When I walked out the door to pick up the newspaper, I saw the evidence: The vandals had struck again. Two small yellow blooms remained among dozens of decapitated plants.
The deer found the pansies less than 48 hours after I planted them, wedging themselves between the pickup and the side of the house to eat the petals.
Until today, I thought this spot was deer-proof. Deer are not supposed to like hanging out on driveways, next to cars or in tight spots.
But the deer that roam Chapel Hill have lost almost all fear of humans and human structures. Today, just before I discovered the flowerless pansies, my husband pointed out a doe on the neighbors’ back porch, blithely devouring a potted plant.
In the battle to maintain a garden in a yard that doubles as a fast-food drive-through for four-legged wildlife, I have become an amateur deer psychologist. Unfortunately, the deer have resisted behavioral training.
In training Part I, I ran at them like a madwoman, waving my arms and shouting. The deer would saunter about 15 feet, then stop and stare at me. If I kept running, they would jog another 10 feet, then stop and look back. By this point I would be at the property line and stop, feeling foolish.
Next, my husband attempted to instill fear in the herd by shooting them with an air gun. He’s a good shot, and when he pinged a deer, it would take off, flashing its white tail. But the herd failed to get the message that our yard was a scary place and continued to visit regularly, munching at will.
I started planting plants that are said to be deer-resistant. But the deer seem not to know what plants they’re not supposed to like. Serviceberry tree, shorn of almost all leaves. Japanese kerria, stripped of its top half. Purple coneflower, eaten repeatedly before plants could flower.
Among local gardeners, most conversations begin and end with deer. “Is this plant deer-resistant?” “What plants have you had luck with?” “What do you use as deer-repellants?”
I have held out against deer-repellant sprays, since their manufacturers label the bottles with the caveat that if a deer is hungry enough, it will eat any plant. That fits with my observation that if a deer wants to eat a plant, it will eat it, spray or no spray.
Yes, I know, countless generations of deer probably traversed this path through our yard, long before we arrived with our notions of property rights. But that’s no comfort to the backyard gardener.
Non-violent at heart, I cheered the recent Duke University decision to cull the deer that roam Duke Forest, eating so much undergrowth that they prevent forest regeneration.
But now that my backyard visitors are becoming even bolder, I’m wondering if one of the unintended consequences of the culling has been to drive more deer into neighborhoods.
Or maybe it’s the deer taking revenge for the air gun incidents.
After writing this, I came home from the coffee shop and looked out the back window. A doe was lying under the trees looking straight at me. She seemed right at home.