Ask a Designer: Deer-Proof Perennials

Ask a Designer: Deer-Proof Perennials
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Next up in our “Ask a Designer” series is designer Claire Jones  in Maryland.

How many times do you visit a garden center and get overwhelmed with the many choices that entice with gorgeous foliage and blooms? And you impulse buy the “flavor of the month” perennial that the garden center is showcasing, like another Heuchera or Echinacea? You haven’t figured out where you want to plant it, but you have to possess that plant!

Perennials are expensive, especially the new ones that are protected by plant patents, and as a consumer of plants as well as a garden designer who designs and installs new gardens, I have developed favorites that I use again and again. My criteria are the following: easy to grow, good foliage, hardy for more than one season, long season of interest, and most important of all, deer-resistant. I have been burned by too many Echinaceas and Heuchera varieties that entice me with beautiful markings and knock-out flowers that I baby, and then they disappear because of deer browsing or “failure to thrive.” So now I steer away from plants that aren’t ready for “prime time” and fall back on tried and true – but not boring!

Here are my top 12 picks for deer resistant perennials that I install over and over for clients and if you want to spend your plant bucks wisely, a good reference is the “Perennial Plant of the Year” list. Many of my selections are on this excellent list: Brunnera Jack Frost’ 2012, Dianthus ‘Firewitch’ 2006, Japanese Forest Grass 2009, Helleborus 2005, and Nepeta ‘Walkers Low’ 2007. As a PPA member, I get to vote for a new winner every year. As a beekeeper, I look at the pollinator attractiveness of perennials, like long-blooming time or extra early or late bloomers that my bees would be attracted to. And as a consumer of perennial plants, I want something that can deliver a good-looking product for many years to come.



Achillea (Yarrow) An easily grown, long-lasting perennial. Once you plant it, you will always have it to enjoy. Tolerant of drought and heat, growing in almost any type of soil, Achilleas come in a rainbow of colors and can be dried nicely. Pictured is ‘Strawberry Seduction.


Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’ (Anise Hyssop or Hummingbird Mint) A showy, fragrant group of perennial herbs that as their name suggests, attract hummingbirds. Agastache needs low fertility, well-drained soils and prefer gravel mulches as it thrives with good drainage. Great pollinator plant late in the season and can bloom for three months straight.

Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’ (Forget Me Not) Shade-loving, with fuzzy leaves and airy sprays of blue flowers in the spring. Deer give this a wide berth perhaps because of the hairy leaves. Wonderful addition to a shade garden because of the silver markings that lighten up a shady corner. Pair with Helleborus for a great ground cover in dry shade.


Chrysogonum virginianum (Green and Gold) Another fuzzy-leaved plant that forms a mat of spreading deep green rosettes that spread stoloniferously. A native for the woodland gardens adorned with yellow daisy-like flowers in the spring. This made my list because it is a great low foundation plant to dot other more unusual plants in, like Columbine and Spigelia.


Dianthus ‘Firewitch’ or ‘Baths Pink’(Clove Pink) A long-flowering perennial with icy blue foliage that forms a tidy evergreen mound. Full of neon pink flowers with a wonderful clove scent. Dianthus is valuable because it is evergreen and its fragrance can waft across the garden on spring nights.


Epimedium (Barrenwort) Forming a dense mat of arrow-shaped leaves that turn a beautiful russet shade in the fall, Epimediums shoot up airy stalks of dainty flowers in the spring. Miniature dancing flowers is the only way I can describe them, and the variety names reflect this; ‘Fairy Wings’ ‘Pink Champagne’, and ’Dancing Stars’ are just a few. What’s not to like?

Geranium macrorhizzum ‘Ingwersens’ and  ‘Bevans’ (Big Root Geranium) Another mat-growing perennial that is semi-evergreen. Turning shades of red and russet in the fall, the deeply lobed fragrant leaves sport nodding pink flowers in the spring. If I could wrap this one up in a package with a bow, I would give this plant to everyone on my Christmas list! That is how much I like this plant.

Hakonechloa ‘All Gold’ ( Japanese Forest Grass) A shade-loving golden-hued grass, Japanese Forest Grass will brighten up a shade garden with its graceful foliage that moves with every breeze. A little pricey at the nursery because of its slow growth, but so worth it.

Helleborus ( Lenten Rose) A glossy evergreen foliaged gem of a plant. Deeply lobed leaves add great texture to a shade garden and delight with beautiful rose-like flowers starting in February and lasting through May. They come in all shades of pink, white, red, yellow, and black. Another pricey perennial but did I mention that it bloomed for four months? This one is a no-brainer.


Nepeta ‘Walkers Low’ (Catmint) A blowsy mound of grey-green foliage with a unique scent that causes cats to roll and rub in the foliage – they really do! Bursting out with lavender wands of flowers in the spring, the flowers keep going all summer long. A great pollinator plant literally covered with insects of all kinds.

Pulmonaria ‘Trevi Fountain’ ( Lungwort) Strap-like, fuzzy foliage speckled with grey-green stripes or blotches, Lungwort has beautiful sky blue flowers in the early spring that pollinators flock to. Growing in a mound, this plant doesn’t spread but increases in size every year. Great grown in large groupings, and good companions are spring-blooming bulbs or white Woodland Phlox for a blue/white color scheme.

Salvia ‘Eveline’ All Salvias are deer-proof, but ‘Eveline’ has fragrant spikes of candy pink long-lasting flowers and comes from Holland’s premier plantsmen, Piet Oudolf . I like this plant so much that I have a huge grouping front and center in my foundation plantings. Cut it back for a repeat bloom later in the summer. I still had some blooms in November!

Posted by

Claire Jones

on December 8, 2016 at 8:54 am, in the category Guest Rants, It’s the Plants, Darling.

One Comment

    • Marcia
    • 14th September 2015

    Great photography!

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