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On a Chalk Hillside October 2018

Deer and update on the hedge

I mentioned gardening clothes last month.  In terms of footwear I have plastic clogs for quick sorties to the greenhouse/polytunnel/potting shed/washing line, and some gardening if it is bone dry, (as it has been most of this summer!), or where they are not likely to fill with soil.   I have lace up waterproof boots for serious digging, or clambering into the depths of beds to weed or replant, or to go down the chalk hillside when the grass is long in the orchard.  I even tuck my trousers into my boots when working in long grass/undergrowth to save having to check my legs each time for ticks from the deer which could give me Lyme disease as our area of the south is a hotspot.   In case you think I am being unnecessarily cautious– here are a couple of roe deer making themselves at home on our chalk hillside this April:- 

Whilst there had been sporadic sightings of deer in the far distance in other gardens over the years this pair were here most days.  Indeed they are here so often our neighbour was even able to plan to set up a video camera on a tripod and shot a video of them up by our polytunnel one morning, grazing.  They visit both the allotment and orchard regularly, resting under the trees during the heat of the day.   The male was growing points on his antlers through June and by July fawns were seen in neighbouring gardens.   
I was particularly worried for our mixed native hedge, which you may remember from one of my very earliest posts was planted along the boundary of our orchard, almost like a buffet table of young leaves for the deer.  I reassured myself that maybe the thorns of the Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) and Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) would put them off a bit.  But I was extremely concerned for the Field Maple (Acer campestre), Wayfaring Tree (Viburnum lantana), and Guelder Rose (Viburnum opulus).   The hedge whips had been planted early December 2014, and after letting the roots develop for the first year before much top growth appeared I had pruned it very hard in October 16, cutting the Hawthorn and Blackthorn down to 15cm from the ground, and cutting all the others back almost by half to try to develop bushy growth low down.   By autumn 17, it had some good autumn colour- see the Viburnum opulus below:- 

And I had pruned it in early November:-

We had very few failures in the first winter out of all the hedging whips we planted, and where there were failures we were able to replace them from the spares we had heeled into nursery beds in the veg patch.  We had even fewer failures subsequently – I think there is just one patch under the birch tree next to the polytunnel that is a bit bald and still needs a replacement – I’m thinking of putting in a dog rose (Rosa canina) which is a rooted cutting of one which does very well elsewhere in the garden under a hawthorn tree, rather than replacing with one of the other replacement hedging whips we still have.    The Dog Rose planted next to a Hawthorn tree grows happily in its shade.  Here it is flowering in May last year:-

This particular Rosa Canina is actually a seedling from Mr Bowles’ Dog Rose from his Garden at Myddleton House which I purchased at a garden open day in the 1990’s.  He talks about this particular bush of Rosa Canina at length in chapter 4 of his book “My Garden in Summer”.  When I say it is happily growing UNDER the Hawthorn tree, in fact it is under, through and over the tree in arching sprays of pink flowers, as you can see in early June this year:-

If the birds drop some of the lovely red hips this plant makes, I send some seeds to the HPS for the seed exchange (and sow some myself.)
As the hedge was getting on so well I was most concerned that the deer did not snack on the newly emerging leaves this spring.  However, by May this year it looked like this:-

So it appeared the hedge was not the food of choice for the deer in the garden this spring.  Phew!  
However, I relaxed too soon, they may not have been interested in the hedge, but our vegetables were another matter. I grow runner and climbing French beans from seed in pots which we planted out when they got to about 40cm tall onto their run of canes at the beginning of June.  The Swiss chard, ruby and bright lights chard, and perpetual spinach plants I had sown in trays, pricked out, and potted on then went into their beds when they were sturdy young plants a couple of days later.  Just to give you an idea of scale, we grow 40 runner bean plants and around the same of French climbing beans; twenty each of the swiss chard and ruby/bright lights chard, and over 50 perpetual spinach.  The deer were very impressed.  They had the tops off most of the runner beans and more than half of the climbing French beans, killing some outright, and stunting the others.  They also grazed all our chard and perpetual spinach to stumps an inch from the ground.  However, they left the courgette plants alone, nor did they eat the tops of the potato plants.   I won’t try and describe to you the emotions we felt at putting in all that work to provide us with our food for the year and losing it to the deer, suffice it to say we started to look at our options for stopping the deer getting to our plants.   
As a temporary fix we cobbled together a “fence” across the veg patch out of bits of old sheet materials – the roof from the shed we had replaced, chicken wire panels from someone’s pigeon loft they had replaced, dumpy bags etc.  The deer jumped the lowest part of that and carried on grazing, so we strung fleece above the fence to a height of about 7 feet, attached by pegs and string to make it impossible for the deer to see what was on the other side.  It was extremely awkward for us getting in and out of the veg patch as well, through the temporary fence, but it DID work.  The hot, dry, still weather meant that the fleece survived whilst we went to work putting in a more permanent deer defence fence.
As you know by now, our garden is long, very long, and the area the deer were most easily getting into was over the new hedge and into the orchard.  When we measured this up it was 50m long.  So, in the blistering heat, and generally the full sun as well, we started putting in a fence.  Here is one of the posts we used – which I took the picture of as it was our first sighting of a Painted Lady butterfly this year on 28 June:-

  Here are the posts going in at the top of what will be the new fence run – one of the few bits in the shade under the Silver Birch (Betula pendula)!:-

We chose 1.6m high mesh, which you can see tied on below as we spread it out behind the hedge between it and the low chainmail fence it is growing through. (Lots of scratches for me as I “gently” pulled the hedging away!)  We used me as a consistent measure down the length – with the mesh being two squares above me in my gardening hat all the way down, I’m 5ft 4” so the new deer-proof fence is heading towards 6ft!  (Sorry, I don’t know my height in metric…)

Even with the mesh just tied on it seemed to be effective against the deer as during the evening, after the mesh was tied all the way down the 50m length, they went into our neighbours garden instead and ate all his runner beans that he had been about to harvest.  (He was not pleased at all!)  The next step before attaching it properly to the posts was to tension it by threading wire through the top – much like sewing, weaving it in and out of each square, and pulling it taut between the posts:-

Only once this tensioning had been done could the mesh be properly attached to the posts with staples.

This last picture has a white mound by the guelder rose – this was the chalk we dug out to get the post in.  It reminds us that the orchard and hedge sit on about 10cm of soil with their roots in the chalk.  Normally in our light soil we can bash this size of post in with a heavy duty metal post rammer as seen below as my husband puts the last post in for this fence:-

With the drought and heat the ground had become rock hard, and we had to resort to the tool you see in the foreground - a post-hole digger - which we normally use in fencing with 150mm fence post holes to get chalk we have pounded up with the chisel and point crowbar out without having to dig a huge hole with spades.   This is how I can say with confidence that the ground at the beginning of July was completely dry to a depth of at least 30cm as we had to excavate that far to be able to get the post 45cm into the ground.  We did not get any rain in July til the last Sunday.  Perhaps because of that the Guelder Rose (Vibernum opulus) already had red berries by then:-

So far, the deer seem to have been kept out, and our remaining crops have not been touched.   Considering we only had one day with rain at the end of August as well, and a heatwave the whole month, I do not know how the hedge has survived this summer, but it has.  I think the answer is no real growth, fewer leaves, and early dropping of them.  September has been dry too – one day of rain near the beginning, and two half days of rain after Storm Bronagh, but the ground is still dry as we dig up the potatoes. 
Before I stop this month I have to mention the Sedums, which I now discover have been renamed something unpronounceable, flowering beautifully in my garden. Pictures from last year - here, at the very end of September are Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’, now Hylotelephium (Herbstfreude Group) ‘Herbstfreude’ stonecrop (syn Sedum 'Autumn Joy'):-

And Sedum ‘Purple Emperor’ now Hylotelephium telephium (Atropurpureum Group) ‘Purple Emperor’:-

Both unaware they have been renamed, and happily providing nectar for bees and butterflies into October in my rose garden, accompanied by the odd late bloom on various roses.   (I have just checked my photos from last year and Autumn Joy was still in full flower on 25 October, a joy indeed).

Next time, hips, haws and berries in my garden.

Sheila May

Posted by Sheila May

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