I’ve been very quiet over here in Argyll but I haven’t been idle: the war against the marauding deer has continued, complete with reconnaissance, flanking manoeuvres, casualties (one), and – sorry about the Geneva Convention – chemical warfare.
First the chemical warfare: it’s time I reported on the efficacy of the deterrent spray called Liquid Fence that I mentioned in a blog posting in the spring of 2013. I am pleased to say that it works! Just as well, because it is not cheap: currently retailing on the web at nearly £60 for just over a litre of concentrate, it has gone up by a whopping 40% since August last year. One bottle is enough for about 20 sprayings of our garden – you only need to spray it on the things the deer like – so at about one spraying per fortnight, a bottle lasts for 9 months or so. No too bad, I suppose.
The reason for the massive expense is that it comes all the way from America. Clearly there is the possibility of many a slip twixt there and here, as the last-but-one bottle never made it to the west coast of Scotland. All we got was a very plaintive message from the delivery company saying that they didn’t know what was in that package we had bought but it had leaked and several employees had to be sent home sick! Fortunately the retailer replaced it immediately and the replacement bottle arrived intact. In case you’re curious: the ingredients are listed “putrescent egg solids” (17%), plus a mixture of aromatic oils. I leave it to you to imagine the aroma…
Clearly deer do not like rotten eggs (who could blame them?) because the damage has been hugely reduced. There is still a bit of nibbling here and there: they are amazingly dainty eaters and can carefully detach the tiniest bud that has emerged since the last spraying, so it’s important to keep on top of the spraying schedule, especially in the late winter and early spring when food is getting pretty scarce up in the woods. Just one slip-up and you can lose your camellia flowers for a whole year.
It would obviously save time and money if I could keep the wretched creatures out of the garden in the first place. We’ve put fencing along the side wall and we close the big front gates every night but the telltale droppings, and evidence of damage here and there, suggest that they are still somehow getting in.
We thought we had cracked it a couple of months ago when we went down the drive one morning and discovered a young stag stuck between the bars of the gate. The poor creature had obviously been there for several hours and had rubbed its flanks raw as it struggled; it didn’t have the wit to work out that it needed to go out backwards. The ever-resourceful Jim D managed to free it by throwing a sack over its hindquarters, getting hold of it and pulling it back through the bars, though he didn’t escape getting a bit of a kick for his pains – fortunately not a serious one.
We concluded from this episode that the deer had probably got in that way before and hadn’t realised it had grown just a wee bit too chunky for that route. So I found some mesh and tied it to the bottom sections of the car gates and the pedestrian gate. Not very pretty, but serviceable until I can find something more attractive.
Hooray! I thought. Cracked it! But I crowed too soon. Two days ago I opened the kitchen blinds and found myself staring straight at a young stag nibbling away happily at a Viburnum tinus. The weather has been unrelentingly wet for the last few weeks and I had fallen behind in the spraying. When it saw me it shot off towards the road, far too fast for me to chase it.
But! And here comes the reconnaissance bit: it had snowed the night before, and when I went outside there were two unmistakable sets of tracks – one in, and one out – leading from a gap in the laurel hedge that lines the front wall. So the deer had jumped the wall, which is about 160 centimetres high at that point. Clearly no problem at all for a healthy young stag.
What to do? As I mentioned in my last posting on this subject, the front wall is about 80 metres long so the cost of putting deer fencing all the way along would be enormous, quite apart from the unsightliness.
My solution is to try to fill in the gaps in the laurel hedge, so that I can effectively increase both the height and the depth of the barrier. I fervently hope the more than 20 young laurels I planted in the autumn will grow vigorously this year and that with the perimeter secured, plus the Liquid Fence as “belt and braces”, maybe – just maybe – the War Against the Deer can be declared as won.