Eureka (word), a famous exclamation attributed to Archimedes
Eureka effect, the sudden, unexpected realization of the solution to a problem Eureka!, the state motto of California
Gone. Zilch. Kaput. That’s what my garden looked like last spring. Beautiful, frilly tulips on the brink of blooming disappeared overnight. While the daffodils survived, young hostas and the branches of our cherry tree were stripped bare. It’s no joke for us gardeners to wake up and find the thief has visited in the night – deer.
Then, I had a eureka moment - why not outsmart those bucks by planting bulbs with a strong smell and/or taste, so that my furry neighbors won’t bother my spring blooms. Poisonous, and seemingly immune to browsing by deer and other critters, these include all daffodils (Narcissus), all snowdrops (Galanthus) and all snowflakes (Leucojum).
While perhaps not completely deer-proof, hyacinths, alliums and fritillaria are all great spring flowering bulbs that will produce colorful, cheerful blooms that don’t appeal to our four-legged friends.
The problem is - if deer are hungry, nothing short of a 9-foot-high fence (preferably electric) will keep them from coming in your yard and eating up all your yummy treats. Here’s a list, however, of bulbs that are considered either deer-proof or deer-resistant.
Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) are one of the first plants to pop up in late winter or early spring, sometimes even before the snow has completely gone. Snowdrops can spread on their own and naturalize over the years, eventually forming white drifts that are pretty impressive, considering how small the individual flowers are. If you buy a big bag, you could even set a few of these petite bulbs in a dish with water and rocks on your winter windowsill. If they do well, ‘their pure white and green tinting seems like a very bit of imprisoned spring (Gardening by Myself, Anna Warner).’
Another plant with "snow" in its name, that is deer resistant is snowdrops or snowflakes. This member of the Leucojum family is a dependable spring bloomer virtually across the country. In the heat and humidity of the South, they persist, bloom lushly and develop into big clumps. In the cold of the North, giant snowflakes shrug off the chill and pop up spring after spring. In the drier West, they still perform in sandy soil with multiple arching flower stalks.
For those of you who may want just a hint more color, but still a small, early, deer-resistant bloomer, consider glory of the snow (Chionodoxa; the Greek Chion means "snow"). Dating back to the late 1800s, this Turkish native is deer-resistant and naturalizes readily in well-draining soil and in full to partial sunlight. I have a light pink version of this in my garden. It’s terrific planted en masse in sunny woodland borders, rock gardens and in irregular river-like swaths. There is pretty, light-blue species, too.
If you want something a little showier, consider hyacinth. They are also the most aromatic of the early-bloomers and that's one reason why deer disdain them: powerful fragrance seems to be one of the best protections that plants have against his incursions. But there's a second reason: hyacinths are poisonous. The flowers occur in clusters on a flower spike. Don't confuse hyacinths (Hyacinthus orientalis) with grape hyacinths (the small, purple clusters that look more like mini-grapes than hyacinths, but are also deer resistant).
Like hyacinths, daffodils are toxic. This fact helps explain why deer and squirrels leave them alone. Daffodils are widely recognized as among the most beautiful flowers hardy in cold regions. Narcissus (plural – Narcissi) is the genus name for daffodils. They are super tolerant of almost any site and situation, and reliable, with clumps getting bigger and better each year. Perfect for cutting too. If you buy several species, you could have blooms of different sizes and shapes from February to May.
The plants mentioned above are the earliest bloomers. Some alliums bloom earlier than others but usually come up in late spring. There are many types of alliums: they come not only in different colors but also in different sizes, and the larger ones will, understandably, come later than the smaller ones. What's also understandable is why deer tend to turn his nose up at allium: it's in the onion family. There are various white, blue and purple alliums (even pink and yellow). Note- If eaten by dogs and cats, can be poisonous.
Well, Fritillaria imperialis, commonly known as "crown imperial," doesn't have that problem: it's about as bold as can be; tall, orange and befitting its name. If you’re wondering how to say the name or would like to see this plant, click on this short Growing Wisdom link. The key with this plant’s repellent is a slightly skunky odor.
So there you have it, bulbs that deer disdain.
Of course, if you’re like Impressionist Claude Monet, you just have to have some tulips and lilies – the art and soul of spring - but just plant more than you need or cover them up at night.