Good Fences

Good Fences

May 28 2021

My closest neighbors are deer. They feel right at home taste testing my flowers, shrubs, and trees, even within feet of my porch. When we first moved to our latest farm, I built friendly fences across my front yard-not too high. The deer scoffed. I tried ultrasonic noise makers and electric fences. The fence worked but it is not too attractive and apparently they got used to the noise. Now, a few years later, all the fences are six feet tall. I know deer can jump that high, but they don’t seem to like jumping into closed spaces. Every tree and shrub planted outside the fenced yard and garden is circled by its own 4-5’ tall cage; they still nibble on the branches, but can’t kill the tree. I don’t mind the fences, some of them also serve as windbreaks-wind being another persistent problem.

I planted grape vines to climb up one section of fence and the deer ate off every leaf on the outside over and over again. The grapes now live inside the fenced gardens. I have since planted bittersweet and honeysuckle vines (some of my fences have wire panel sections perfect for vines). The deer chew on these but so far haven’t decimated them. My next plan is to try clematis. I don’t think there is any guarantee that some deer some time will eat almost anything, but clematis is a member of the Ranunculaceae (buttercup) family which are mildly toxic. Maybe that will slow them down. There’s hope.

The name clematis comes from a Greek word meaning climbing plant, not surprisingly, but I was surprised to learn that they are members of the buttercup family. Who would have guessed that they are related to anemones and pasqueflowers!

German legend has it that clematis sheltered the Virgin Mary, thus the common name Virgin’s Bower. Or possibly it was named after Queen Elizabeth, England’s virgin queen. Our wild white ones can become a tangled mass climbing over shrubs and trees. The common cultivar ‘Jackmanii’ reached over eight feet on my arbor-I was pretty happy with that. Jackmanii has been around since 1862 and belongs to pruning group three which means it blooms late on new wood so you can prune these hard in late winter and it will produce lots of new growth. Pruning group one blooms early on last year’s wood so no regular pruning is required. Group two is the early large flowering group that has repeat blooms on new wood-light pruning only. I confess I am frequently unable to remember which group my clematis belong to, so I take my cue from nature-they usually die back a lot in winter anyway so I just cut off the dead stuff in spring when I see where it leafs out.

To me clematis are exotic looking flowers, many have big showy blossoms and it’s so pleasurable to walk through an arbor and see them coming up to meet you. Or, in my dreams, covering a fence. It’s worth a shot. Hope springs eternal.

Clematis, ‘Marie Louise Jenson’, early large flowering, group 2