With good grace, she surrenders when deer invade

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It was a great day for a garden tour. I felt like a surveyor, circling the yard to take horticultural notes as I checked this year's flower crop:

• New Guinea impatiens -- vivid color

• Shrub roses -- cascading clusters

• Portulaca -- not a blossom in sight

• Daylily buds -- completely decimated

Yes, as you might guess, deer visitors to our yard decide how our garden grows. Next year, my husband Jim and I will try plants that appear unappetizing to deer -- like New Guinea impatiens that (happily) they ignore.

But, it will be goodbye to sweet white portulaca, and we are prepared for another bad daylily year since deer consider their buds gourmet fare.

That said, I can't resist watching the deer. Call me a sucker for their big eyes, gentleness and grace. Say I have a Bambi complex or never got over the story of Rudolph the reindeer, hauling presents home to me. You can say any number of things about my failure to recoil when deer wander into our yard. They will all be true.

When I see the deer, I run for the camera instead of looking for "deer away" spray to prepare plants for the next encounter. This may seem unusual, since I am a gardener who gets a rosy glow when my floribundas bloom and takes as much pride in my peonies as the next flower aficionado.

Oh, don't worry, I don't feed the deer, no matter how pleading their expressions. Our community prohibits it. But, hey, if a few deer visit our yard, drink from the fountains and snack on blooms du jour, I won't intervene. It's their world, too.

Like everybody, I wish there were a good way to deal with deer in suburbia. But wildlife is everywhere and seems to approve our organic gardening style.

I consider it a compliment when a neighbor says our yard looks like "something out of Beatrix Potter." I welcome the gentle rabbits, even if they occasionally nibble flower buds. I like to see squirrels climbing trees and cardinals atop the wall. And when a red admiral butterfly spent a summer's afternoon perched on our patio, I was reminded of a Disney set.

I have gotten an education from these animals, from rabbits and squirrels to deer in various phases -- spotted fawns and does to young bucks just sprouting antlers.

When I hear of wildlife problems elsewhere, I feel lucky, as friends speak of Florida alligators and California coyotes.

Closer by, Jim and I were taken by a historic home in Butler County a few years ago. The fascination lasted until we saw hordes of bats living behind its movable shutters. It was the country -- nobody wanted to disturb them.

Still, problems with the deer are not easily solved -- and I don't have any answers to worries about auto accidents and diseases carried by wildlife. I wish I knew of a meadow, near woods and stream, where deer could be transported to live with plenty of food. Meanwhile, we can't help but enjoy their visits.

The fawns are not a bit afraid to find us in the yard. Instead, they wag their tails like big puppies, so it's hard not to be charmed. (Note that we photograph from a safe distance, keeping in mind does' protective nature.)

It was a visual treat when a couple of fawns recently nibbled and napped in the yard next door and were joined by a young rabbit for an interesting landscape scene.

A young buck with budding antlers has also entertained us by peering out from behind our dogwood tree.

It is sad, however, when some older deer look thin with bare patches on their coats. I know this is part of nature and try not to get sentimental.

I have no objection when visiting deer enjoy a green salad, garnished with annuals from our yard. It is mainly a trade-off -- exchanging the "perfect" garden plan for fun, learning and photo sessions with congenial deer.

In a perfect world, deer would only eat weeds and never dart across roads, causing consternation. Meanwhile, Jim and I enjoy their majestic beauty and playfulness.

The PG Portfolio welcomes "Animal Tales" submissions and other reader essays. Send your writing to page2@post-gazette.com; or by mail to Portfolio, Post-Gazette, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh PA 15222. Portfolio editor Gary Rotstein may be reached at 412-263-1255.


Carole Yagello Takach of Mt. Lebanon can be reached at caroletakach@verizon.net.


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