Not Tonight, Deer

Deer are among the most vexing of garden visitors in the West. Though they have a certain charm, their voracious appetite for roses and other classic flowers makes them expensive garden guests. Plus, in many areas, they carry ticks, which can spread Lyme disease.

It’s clear we don’t want to encourage them, but short of fencing the entire plot, what’s a gardener to do? Luckily, there are many plants deer avoid. By choosing plants with fragrant foliage that have a fuzzy, sappy or leathery surface, you’ll make it clear your garden is not an all-you-can-eat salad buffet. Here are three top picks to get you started.

Cistus is a powerhouse of the deer-resistant garden, and even the hungriest of deer will dine elsewhere. It’s all due to the leaves, which become sticky, aromatic, and highly unpalatable when crushed. Yet ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ is a gardener’s dream, with vibrant evergreen leaves edged in gold, a full, compact habit that needs no pruning, and a flush of brilliant white flowers come spring. Reaching only 12-24 inches tall and 12-18 inches wide, this tiny stunner not only looks good, but is tough enough to withstand heat, wind, drought, and all manner of pests. Grow it in Sunset zones 5-9, 14-24, 26, 28, and 31.

With a fragrant aroma evoking the sun-drenched fields of Provence, ‘Meerlo’ Lavender is an unusual variegated variety of lavender should be enjoyed up close – near patios, pathways, and in containers by the door – where you can inhale that divine scent every time you pass by. Not only does it smell good, but the evergreen foliage is edged in a golden cream color, which lights up the garden and contrasts beautifully with the iconic spikes of lavender-purple flowers. Yet, this beauty is no simpering weakling. It’s been bred from the uber-tough Lavandula allardii, which is known for being tolerant of drought, heat, humidity, and a wider range of soil conditions than most lavenders. It reaches 24-36 inches tall and 24-30 inches wide, and grows best in Sunset zones 15, 16, 17, and 19-24.

The intoxicating fragrance of orange blossoms on an easy-care, evergreen shrub? Sign me up! With a splash of creamy variegation on the tip of each leaf, Mojo® Pittosporum offers the perfect year-round accent in the garden. The foliage even shines in bouquets and wreaths as a colorful counterpoint to simple evergreens or an elegant array of blooms. While its own blossoms are best enjoyed on the shrub, the springtime flowers send out drifts of perfume redolent of citrus groves, and make your corner of the world feel like a tropical escape. Growing only 2-3 feet tall and as wide, it can be used as a sturdy groundcover on slopes, near the coast, or as a loose hedge to border a flower display. It does best in Sunset zones 4-31.

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