Alison StewartWho will rid me of the troublesome beasts?

Help!! The deer are somehow getting into our garden again. Can our international GardenDrum support network come to the rescue with some advice? I thought I had solved the problem 18 months ago when we got the front gates working again and put up deer fencing along a low section of the boundary wall of our garden in Argyll in the west of Scotland.

Camellia williamsii 'Donation' with flower and buds

Camellia williamsii ‘Donation’ with flower and buds

I haven’t been able to get over there for more than a few days since Christmas. But I managed to whizz across from Edinburgh briefly last weekend. I arrived in the twilight at about 9.30 pm but of course couldn’t resist a quick tour around the garden to see how the more than 100 shrubs, perennials and bulbs I planted last year were doing.

Camellia minus all flowers and buds

Camellia minus all flowers and buds


Well fellow gardeners: I sat down and wept. The drift of white tulips? Gone. The 30 or so Bergenias? Some completely disappeared; some eaten to a few centimetres of stalk. Ditto the hardy geraniums. The two Escallonia iveyii, three Viburnum tinus ‘Eve Price’, five Viburnum davidii and five Hebes? Every new shoot eaten, leaving just a woody skeleton with a few shredded leaves. And my beautiful baby Camellia ‘Donation’? I’m glad I photographed its very first, clear pink flower at Easter because those other promising buds probably never even saw the light of day before they were chomped.

Bergenia after deer

Bergenia after deer

Bergenia before deer

Bergenia before deer








The only bright spot was that the furry vandals hadn’t got to the Hostas, but only because spring has been so late this year that their first shoots are only just beginning to appear above the soil. (Check out the photo of the bare trees: taken on the 5th of May!) And one of the three Japanese anemones, also just emerging, has survived unscathed for no particular reason other than they appear just not to have found it – yet.

5 May 2013 and still no leaves on the trees

5 May 2013 and still no leaves on the trees

Viburnum tinus 'Eve Price' reduced to a skeleton

Viburnum tinus ‘Eve Price’ reduced to a skeleton


I did, I confess, have a suspicion that the deer had found a new way into Fortress Sherbrooke. I had noticed a bit of nibbling on some of the Viburnums at Easter so I had ordered, on the internet, some stuff called Liquid Fence: a spray that is supposed to be harmless to plants but makes them unpalatable to deer and rabbits. It came, to my surprise when I opened to package, all the way from America, with a price tag to match. I’m hoping that maybe some of our American bloggers have experience of it and can tell me whether I can possibly get my hopes up?

Liquid fence



The spray comes as a concentrate that has to be diluted in water. Not something I usually have a problem with. But because it comes from the US, the quantities are specified in American ounces and gallons. Thank goodness for the web! I was able to work out that 4 (US) fluid ounces per (US) gallon translates, for those of us in the rest of the world, to 60mls in a litre of water. At least I hope it does, because that’s what I sprayed everything with.

I couldn’t risk the depredation that even one more unprotected night might subject my precious garden to, so there I was at 10 pm on Friday night, stalking round the garden with a torch in the gathering gloom, spraying everything that appeared to have been eaten and a few other things for good measure, just in case. The spray is not supposed to wash off with rain. I’m not sure I believe that but my hands stank for hours – even days – afterwards!

This was once a tulip

This was once a tulip

Hardy geranium

Hardy geranium








The hosta they haven't found yet

The hosta they haven’t found yet


Jim D came round for an emergency summit meeting on Saturday morning. He has instructions to follow the Liquid Fence directions by spraying once a week for the first few weeks and then, hopefully, less often. The idea is to train the deer to avoid the plants that taste nasty. (You can imagine the conversation: “Darling, where shall we go for dinner tonight? Oh, I know, let’s go back to that nice restaurant where we had the caviar, followed by Lobster Thermidor with that lovely bottle of vintage Pol Roger”. And then the next morning: “Yuk, that place has gone to the dogs. They must have a new chef. Looks like it’s back to the chippie down the road.”)

So that’s one line of attack. But where are the wretched beasts getting in? We can only conclude that perhaps they are jumping the front wall, which must be close to 2 metres high. In which case, as the wall is at least 80 metres long and would be completely spoiled by the poles and mesh of deer fencing, we have to pin our hopes on Liquid Fence. It’s either that or completely re-think my planting schemes – but that’s a subject for another post.

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10 thoughts on “Who will rid me of the troublesome beasts?

  1. The deterrant product that you discuss is possibly quassia from a plant that I know as Picrasma quassioides. They used to be sold as chips here in Australia which were boiled and made into a bitter tasting concentrate. When available, I used this product regularly and it worked well as a deterrant. But we now cannot get it for some reason.
    It also used to be available through chemists, but also is now no longer available through this source.
    It is a great product and it is a natural deterrant. It was significantly diluted and then sprayed straight onto the foliage. It didn’t kill the animal, just deterred them.
    Is this the active ingredient in the container? If so, I would have thought it would work and will look out for it online when next needed.

    • Dear Alison,
      I managed to deter a brush turkey from our garden. This is a real challenge, I can assure you. The device I used was called ‘scarecrow’. I ordered it online and it worked! It is a device that detects motion and blasts out a spray of water. It is designed to deter deer. I wish you all the best.

  2. The main active component is listed as “putrescent egg solids” (17%). Erkkk. Smells like it too. And in case that isn’t stinky enough it also has garlic powder (5%) and a smidge of thyme oil (0.05%). The other active components are listed as sodium lauryl sulphate (2.5%), which I think is a detergent, and potassium sorbate (1.6%) – not sure what its function is. I haven’t managed to get back to Sherbrooke since the first spraying. I am guessing that, if it does work, it’s going to be a matter of trying to protect the new leaves as they (I hope) emerge – at the moment a lot of the plants are almost all stalk, so there’s actually not much area to spray. We may also have to renew the spray more than once a week, at least in the first few weeks, if the current frequent heavy downpours of rain continue.

    • I’m sure your neighbours are enjoying your odoriferous endeavours. Reminds me of when we sprinkled naphthalene flakes around the front garden to deter the neighbour’s cat. Passers-by would stop, sniff, and look bewildered about why a garden smelled like their grandma’s wardrobe.

  3. Putrescent egg solids must be hydrogen sulphide? Phooee! I’m afraid I can’t help with the pests – here in Adelaide the long warm summer and delayed onset of cold winter has created a big rat problem. They’re eating vegies, fruit, buds and shoots. Normally it’s possums that get vegies and fruit in our suburbs, but I don’t ever recall rats being so greedy. But at least rats, possums and rabbits are all much smaller than deer!
    Many years ago we had a pet snake, and mice got into our cupboards. We placed dry snake scat into small plastic containers with holes punched in the lid – that worked, the mice didn’t come back! But I’m not sure where you could find bear poop in England!

    • We’ve been told that lion poo is pretty effective but have yet to locate a local lion (or even a zoo)…

  4. Hello Alison

    I sympathise with you – I also have deer. Who would have expected this on the outskirts of subtropical Brisbane? At one stage I counted 18 of them – including a stag and a few does – happily grazing grass on the top terrace.

    And they can jump! I have watched them fly over my fences with plenty of room to spare. Luckily they are only a problem for me in winter when the nearby bushland starts to dry out. They now know where to go – my garden!

    This year, on the recommendation of neighbours, I’m putting temporary electric fencing through their favourite dining areas. I’d be keen to know how the repellant works for you.


    • We think the reason it suddenly got so much worse might have something to do with the very late spring: not many new shoots on their usual sources of food up in the forests. And yes, they certainly can jump, so if they really are now getting over the front wall I think we’ve run out of options on that front.

  5. Don’t mean to be negative, but don’t hold your hopes up. I have used the stuff for possums and it didn’t work. Part of why it didn’t work was that you need to keep reapplying it, especially after rain. It is only a contact spray. What about some sort of fence barrier around the plants?

    • I am trying not to be too optimistic but hope springs eternal in the gardener’s heart! I’ve just been back to Sherbrooke and there are now new shoots on most of the plants. The herbaceous plants are recovering fast, as you’d expect, though the shrubs are only just starting to realise they might now have a chance. The manufacturers of Liquid Fence claim that it is “rain resistant” but, as you say, there are limits. However, a combination of the spray plus an extra bit of fencing at what I thought might be a vulnerable part of the boundary wall seems, at least for now, to have done the trick, despite rain so frequent and torrential that Jim D hadn’t been able to spray again during the fortnight between my two visits. The general idea seems to be that the deer are basically just as lazy as we are and if you make it harder they decide to look somewhere else for their dinner rather than making the effort. With regard to fencing, there are probably only one or two sections of the garden where it would be feasible, though I do think I might protect a few of the shrubs with physical barriers of some sort, at least until they get established. The only other thing I can think of is to change the planting but it’s hard to predict what the critters will decide to eat. When they first got in they ate all the aquilegias but this time they ignored them completely. Our neighbours have a spotted laurel hedge that was fine for 20 years but is now eaten back to the main trunks all along the accessible side.

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