Downwind of deer off


Deer off could just as easily be called People Off. The main ingredient is rotten egg, enhanced to smell even stinkier, if that is possible, and it smells even worse than that sounds. But it does repel anything with a nose.

I use it to try to protect the pride of my garden, a towering mass of goat’s beard, (Aruncus dioicus ). Goat’s beard has a long flowering time, is showy, and needs no attention other then warding off the deer. Mine originated as a roadside harvest, one of several plants that were moved from certain death by plow or salt and relocated to a peaceful retirement in my back yard.

I have been asked how I trained this 6-foot tall plant to grow as one massive clump without sprawling and becoming invasive, and how I get it so large.

The only credit I can take is using deer repellent to keeping it from getting munched. This is not really all that simple, however. Timing is crucial, as is paying attention to weather, and actually remembering to spray before the deer realize the repellent is gone. For me this is the hardest. There is just always so much to do, so many chores. I finally learned to keep the bottle tucked in by the base of the plant, so I can grab it on the run. I can dash by, pull it out, wave it around spraying, and toss it back under the fronds barely breaking my stride.

chewed goatsbeard

Munched stalks on my goat’s beard

If the wind is wrong this can be dangerous, though. Heading off to interview someone for work I saw that some of the florets were already gone, leaving ugly stalks with ragged and chewed ends. I knew the deer would be back. Knowing how quickly they can decimate a plant, I had to spray. A few quick squirts would only take a second. The mist was surrounding the goat’s beard nicely when a sudden shift in the breeze sent the wet particles my way. I threw the bottle and ran, but knew it had landed. There were wet drops along my arm, and I reached the car and the smell was with me, not back at the goat’s beard.

No time to change, and I figured it would have faded before I got to my meeting. It did fade, I was sure.

My assignment was to write about an artist I had never met. She opened the door to welcome me wearing a spotless summer dress and a light floral scent. I kept my distance as we spoke.

She was an easy interview, passionate, articulate, and I wrote notes madly. Leaning in to get a closer look at one of her paintings I realized I had leaned too far.

She raised her head, and while she did not actually wrinkle her nose, I am certain it quivered. I sat up straight and looked at her dog with gentle reproach.

When I got home the goat’s beard was still only partially eaten. It may not reach its full six feet this year, but at least it will bloom.

And I can confirm that, as the label says, the odor does fade as it dries—just not quite completely.


Karen O. Zimmermann

About Karen O. Zimmermann

Karen O. Zimmermann savors chance encounters with people throughout the state of Maine, and is endlessly delighted with the tales they have to share.