Fourteen years ago, when I bought my house, I ripped out all sorts of ugly juniper bushes and poisonous plants and planted, among other things, roses and tulips, cosmos and butterfly trees. Dahlias. And for 12 years, the roses and tulips blossomed and grew and looked lovely in my front yard, adding color and texture. The hybrid roses bloomed all spring and summer, happily waving red and orange in front of the living room window. The Mr. Lincoln rose, purebred and finicky, I had to coax along, pamper and plead with, and eventually he rewarded me with a few aromatic flowers during the course of a summer. The tulips, much simpler, demanded only a bit of slug bait, and they popped through the soil each spring, a welcome harbinger of warmer days.
Each year, in mid-June the little woman and I head to the nursery and load up on geraniums, lobelia, mums, petunias, and whatever other pretty flowers capture my eye, and I plant them all in containers in the backyard. I’m no Martha Stewart, but the yard looks good, the reds and purples, oranges and yellows reminding us that even though it’s raining through most of July, summertime has arrived.
One fine spring day a couple of years ago, I was pulling weeds and monitoring the roses’ progress, excited that the buds were near to blossoming, the tulips were pushing up through the bark mulch, straining toward the sun light. I noticed the hollyhocks too—tall and green, buds appearing. Around the yard, the hosta filled in the shady spaces, purple and yellow primroses taunted the other flowers with so much early color. I went to bed, satisfied and expectant, pleased with myself that my yard had reached a new phase of maturity.
The next morning, as I sat on the sofa, sipping my coffee and watching the neighborhood wake up through the picture window, I realized that the roses were no longer visible. My eyes darted to the top of the driveway where yesterday nascent tulips had appeared. Gone. Well, at least from my vantage point on the couch, I could see only the tulip stalks, apparently beheaded. I threw open the front door and gaped at my flowerbeds—nothing but nubbins. Rosebuds, gone. Mr. Lincoln just a thorny stem. Tulip blossoms, severed. Hosta, decimated. Even the ornamental apple tree appeared to have been attacked by a crazed and visually impaired garden shear-wielding madman.
I burst into tears and ran to the backyard. Hosta and fuchsias, cosmos nibbled to nothing. Huge sprays of gravel dotted the flowerbeds, the garden path destroyed where something large had apparently flung itself over the six-foot fence and skidded to a landing.
What beast had created this carnage? I consulted my therapist, whom I knew to be an avid and successful gardener (and because I was that undone by this massacre, plus I was in her office for other issues anyway). I described the wreckage, the headless stalks, the shredded hollyhocks. Not even the hydrangea escaped unscathed.
Deer, she said.
Deer? I repeated, stunned. Deer? Why were there deer in my garden? I did not live in the mountains or the forest. My dad and grandpa used to saddle up the horses and ride up into the mountains for days on end to hunt for the elusive deer. And now they were just wandering through neighborhoods? Eating my flowers? Can I shoot them? I inquired.
Ever wise, my therapist shook her head no.
Well, what can I do? They must be stopped.
Hinder, she said. A spray available at the Country Store, mix it with some sticky stuff and spray it on your flowers. The deer will not like it and will leave your flowers alone.
Huh, I said. If only all of my other issues could be solved with a spray.
So began my spraying campaign. And for a while, it worked. I sprayed Hinder, the deer took only one nibble and sauntered on down the street to forage in the neighbors’ yards. Then it rained. The Hinder washed off (sticky stuff be damned) and the deer continued to nibble. I sprayed again. The roses took on a spotted and shiny look, and the deer left them alone until it rained again. I had to be ever vigilant, ready to spring into action after each rain shower. So it went. Spray, rain, spray, rain. My roses managed a tiny come back, but the tulips could not be saved. By the end of the summer, exhausted, my trigger finger swollen from overuse, I actually looked forward to the first killing frost.
The next spring the deer ate my tulips again, in nocturnal attacks. I just wasn’t prepared to begin spraying in April. They ate the initial rosebuds. They grazed on my hollyhocks. I finally launched a counteroffensive, too late again to save the early bloomers, but sufficient to coax a few roses into full bloom. I stopped planting cosmos. The summer finally ended, and relieved, I hung up my spray can for another winter.
This spring the deer arrived in our neighborhood en masse. Cocky, relentless, they swagger through the ‘hood in full daylight, like they own the place. My roses are mere twigs, my garden, gap-toothed—a blossom here, a flower there. The deer even seem to be dining on plants they left alone in previous years. Who says evolution takes millions of years? I will not spray this year, but I do fantasize about getting a shotgun; and in my mind I build elaborate deer traps, and try to imagine the flower beds wrapped in razor wire. But the little woman nixes such crazy ideas.
She, ever the city girl, loves the deer. “So pretty,” she croons when they appear for their afternoon appetizer. “So pretty,” she says as I run up the driveway, screaming at them, waving my arms, a mad woman. Too little, too late. They do not run. They know they have won.