Oh Deer!

In Aureus, my novel set in 12th century England, there are struggles on many levels. One major conflict results from the discovery of a treasure trove of gold Roman coins by two peasant brothers when they are planting carrots in the Earl of Boulton’s forest. They must hide this garden from the earl and must also protect their tiny crop from hungry deer. To accomplish this, they plant lavender among the carrots (see Page 9). You may ask, “Why lavender? I thought it had a nice aroma.” Yes, it does … for us. So, let us forget the treasure for a moment and address this animal pest problem

Over the millennia, deer have been busy pillaging people’s plantings, and people have been equally busy trying to prevent it. A deer salivates at the sight of leaves and stems. Whether it is public park flora, decorative front yard shrubbery or a backyard vegetable garden, these animals do not discriminate. And for ages, people have sought herbal deterrents like lavender, mint, rosemary, oregano, thyme and chives to keep them away.

Figuratively speaking, we’ve locked antlers with this intrusive pest for a long time. Well, locked antlers with the males anyway. There are 60 species of deer worldwide, and only one, the Chinese water deer, does not have antlers. To compensate for the lack of sex appeal which antlers provide, the Chinese stags wiggle a long canine tooth to impress females. The advantage here is that the tooth is permanent, while antlers fall off annually and must be regrown.

An obvious irony is that most people like deer. A family of deer at the edge of a woods will stop passing traffic as cellphones jump into service to record this idyllic event. The 1942 Disney movie Bambi captured the hearts of Americans. In Nazi Germany, however, the original book, penned by Austro-Hungarian writer Felix Salten, was banned and burned as a parable about the treatment of Jews in Europe.

 We admire the deer’s great hearing and sense of smell. Along with having eyes located on each side of its head, a deer seems well equipped for the outdoor life. Deer will live over 10 years in the wild. Like humans, the females generally live longer than males. Another commonality: deer are both monogamous and polygamous.

Many humans enjoy hunting deer, and its meat has been a staple for humankind for eons. Wild deer, however, do not consider humans to be a potential meal. By contrast, lions, tigers, leopards and polar bears are known to savor a human entrée. And the Nile crocodile, one of the most aggressive animals in the world, considers humans to be a regular part of its diet.

Back to the traditional lavender and its herbal brothers. Other repellents are now on the market, particularly coyote urine and blood meal, a slaughter house byproduct. Human hair works, too, and is cheaper. Just weave the contents of your hairbrush into your plantings. Dawn dish soap is effective as is a bar of Irish Spring soap; just shave it or cube it. Spread as needed.

In case you think our two-legged species is winning the deterrent battle, think again. The deer palate is quite adaptable, a real asset as more of their natural habitat is becoming developed. Also, deer food preferences vary regionally, so your battle plan must be revised if you move. The quandary continues. Oh dear!