale), but that's a story for another day.

    For the first couple of years as a Tam Valley gardener, I wasted a lot of money on plants which the deer devoured as soon as I planted them. Then I read up on deer control and started taking some precautions. The Sunset "Western Garden Book" has a section on plants that deer allegedly won't eat, but the deer in my yard don't read that book. They've developed a taste for certain items on the Sunset list, including columbine, digitalis (foxglove), echinacea, and verbena. For the most part, though, the Sunset Western Garden Book is an excellent resource for information on deer resistant plants, and just about anything else you would ever need to know about gardening.

    My first great breakthrough in deer control was deer netting. Deer netting is a thin plastic mesh that you put around the plants you don't want the deer to eat. You can buy it at Orchard Supply in San Rafael, and staple it to cheap redwood plant stakes with a staple gun and fasten the seams together with twist ties. It's a very inexpensive and easy to use method of protecting entire planters. The deer can't see it, and when they go for a bite from the plant, their noses hit the mesh and they generally stop trying to munch the plant.

    I put deer netting up as an invisible fence between the creek, which runs through my front yard, and a small area of my front yard where I had planted plants the deer were eating. Occasionally a deer would jump over the invisible fence and come into my front yard and devour all the plants. But for the most part, the deer netting fence deterred them from sauntering in for a nibble after drinking from the creek. The deer netting fence I put up in 1999 held up until a few months ago, when one of the deer tore a hole in it, and now they've established a deer right of way through my front yard to the back. It's better to put the deer netting around the individual plant, and secure it carefully, but if they really want to get to the plant, they'll tear down the netting, as they did to my flowering maple.

    My second great breakthrough in deer control was coyote urine. I bought some 100% coyote urine in 1999 at Tanneman's nursery in Tiburon (it's now owned by someone else, and I'm not sure they still stock it.) When I came into my house with the bottle of coyote urine, my cat and dog were curious about the smell. When I opened the top to see what it smelled like, they both became spooked and agitated. It really stinks, but it really stinks in a way that other animals understand. I sprinkled drops of it around my yard, and didn't see any deer in my yard for an entire year. The problem (aside from the smell) is that it attracts coyotes (according to the label.) Since this creek is called Coyote Creek, it must have had coyotes at some time, so what if they came back? We don't want to encourage that. The other problem is that sometimes the deer get wise to it. After the winter rains washed away the coyote urine I put out the year before, I started having trouble with deer that would come up on my front porch at night and eat the six packs of annuals I was about to plant. They would walk around on my deck and wake up my dog, who would start barking. I sprinkled the coyote urine around the deck, and the deer came back anyway. Several nights in a row, I saw a big buck with a large rack come back to my yard - probably to engage in warfare with the alleged coyote, I decided. After a while I think the buck got wise and concluded there was no coyote to go with the coyote urine, and the experiment failed. Either that or coyote urine goes bad after a year.

    My neighbor Keith Jensen has had good results with the product "Not Tonight Deer." You can buy it at Sloats in Mill Valley. Its label has a cute little cartoon of two deer in bed, the doe with a hand to her forehead. It's basically a stinky concoction made from rotten eggs that you mix with water and water your plants with. It leaves a residue of rotten egg flavor on the plants which deer don't care for. Keith Jensen has had excellent luck with the product. But he left his package of "Not Tonight Deer" outside and some critter broke into the package and ate it!

    I'll be expanding this section of the tamvalley.org website to talk about other plants that deer won't eat, and other methods of deer controlled gardening.

    It's good to have deer among us. Watching the deer helps us slow down and enjoy life. The deer in Tam Valley have learned to adapt to living among us. My little dog, who wouldn't stand a chance against a deer in combat, loves to chase the deer, and they play along by outrunning her, and even give her a head start. They have learned how to co-exist. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could all live together like that?

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