Our house is among the woods on a mountaintop in the Northeastern U.S. Over the last 20 years I have witnessed the progressive encroachment of the deer on our "landscaping." I have to put landscaping in quotes because really we don't have much of it. We have planted a few bushes and trees and a number of perennial plants during our time here and, looking around, I note that there's not much of it left. As the deer have become progressively hungrier and bolder, their paths of wandering have moved from the surrounding woods right up to our deck (which, so far, they have not stepped up on). Our days of gardening ended years ago when we realized that keeping the deer from eating everything would require installing a very tall chain link fence, something we didn't want to do.
Deer deterrents that have been recommended to me over the years have included powders (of various composition and which need to be re-sprinkled after every rain) hanging bars of soap among the plants and shrubs, etc. The only thing that I have tried that works is wrapping my prized lilac bush in bird netting which I constantly have to adjust for growth and lawn mower accidents. That lilac bush is the one plant remaining that I rescued from almost death after the deer devoured most of it. I was rewarded with lots of beautiful and fragrant lilac flowers last spring.
As they become more desperate their appetites have become less selective and plants that used to flourish in the area are no longer to be found. The thing that I miss most is the abundance of day lilies that used to grow wild beside the mountain road, all along the two miles leading up to our house. We also had a big bunch of them next to our deck -- what a delight it was to see all these bright orange lilies all summer. They've all been gone for several years now and I had almost forgotten them until I traveled through a nearby area where they still appear along the roadside. It saddens me that future generations will not enjoy their pleasure. Who knows what else will be gone in the next few years -- the mountain laurel that blooms all through the woods each spring that, so far, the deer don't eat?
These thoughts all came to mind when I recently saw this article: New 'Hidden Life' in dogged pursuit of deer about a book. It's about the book: The Hidden Life of Deer: Lessons from the Natural World written by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas (author of The Hidden Life Of Dogs). In the article Ms. Thomas is described as "a deer-hugger, plants be damned." She notes that from the deer's perspective it's their habitat that is being encroached upon. They are forced to wander into humans' yards to look for food.
She recommends coyote urine as a deer deterrent (not something I am willing to try). I don't have the answer to how to balance the deer versus human needs. In general I have surrendered to the deer, letting them eat what they wish. Despite the book's title, in "my world" the deer aren't so hidden -- they're right there at my back door, eating. I have just one "line in the sand" and that is the bird netting that I wrap around my lilac bush. It's one plant I hope to be able to enjoy for at least a few more years.