Garden wisdom from deer country!

Gardening in the Sierra Foothills with Carolyn Singer

Vol.1 coverDeer in My Garden, Vol. 1: Perennials & Subshrubs (ISBN 978-0-9774251-0-5) winner of the USA Book News "Best Gardening Book 2006" award, is a comprehensive guide for gardeners in deer country.

Vol. 2 cover
Deer in My Garden, Vol. 2: Groundcovers & Edgers (ISBN 978-0-9774251-5-0)
follows the multiple award-winning first volume.

Order the books!

These are informative books written by an experienced gardener for gardeners with varying levels of expertise. Even gardeners who do not garden with the challenge of deer will find lots of good information.

With 28 years' experience teaching and consulting, author and photographer Carolyn Singer includes description, cultural requirements, bloom, companion plants and landscape use, seasonal interest, maintenance, and propagation for more than 100 species of "deer-resistant" plants in each volume.


Finalist in the Benjamin Franklin Awards 2009 (to be decided in New York City May 28, 2009)

Northern CA Publishers & Authors, 2009:
GOLD! "Best Overall Book"
"Best General Nonfiction"
"Best Interior Text/Images/Graphics"


USA Book News Book Awards: "Best Gardening Book, 2006"

Independent Publisher: "Highlighted Title" October 2006

Writers Notes Magazine: 2007 Eric Hoffer Award in nonfiction

The New York Book Festival, 2007: Honorable mention in nonfiction

The Hollywood Book Festival, 2007: Honorable mention in nonfiction

Northern CA Publishers & Authors, 2007: Best First Book, Best Exterior Cover, and silver in Best Book

"We're not exaggerating when we say that Deer in My Garden might save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars in plant replacement costs…Carolyn Singer has managed to outdo many horticultural researchers and cooperative extension workers in term of gathering, organizing, and disseminating material that will be extraordinarily valuable to many gardeners."
HortIdeas, May2006

"…a superbly presented and profusely illustrated introduction for the novice gardener and a welcome reference for the experienced horticulturalist …Authoritative, superbly organized, and thoroughly 'user friendly', Deer in my Garden is a seminal and core addition to personal, professional, academic, and community library Gardening Resources reference collections and supplemental reading lists."
James Cox, Editor-in-Chief, The Midwest Book Review, October 2006

"…the most intelligent and complete book on the topic available…"
Jim Barnes, editor, Independent Publisher Online, December 2006

"The listings offer some well-seasoned gardening experience in a concise and usable format that any gardener will appreciate."
Lynette L. Walther, The Camden Herald (

From the Introduction to Deer in My Garden:

"Grandma, why don't you grow yucky flowers?" asked my three-year-old grandson one day after I had shown him where the deer had eaten every single flower and bud from my white Japanese windflowers (Anemone). "Why would I do that, Marcus?", I asked, respectful of his toddler wisdom. "Well," he replied, "the deer wouldn't eat yucky flowers."

That single innocent comment summed up in an instant what I had been experimenting with for 27 years: What do we, who love to be surrounded by plants and flowers in our gardens, plant that the deer would not eat?

My task, then, was to document all of the “yucky flowers” that I have discovered and the result is this book you hold in your hands.

As a professional landscape designer, I have been lucky to create a small nursery on the site of an old homestead in the Sierra Nevada foothills in Northern California. My garden is a haven for the deer. I have enjoyed their presence although did not feel the impact of their destructiveness until one evening when my Australian shepherd "Angel" went through a screen door to chase the deer from the garden. After that, I remembered to keep the doors closed so I could spend money on plants, not screens! The deer appreciated that, and moved very quickly into the main garden as darkness fell. On summer evenings lit by the full moon, they had to wait longer for me to finish my garden puttering but eventually they won and everything they found tasty was eaten leaving only stalks and leaves.

When I moved in and began this project in 1977 it had been 50 years or more since a serious gardener had lived here.

A row of evergreens (incense cedar, Douglas fir, and Ponderosa pine) frames the western edge of the garden. A sprawling ranch-style house defines the northern edge, and a gravel driveway rims the south and east.

A very large grassy area, brown from several years of drought, filled the frame. With the return of good rains that winter, violets, Iris spuria, Japanese flowering quince, lilac, and hundreds of species of daffodils bloomed -- the only introduced plants that had survived years of drought and inattention.

The site was inspiring. At the base of Sonntag Hill, the level open area was on a knoll with full-sun exposure most of the day. To the east was an open view of the Sierras. I could do nothing, and the natural landscape would be perfect. But I am a gardener, and so began a project of redefinition and renewal. The introduction of many trees eventually gave welcome shade in the summer heat, and ornamental shrubs defined garden rooms. Perennials and subshrubs (those wonderful small shrubs) filled borders that grew larger each year.

I like to have wildlife in my garden. The California quail are frequent visitors by the dozens. Beyond my 5 acres, manzanita, pines, and other Sierra foothills natives harbor coyotes, raccoons, possums, fox, bobcats, black bear, an occasional cougar, and too many deer to count.

The deer are welcome. Last year a doe and her two spotted babies were frequent spring visitors in midday. She would graze on the grass and search for the few remaining asters in a nearby border. One fawn would stay close to her, and the other would run full speed around the garden paths. I watched from inside the house, appreciative of the safe zone my garden provided.

Sitting on a bench on a quiet evening, I could hear the sucking sounds of a fawn with its mother. What a gift!

I am learning, always. Two years ago, a young doe and her fawn spent most of the early summer in my bed of lily-of-the-valley. Of course they ate their bed! And so Convallaria majalis, which had been on my list of deer-resistant plants for years, was quietly removed.

One year I was writing an article about asters for Better Homes & Gardens Special Interest Publications (Flower Garden, May 1998). I encouraged my editor to promote the "deer-resistance" of this wonderful genus. I finished the article, emailed before the deadline, and went into the garden to renew my energy. The night before, the deer had stripped all the asters for the first time ever! I revised my approach to the article.

The deer have enjoyed my gardening (and writing?) efforts! I have often joked with my students, clients, and nursery customers that the more you spend, the more the deer will love your choice of plants.

For the past 10 years, I have been giving plants to gardeners in nearby deer areas to test for "deer-resistance". I have also shared notes with gardeners in other areas of California, in Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, and occasionally in the eastern United States. If there is a regional difference, this is supported by a recent article in Fine Gardening magazine (#104, August 2005). Some of the plants listed as deer-resistant in the midwest (Aquilegia and Rosa rugosa) are eaten by the deer in my California Sierra foothill garden.

I am a western gardener, having lived and gardened in the Sierra foothills, the San Francisco Bay area, Montana, and Colorado. When I was growing up, my family gardened in one of the best growing areas of California: Sonoma County, home to Luther Burbank. Great aunts, transplanted from England, inspired my early passion for flowers and earth. I have also spent a lot of time in the Pacific Northwest, to observe the growing and blooming habits of perennials and other plants, to compare climates and microclimates, and to listen to deer stories.

For the past 25 years I have been teaching garden classes. My garden has provided a testing ground, and an example for the many students who have come to classes. The perennial nursery has been an extension of the garden. The deer-resistant section has been open to the deer and the customers.

Too many "deer-resistant" plant lists are compilations from other lists. I am including in this book a list of perennials and subshrubs that are often on these lists, but that have consistently been eaten by the deer (the plants, not the lists!) in the foothills. Gardeners need to share real gardening experiences and wisdom.

It is tempting to include plants that are only occasionally eaten. However, my experiences guide me to recommend only those perennials and subshrubs that the deer have not eaten, in all the geographical areas in which I have landscaped or shared observations with other gardeners.

This book is my list, based on more than 27 years of gardening in deer country. I hope my list of "yucky flowers” will work for you in deer country.
©2009 by Carolyn Singer. All rights reserved.

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