Mel Bellar gardens in the Catskills Mountains of New York, where the growing season can be short and the deer are abundant. For a story that ran in Horticulture (July/August 2018), he shared plants and commentary for a garden with four seasons of interest despite deer. Here's what he had to say:
'Autumn Bride' alumroot (Heuchera villosa 'Autumn Bride'): Very reliable. I love the light green foliage and unlike with most other heurcheras, I enjoy the blooms. The fact that it flowers in August and looks good into October is a wonderful attribute.
Bigroot geranium (Geranium macrorrhizum): Miracle plant. It looks great all the time, except in the early spring when its evergreen foliage is beat up from winter and it hasn’t put out enough new growth to cover it. It blooms for several weeks and then provides a really dense cover that rarely allows weeds to poke through; very nice fall color; the deer don’t eat it; easy to harvest and cover huge areas. Plant the sprigs on a one-foot grid for complete ground cover the next year.
Sedges (Carex flacca ‘Blue Zinger' & Carex appalachia): New discoveries that are strong performers with beautiful foliage that fills out nicely. The flacca seems to do very well in the sun or shade; the appalachia is fine cut and has a very nice fountain shape. Both deer proof.
Catmint (Nepeta): Alluring blue green foliage; long-blooming, great lavender substitute en masse. Looks great again after getting cut back after first round of blooms fade. Very reliable and deer proof.
Ninebark (Physocarpus opuliflolius): Be careful to choose the cultivars that don’t get the powdery mildew. Love the colorful leaves, nice blooms, vase-like habit.
Smooth hydrangea (Hydrangea aborescens): All-purpose shrub with nice foliage, great flowers that last a long time. Looks good through the winter; not too tall; easy to propagate. Super reliable, but the deer can do damage. It recovers.
Hardy hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata): Reliable and offers a great variety of sizes with some color variation. I have recently become fond of the new smaller varieties: Little Lime, Bobo and I’m looking forward to trying Little Quick Fire.
Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum): Native grasses that don’t flop and the deer don’t eat them. Ruby Ribbons is a favorite for the red blades, but I love Northwind, Cloud Nine and Shenandoah, too.
Boxwood (Buxus): Structural, evergreen bones that add very simple formality in the garden—never as hedges but only as organizing accents. The deer don’t eat them.
Ornamental onion (Allium): Late summer splash of purple flowers; very hardy. These look great in combination with almost anything. Deer proof!
Serbian spruce (Picea omorika cvs.): Spruces with great character. In our challenged conifer environment (due to pests and deer), it is one of the few problem-free, interesting conifers. (Oh yeah, the deer don’t eat it!)
Image credits: Bigroot geranium, public domain. 'Walker's Low' catmint and 'Millenium' ornamental onion courtesy of Walters Gardens. 'Froedenberg' Serbian spruce by F.D. Richards/CC BY-SA 2.0.