Fresh from speaking at a seed swapping seminar a few weeks ago at Green Spring Gardens in Alexandria, I am pumped up to begin this year’s vegetable garden.  There is no early spring travel on the horizon, my seeds are organized, and I have a light table already set up in a corner of the family room.  All looks good for a table-groaning, ego-boosting season ahead.



In fact, when I close my eyes I can hear the clink of cocktail glasses as guests wander around abundant beds in late summer tasting one of twenty tomato varieties and trying to outfoodie each other with terms like ‘mouthfeel’ and ‘essence.’

But there’s an ‘except’ hiding in amongst all that self-congratulation and delusion.  It’s the big Except around here for many gardeners, and it’s an Except that has the potential to literally chew up and spit out that September dream.


Our deer issues are not as great as they are in more urban areas where hunting is not allowed; but as our herds have grown comfortable with the status quo (one overworked Jack Russell policing a stream valley filled with unusual and succulent greenery), they have grown bolder.  A few nibbles is one thing, but when it comes to vegetables like lettuce, beans and peas, one evening’s grazing can wipe out a season’s bounty.

deer damage garden

Every single cutting sunflower was lost last year once they grew higher than the nets that could protect them.

It’s hard to describe the demotivating effect this has on the gardener. To graciously lose the results of a season’s hard graft to creatures that have not shared in the grafting takes a better man than I. When one has finally worked through all the stages of grief, and/or all the in-between solutions “that work!” but don’t really, one is left with a choice. Build a barrier, or continue to suffer.

And that’s where I am.

Or rather, that’s where I decided I was on that Saturday afternoon as I drove the hour and a half back from Alexandria contemplating what could be, and what is.  The more I pondered the realities of my vegetable garden, the more I realized that my cultivation of edibles has quietly contracted in response to the deer pressure. 

As they take more, I grow less.  Forced labor aside, human beings rarely work for long without reward, however intangible it may be. Providing a balanced diet for the four-footed creatures of western Loudoun County is simply not going to cut it. 

Call me heartless, but work is work.

The problem is, we’ve already got a lot of important projects on The List.  With the barn roof repaired, we must move swiftly onto barn guttering and painting.  After that comes French drains.  Many of them. And then there’s the elusive dream of a greenhouse (right behind the elusive dream of a separate guinea house, a duck pond, and an outdoor clay oven).

In short, there is no shortage.

But one must set one’s priorities.  Call me heartless and shallow, but home-grown produce that I can cook, can, and flaunt during September soirées is mine. Therefore, it’s time to tear down the tattered remains of netting stretched hopefully but pointlessly between fence posts, and put up a barrier that will best the deer, confound the groundhogs and not say ‘gulag’ so much as ‘garden.’

It’s a tricky assignment. Height requirements for a deer fence (seven feet at minimum), start to push the aesthetic.  I have friends who have put up a traditional deer fence around an acre of their property, and while they absolutely love the ability to grow their vegetables and ornamentals without taxation, they mourn the loss of unimpeded views stretching down to their orchard and beyond.


Protection from deer isn’t pretty, but it’s necessary.


I would happily fence our entire ten-acre property to its remotest corners and be done with it; but Oldmeadow, bisected as it is by a stream on one axis and a driveway on the other, presents complications that I cannot begin to solve with this poor brain and poorer budget. 

So, this year we will focus instead on the vegetable and trial beds area, work with the concept of Fence as Garden Architecture, and plant a plethora of ornamental grasses and outright deer poison in the hinterlands.

In these days of naturalistic planting à la Piet Ouldof, such defeatist choices can confidently be tinted with the rosy brush of intent.  And that’s precisely how I intend to tint them.

I’ll keep you posted.  It is one thing to declare that a job is to be done.  It is quite another to do it.