That Ol’ Marigold Magic

Beneath my veneer of civilized rationality, deep down in the ancient, primordial part of my consciousness, I admit that I am a believer in curses and jinxes. Being a Cleveland sports fan, how could it be otherwise?

So, I really hesitate to say this for fear that the fickle Gardening Gods will lash out and punish me for my heresy, but . . . the marigold approach to the deer problem seems to be working. Following up on local knowledge tips from local gardeners, I planted dozens of marigolds at strategic locations in the side yard and the down yard. They’ve all come in well and are pleasantly fragrant–which is supposed to be what keeps the sensitive deer, which purportedly don’t like the smell of marigolds, away from flower, plants, and shrubs. And, so far at least, the deer have avoided our yard.

The area in the crack between the two gigantic boulders in the down yard is a good example. It’s the spot that is farthest away from our house and close to a small creek, so it’s prime deer territory. Last year the deer repeatedly ravaged the plants in the crack and chewed the daisy in the foreground, just behind the marigolds, down to the ground. The other plants in the crack experienced similar depredations. But this year, the deer have stayed away, and the plants are looking much better.

Of course, it’s always difficult to determine cause and effect. Is it that old marigold magic, or is it the fact that the deer have found some other food source, or the fact that we’ve got a dog living in the house now, or the fact that the deer herd has migrated to a different part of the island, or something else? I don’t know for sure, obviously, but based on our experience this year marigolds are going to be a perennial (pun intended) part of the planting mix going forward. And they look nice, too.

The Great Marigold Experiment Begins

In our little neighborhood on the Greenhead peninsula, talk of the marauding deer population dominates the conversation. Everyone is trying to come up with ways to protect their flower and vegetable gardens from the pesky, voracious herd of Bambis that is roaming the local woods and yards, eating everything in its path.

This weekend we opened up our front in the Stonington Deer Wars by going to Mainescapes, a great garden store in Blue Hill, to get multiple flats of marigolds, which the locals believe are among the most effective non-spray, non-fence deer repellants. Then, on Saturday and Sunday I planted all of the marigolds at strategic locations in the side yard (above) and the down yard (below), hoping to create smell barriers that cause the odor-sensitive deer to steer clear of our yards and go out to eat somewhere else.

Whether any of this will work is anybody’s guess. But at least we’ll have a riotous collection of yellow and orange marigolds to add some color to the yards–if the deer don’t eat them first, that is.

Garlic Power And Marigold Magic

We’re getting close to the spring planting season in Stonington, and I’m working on a strategy to try to deal with the marauding deer population that decimated the flowers in the lower, unfenced part of our yard last year.

On a walk over the weekend, I ran into a fellow gardener who was out working in her yard and asked if she had any recommendations for non-chemical, non-fenced—yet effective—ways of keeping deer away from those tasty flowers. She recommended garlic, and lots of it. She said you crush the cloves to increase the smell and place them around the perimeter of the area you want to protect. The deer apparently hate the odor and supposedly avoid the garlic aroma area.

Garlic: it’s not just for vampires any more!

I don’t want to use any kind of chemical spray, which will just wash down into the harbor, and I don’t want to put up any wires or fencing, which would ruin the rustic look of the down yard. I’m therefore going to try the garlic approach this year, and combine it with another tip I got from a gardening neighbor. He said that when he planted marigolds last year he was surprised to see that the deer not only didn’t eat the marigold flowers, they avoided the marigold area of his garden entirely because they find that smell unpleasant, too. Some other locals also endorse the marigold approach.

So, this year I’ll be crushing and placing garlic cloves around the down yard, and planting marigolds as a kind of protective barrier for other flowers. If garlic and marigolds work alone, imagine their impact in combination! And I hope this technique works, because this morning I saw a huge herd of deer at the end of our road—and they looked hungry.

At Summer’s End

Time for an update on our patio flower beds, about three months after planting.

The red Salvias were the munching favorites of our furry backyard creatures, but have come on strong in the last few weeks.  The little Celosias didn’t do grow appreciably and were routinely pulverized by any heavy rainstorm.  The Marigolds did well, as expected, and put forth lots of bright orange blooms.  The Zinnias did best of all — growing like crazy, adding huge gouts of spilling yellow color to the beds, and giving the patio a nice, wild garden feel.

Zinnias will definitely make the cut next year.  Celosias, not so much.

Sunday Visitors

As we approach the end of summer and feel the first chills of approaching autumn, it’s crucial to hang on to the last few sultry moments of the fading season.  So it was today, as we are enjoying a day of clear weather with the temperature in the 70s and brilliant sunshine.

It was a good day to go out and nose around the colorful garden beds ringing our brick patio.  We planted marigolds there at the end of May, and they have thrived through the initial rainy days and more recently through many dry days, growing thick and bursting with color.  The flowers almost look like beds of glowing coals, filled with bright golds, rich oranges, deep crimsons, and other dazzling shades of yellow and red.

I find the flowers irresistible on a warm sunny day, and I am not alone:  bumblebees and butterflies, intoxicated by the heady scent of pollen, also were out in force, working hard and getting a snootful of the flowers.  Bees in particular are fascinating to watch.  The phrase “busy as a bee” is apt.  They move single-mindedly from flower to flower, put a steady grip on the petals, and thrust their heads deep into the recesses of the flowers.  They are wholly oblivious to nearby humans.

Butterflies, on the other hand, are like nervous suitors dressed in their Sunday finest.  With colorful markings on their wings in full display, the butterflies flit from flower to flower, alighting for a few moments as if staying only for a brief dalliance.  They quickly go about their business, but when the shadow of a human being crosses their path they immediately flutter away, dipping and swerving, to land again a few flowers away — and the whole act begins all over again.