Deer won't jump over a fence into your yard if they can't see what's on the other side. Donna Balzer / For CREB®Now

Keeping park-side gardens free of unwanted visitors is a constant struggle

There is a dark side to living close to parks when you have a garden: wildlife. Park animals will always prefer your tasty seeds and expensive perennials over the slim pickings in the park.

“I have a severe squirrel problem here … they are digging up the seeds I keep replanting,” said my friend Jeannine Oakes. I laughed, but should have been more sympathetic.

Deer are also a frequent nuisance for many people that live near parks, but there are ways to stop them from feasting on your garden.

“Deer won’t jump higher than five feet if they can’t see what’s on the other side,” said
Mike Pepler.

A kitchen designer by trade, Pepler is not a wildlife expert, but everyone has something to say about gardens. I was over for dinner when he showed me his new five-foot high, solid-wood fence, set back behind a two-block high retaining wall.

“People think you need a higher fence, but only if it is chain link and the deer can see right through it,” said Pepler. “If they can’t see over the fence, deer won’t jump because there could be a cougar or a bear on the other side.”

If squirrels weren’t enough, Oakes also has experience with cougars. She found out by accident from fish and wildlife experts that it wasn’t deer the cougars were looking for in her yard, as much as it was her flowers. Her pots, filled with catnip, were torn apart one night in late summer when a cougar came visiting. Even though it has pretty purple flowers and is a hardy perennial, Oakes no longer plants catnip and no longer gets cougar visits.

“If they can’t see over the fence, deer won’t jump because there could be a cougar or a bear on the other side.” – Mike Pepler

I had my own garden crisis last fall when, shortly after our old dog passed away, bunnies crept under our fence and the kale from my garden vanished.

I have a new puppy now enthusiastically sharing her scent all over the yard, and my husband added bunny blocking plastic netting to the bottom of our porous fence.

Meanwhile, I recently walked past a coyote on a dog walk and wondered if their population was booming again. If so, they might take care of some of those bunnies and squirrels – nature is, more than anything, the great equalizer.

The moral of the story: there are definitely more wildlife adventures near parks and natural areas than anywhere else in the city. But my advice to gardeners is always the same: control what you can, block what you can’t, and then just relax.

A garden is a living, breathing, always evolving organism. And in truth, it is part of nature, not separate from it – no garden is an island.

In the end, it’s best to enjoy animals from a distance, protect plants when you can, and work with, not against, the wildlife in your park and garden.