The deer-resistant and fire-resistant cottage garden

Visiting Ms. Country Mouse last week was great fun, and also brought an enjoyable gardening challenge. We all know that Ms. Country Mouse is working on improving the fire safety aspects of the plantings around the house, and I was impressed with the progress she's already made creating space in the areas around the house.

But the a smallish garden surrounding the cottage consists mosty of potentially flammable rosemary and dried out lavender, and she's started the difficult task of removing those plants and the potentially more fun task of planning a new garden.

Here are the requirements:

  • Herbacious. We want green plants close to the house, dried twigs are great for starting a fire but not for a cottage garden. 
  • Deer resistant. We know nothing is truly deer proof, but some plants are like candy for bambi while others are more like brussel sprouts are for most humans. 
  • Not a native that isn't locally native. Ms Country Mouse is working hard on avoiding cross pollination from natives that aren't locally native, so we can't use those. 
  • Sun lover. The cottage garden is in full sun, so some plants just won't work out.

Here are my suggestions.

  • Kniphofia - I originally thought of an aloe as one of the main plants for the area, but can't find one that grows to 4-5 feet and stops there. Kniphofia is better behaved, and beloved by the hummingbirds. And we know this plant works - it's already around the corner on the side of the cottage. 
  • Herbacious salvia - Salivas are great in deer country, but many get woody fairly quickly. However, some of the salvias from more tropical locations stay leafy, and, with some water, will still tolerate sun. Flowers by the Sea specializes in salvias, and one only has to select the flower color and then pick the plant. I could see the sages mixed in with Kniphofia along the back of the border. 
  • Sun-loving succulents - For the middle of the bed, some sun-loving succulents might work. I'm happy to hand off more of the Cotyledon that really likes it in my garden, but some lower-growing aloes might be good choices as well - and would feed the hummers in winter. 
  • Pelargonium - Ms. Country Mouse expressed some reservation about pelargonium, but their deer resistance, heat resistance, and fleshy leaves make them a logical choice. It might work to pick white pelargonium to offset the warm colors of the other plants.
  • Daliahs - It might be possible to put some Dalia's in the back of the border for extra color. They're not the deer's favorite food, and will enliven any garden.
After putting together a planting plan and planting those beauties, I'd consider scattering some seeds of locally native Clarkia, and maybe also some hollyhocks for the back of the border. The annuals should be removed promptly to allow the succulents and perennials to shine. 

Ah, nothing like planning the delights of the next summer as the days get shorter. And it's even more fun when it's somebody else's garden - now I'm curious what will really happen!


Jason said…
Hard to imagine planning a garden based on fire resistance - not something we think about much in the midwest.
Country Mouse said…
Wow - you've really had your thinking cap on, Ms T Mouse! Thanks for these great ideas -- For Dahlias I'd use gopher baskets this time - and - well last time I tried they were nibbled from above and below so I'm not sure about our deer - but I'd be willing to have another go.
Nicky of Gold Rush Nursery recommended the pink blossomed Pelargonium ionidiflorum, a low long blooming one. Well - fall plant sales are coming up - It'll sure be fun to revamp those beds.
I think I've become a bit cavalier about fire-resistant planting here. The terrain here is so steep that it makes it impossible to get the trees away 100' from the house.

We do some fire abatement, clearing scraggy understory growth etc., but we know if there's a fire here, we'd go up in smoke, and if the fire burns hot enough, which with the accumulated fuels in these woods it would, I'm not sure my garden one way or the other would make much difference. However, that's a problem unique to our property. Although it reminds me of Mike Evans house, where he did everything right, but the fire consumed everything anyway.

I will be interested to see your plan come together, factoring in both fire and deer resistance.

I know you say no natives that aren't endemic for the reasons of cross pollination. I don't plant Iris species, or Ribes species here for the same reason. But what about California natives where there aren't plants in that genus in the area (and therefore no risk of cross-pollination)?
Country Mouse said…
My approach and yours sound similar, Clare. I treat non-endemic natives like other ornamentals - I use them if they are well behaved garden plants, in the garden. I sort of define the garden to wilderness transitions along the same lines as fire defensible zones - close to the house I plant what pleases me - as long as it's well behaved/non invasive. Farther out I give preference to keeping the wilderness intact. Like you guys, we are toast in any serious fire. I go back and forth about even bothering - but I think we can improve our defensibility in a local low intensity fire, and that's all I aim for. I'm still not there! But that's my goal. The chaparral institute put out a link about this - surviving a major fire has everything to do with your position relative to the fire - not much to do with your "preparedness." But not all fires are major ones.
I'm thinking of bulbs, that are dormant in summer (fire season) and lush as soon as the rain falls. Pam at Digging wrote about blood lilies from Argentina, I think of our pink March lilies, fading yellow or orange Chasmanthe, and the watsonias waiting in the wings. Don't know my way around Californian bulbs ... prompt me?

I suggest you take cuttings from the Pelargoniums every few years, and ditch the original leggy plants. (Beware the mulched prunings GROW!)
Country Mouse said…
Bulbs would be fun! Of course I have to protect everything from the munchers. I bet the Fremont's Star Lily would grow there - it likes full sun too. Thanks for those ideas, Diana!