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Book Review: Deer-Resistant Gardening

Written by Karen Chapman
Published by Timber Press
Reviewed by Kerry O’Kelly

Dealing with deer is one of the biggest design challenges I have as a designer in suburban Boston (and in my own yard!). Deer limit the design plant palette and cause untold damage, especially in the fall and during the winters. They can require costly fences, increase the maintenance burden, and exacerbate health risks from Lyme disease. Feeling optimistic that someone has better solutions than I’ve found, I picked up Deer-Resistant Gardening by Karen Chapman to explore her strategies and recommendations. It is a challenging topic to handle, which the author acknowledges upfront, as deer behavior and preferences vary considerably by local conditions, and I commend her for taking it on.

This beautifully laid out and concisely written book offers many lessons from a design perspective alongside valuable nuggets about deer deterrents. Each chapter addresses a single landscape, and at the end of the chapter, Chapman presents a detailed list of plants that worked on that property, including hardiness and deer tolerance ratings. Some readers may find these lists useful; however, I appreciated the mention of many specimen plants in the photographic captions more than the plant lists at the end of each chapter. That said, I will mention that I was a bit disappointed with the heavy use of barberry. Barberry (Berberis thunbergii) is a rapidly spreading and invasive species in the Eastern U.S. Barberry harbors significant populations of ticks and is associated with the spread of Lyme disease because it shelters mice

A highlight of the book was the chapter detailing deer-resistant container plantings. Beautiful photographs, along with detailed plant listings, make it easy for anyone to follow suit. The author also offers two excellent examples of barriers for vegetable gardens that are worth looking at in more detail. A good fence is the best deterrent! And, at the start of the book, Chapman reviews several uncommon types of fencing that are quite different from the usual stockade fence.

More generally, the author advocates a view of deer by opting to focus the deer-resistant plantings along paths most often used by the deer. The goal is to keep the deer moving along and disinterested in the yard. The strategy of moving deer through a property, tolerating minor browsing damage, spraying a limited number of plants with a deterrent, and replacing heavily damaged plants, kept most of her homeowners happy. Overall, I feel that the book is geared toward larger properties (several acres). Many of Chapman’s suggested tactics and strategies may be most effective in larger spaces and less so on small properties or where the deer pressure is higher. 

Kudos to Chapman for tackling such a difficult subject. This book has a lot of good general guidance, especially to those new to dealing with deer. For landowners looking for more specific solutions, I would still recommend getting professional input as there is no substitute for local knowledge and experience.

About the Reviewer

Kerry O’Kelly has been designing landscapes in the Boston area for over ten years and has been actively involved with the ELA community for many years as well. As the owner of Garden Dance Landscape Design, she works to educate her clients and provide them solutions to blend their aesthetics with ecological practices. With certifications in Landscape Design, Organic Land Care (AOLCP), and Green Infrastructure (GIP, CBLP) bring a depth of knowledge to her conversations and designs. Kerry can be reached by email at

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