Hot Vinaigrette

I stepped out onto my back deck and admired how nice my yard looked this spring. New blades of grass glittered in the sunshine as a gentle breeze lovingly caressed them. Tree branches that had been winter-bound for so many months were finally beginning to unfurl their pink and green buds. Bright, yellow daffodils gracefully swayed in the new flowerbed by the driveway.

My loving scan of the crescent-shaped flowerbed came to an abrupt halt when I spotted what remained of the four hosta plants planted there. I’d been enthusiastically watching them grow new leaves for the last several days. My daughter Tammie joined me on the back deck just as I let out a squawk of protest and stamped my foot.

Turning to look in the same direction as I, she inquired, “What do you see that’s making you so upset?”

My response was more of a yelp, “My hostas! Look at them!”

After staring at the new flowerbed for a moment, Tammie asked, “Where did they go? Just yesterday afternoon they each had a nice cluster of new leaves.”

I said, sighing wearily, “The deer were here last night. Does are especially hungry now that winter is over and they have fawns to nurse. Besides that, I’ve heard people describe hostas as “deer candy”. It’s their preferred treat to eat when foraging a landscaped yard.”

“But those rotten deer ate everything above ground!” Tammie sputtered. “They never used to do that when you had hostas in the old flowerbed.”

I answered, chuckling grimly, “My old flowerbed was like a well-stocked smorgasbord. There were eleven huge hosta plants in it and dozens of other yummy things that deer like to eat. Because that bed was so weedy and full of plants, you may never have noticed how they would come and gorge themselves. All summer long the hostas looked like half eaten salad bowls.”

“What are you going to do?”

Sitting down on the top step to the deck, I mulled over options before finally announcing, “I’m going to burn their mouths by pouring a hot salad dressing over the hostas. Maybe then they will leave them alone.”

Some people place bars of Irish Spring soap around plants because deer are repelled by the smell. Other people report hanging silver ribbons that flutter in the wind around plants to scare away the deer. Although these ploys work for a short time, the deer eventually realize the smell and fluttering ribbons pose no harm and go after their favorite midnight snack. I recalled this urban lore as I concocted a batch of pepper spray. How long would the pepper stop the deer from gobbling up the precious leaves?

Using pepper spray was an unsatisfying experience. Even when there wasn’t a breeze, a cloud of the hot spray would inevitably drift back into my face. The spray must be renewed after every single rain shower or heavy dew. The deer didn’t seem fazed by the pepper. As fast as new leaves sprouted on the hostas and hydrangeas, they were chewed off.

My sister Agnes suggested, “Maybe the deer are enjoying the spicy taste you’re giving their salad greens. To them the pepper spray might be nothing more than a delicious hot vinaigrette.”

I questioned, “Do you think I need to make the pepper solution stronger? What if a stronger solution burns the plants I’m trying to protect?”

As fall nights became cooler, the deer became more aggressive in cropping back the flowerbed plants. I whined to Tammie, “I’m worried the hosta won’t come back next spring. It seems they should have some leaves to insulate their roots during winter. And what if the roots need to draw energy from leaves now to survive winter?”

Nothing I did stopped the deer foraging in my flowerbed. One afternoon a few weeks before a deep overnight freeze, I remembered a roll of chicken wire in the garage. Finding it, I began to cut wires. I didn’t have enough to cover the entire bed, so I cut eight lengths to cover the four hostas and four hydrangea bushes.

One morning a few days after placing the chicken wire Tammie and I stepped out on the back deck. Tammie congratulated me, “Good job, Mom! The chicken wire is doing the trick!” I studied the new flowerbed with satisfaction. The hostas were growing new leaves.

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