September 5, 2010 in Features

Wordens’ deer-proof yard display truly dazzling

By The Spokesman-Review
Susan Mulvihill photo

Jack and Phyllis Worden enjoy sharing the joy of gardening with their granddaughter, Brynn Worden.
(Full-size photo)

I enjoy meeting and profiling local gardeners. It’s fun seeing what folks are doing in their gardens and getting to learn new techniques in the process.

Reader Jack Worden recently extended an invitation to come see his garden. He and his wife, Phyllis, have lived in northwest Spokane for more than 30 years.

When Worden mentioned that he grows a lot of deer-resistant plants, it got my attention since plenty of Inland Northwest residents have problems with deer in their gardens.

He initially learned which plants deer don’t bother by doing research on the Internet. “From there, it was mainly through trial and error,” he admits.

This year, he has had good luck keeping the deer away by spraying Liquid Fence and Plantskydd – both deer repellents – around his yard.

“This is the first year in 10 that they haven’t come in so much,” he says. “The deer didn’t even bother our hostas and tulips, which are some of their favorites.”

The deer-resistant perennials he grows include coreopsis, Russian sage, lupines, coneflowers, azaleas, Red-hot Poker (kniphofia), daylilies, black-eyed Susans and Autumn Joy sedums.

“The thing I particularly like about coreopsis and coneflowers is that you get color from them forever and ever,” he says.

One plant he enjoys growing is Crocosmia. Also known as Montbretia, it has long strappy leaves and stunningly brilliant red or orange flower clusters on arching stems.

I’ve found it to be a bit tender for this area but he has figured out how to keep it coming up year after year:

“In the fall, I mound up about 12 inches of pine needles over each plant. You really need to insulate it for the winter.”

Phyllis Worden enjoys growing annuals for season-long color.

“I like having a lot of cut flowers,” she says. “I listen to my audio books while I’m weeding and deadheading to make it even more enjoyable to be outside.”

The annuals she grows include petunias, marigolds, zinnias, snapdragons, alyssum, verbena and Calla lilies with variegated leaves.

To extend the bloom in the iris patch, they sowed cosmos seeds this spring.

“The plants are small while the iris are blooming, then the cosmos grow up through them so we have color all year long,” Jack Worden says.

Like many other gardeners in this region, they lost a lot of plants over the past winter. The ones that took the biggest hits were their roses – they lost about 35 of them – as well as butterfly bushes, honeysuckles and gaillardias (blanketflower).

They are testing a product called FreezePruf, which is a non-toxic spray for ornamental, fruit and vegetable plants. It is made by the Liquid Fence Co. and is guaranteed to increase a plant’s cold tolerance by as much as 9.4 degrees Fahrenheit.

In their vegetable garden, zucchini, tomatoes, potatoes, onions, and bush and pole beans grow abundantly. Jack Worden attributes this to tilling shredded leaves into the garden and rotating the crops every year.

The Wordens also grow blueberries, raspberries, strawberries and thornless blackberries successfully. They use a lot of compost and feel the key to getting a great harvest of berries is to make sure the plants get plenty of water.

When asked if he would have done anything differently with his landscape, Jack Worden is quick to admit that it hasn’t always gone smoothly.

“It would have been nice to be clairvoyant and pick the right plants on the first try,” he admits, “but in reality, you learn as you go and make many mistakes.”

Susan Mulvihill can be reached via e-mail at Visit her blog at for more gardening information and tips.

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