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Garden talk: Deer and gardening are compatible, local author says

By: Jane Rounsaville
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When it comes to living here in deer country, there are two kinds of gardeners — those who love deer, and those who hate ’em. “I love having the deer here,” said Carolyn Singer, author of “Deer in My Garden.” Carolyn enjoys watching the does and their spotted babies frolic in her garden — completely ignoring her plants and flowers. “It is just so much fun to watch,” she said. “I feel really honored to have them in my garden.” And she wouldn’t want it any other way. “Having the deer in the garden is just part of the natural scene of living here,” she explained. “I feel privileged to live in the foothills where we can enjoy that.” Carolyn, who comes from a long line of gardeners and educators, has taught gardening for about 30 years. However, gardening wasn’t part of her original career plan. Early in her adult life, she took a break from gardening, to study social psychology at UC Berkeley. “I did not really connect with it until I moved to the foothills,” she said. “And then I started gardening more seriously because I had a son with a disability. Gardening became my way of balancing. I went from social work to gardening, so that I could balance my own life, and take care of him.” Eventually, she got involved in the UC Cooperative Extension master gardener program, and helped start the farmers’ market in Grass Valley. It wasn’t long before people started asking her advice. Unfortunately, there was one issue that even she found challenging — how to prevent all those deer from destroying plants and flowers. When she realized that the existing lists of deer-resistant plants were not reliable, she set out to create her own list. The project evolved into her award-winning first book, “Deer in My Garden: Perennials and Subshrubs,” which she self-published in 2006. Volume II, “Deer in My Garden: Groundcovers and Edgers,” was published this year, in March. Carolyn’s expertise on deer-resistance comes from many years of research — and a lot of trial and error. With the help of many residents, she has tested plants from deer-heavy areas like Lake Wildwood, Alta Sierra and Lake of the Pines. Although her books focus mostly on the foothill region, they are popular in New Jersey, Michigan and even as far away as Canada. Deer resistance varies from region to region, though. A plant that a foothills-area deer ignores might be irresistible to the same critter in the Pacific Northwest. Carolyn is also a popular writer and teacher. Her gardening articles have been published in Better Homes & Gardens, Sierra Heritage, Fine Gardening and Garden Gate. Her recent presentation on deer-resistant plants was one of the Meadow Vista Garden Club’s biggest meetings. Cheryl Driggs, who attended the talk, said she found it to be entertaining and informative. “I thought she was a very interesting speaker,” Cheryl said. “A bunch of us bought her book. The book is sitting in my office on my desk. So next time I go to the nursery, I am going to consult it.” Meadow Vista Garden Club president Brenda Starbird, who owns both volumes, agreed. “We know she has done a tremendous amount of research on her own property,” Brenda said. “All of her information is backed up with actual experience in the foothills, and that is what people in this area need — someone who is familiar with our conditions.” Carolyn calls this her 30-year research project, and she admits she still doesn’t have all the answers when it comes to deer-resistance. Fortunately, most foothill residents can feel confident that she has discovered plenty of plants to help them enjoy deer in their gardens. Jane Rounsaville can be reached at jrounsa@sbcglobal.net.