Brannfords Garden Design Blog
Shoo! Bambi and Peter Rabbit! PDF Print E-mail
Written by Andrew   
Shoo! Bambi and Peter Rabbit!

Some thoughts on discouraging rabbits and deer in your garden.

Did you, as a child, fall under the spell of Walt Disney or Beatrix Potter? If so, perhaps you loved the 

characters they created.  As a grown up gardener, however, such appealing images can be gnawed 

or nibbled away by the activities of their real-life counterparts.

What’s worse than lovingly planting a gorgeous scheme only to wake up next morning to find your 

plants in disarray – some pulled right out of the ground?  Or with branches snipped off as if with 

sharp secateurs? Or stripped of leaves to bare stems or right down to the ground?

Of course, you might have been prepared. But how?

Here are some thoughts about how to work with nature, rather than try to repel it by barriers or 

cunning. (Included here are deer and rabbit fencing, human hair or lion dung and other ingenious 


Our first port of call is the RHS website which gives long lists of plants to try (and no guarantees of 

success). But what, if anything, do these plants have in common, which isn’t obvious from the lists? 

Before getting to that, some preliminaries:

First, any new planting sets out a lovely tasting table for the local wildlife to sample.  Stripped stems 

indicate delicious leaves. So that sadly rules out Phlox. (But the roots may recover and reshoot, 

when removed out of harm’s way.) Uprooted plants may still survive if re-planted. If not much 

chewed, they probably didn’t prove tasty. Likewise, a single stem snipped off, but others left, 

probably means the locals didn’t want any more of that.

Second, some purple-leaves are like a red rag to a bull. The RHS notes purple-leaved Berberis and 

Cotinus. One of my clients mentioned variegation as well, but that’s not a good guide because.......

....Third, as a general rule evergreen shrubs, including variegated ones such as Euonymus seem to be 

ignored – presumably too toxic, or too tough.  (The sad exception proves to be Yew, which I once 

wrongly assumed would be deer-resistant because it kills cows and horses.) Some of them have 

thorns too, like Holly. (Not that thorns help with red-leaved Berberis).

I recently picked up a little book called ‘Poisonous Plants in Great Britain’ not because there’s 

anyone I particularly want to do away with, but because these are plants that have successfully 

avoided being eaten. Standing out as especially nasty, apart from numerous mushrooms, is 

Monkshood – Wolfsbane (Aconitum napellus). Victorian medical books gave lurid details of the 

symptoms and deaths of gardeners who had inadvertently eaten Aconitum tubers, having confused 

them with Jerusalem artichokes. (A sad death recently featured in the national press.) Aconitum is in 

the Buttercup family (Ranunculaceae). So too are Clematis, Trollius (Globe Flower), Helleborus, 

Actaea (Baneberry), Anemone, Aquilegia, Caltha (Marsh Marigold), Delphinium, Eranthis (Winter 

Aconite), Hepatica, Nigella (Love-in-a-mist) and Thalictrum. Not a bad list for starters.

 Following this train of thought, what other botanical families are similarly toxic? Happily, quite a lot. 

What follows is in no way a complete list, just some examples of this way of thinking:

The Euphorbiaceae includes all those spring flowering favourites like tall characias, neat evergreen 

mounded and shade-tolerant x martini, surprising x griffithii, blue-green creeping myrsinites and 

bright yellow front of border polychroma.....not forgetting the slightly tender but sweetly honey-

scented mellifera. In this family also are the Castor Oil Plant, Ricinus communis, highly toxic to 

humans as well as animals. As it happens, Poinsettia and Crotons are also family members.

In the Primulaceae are Primroses and Cyclamen. (But they have their Achilles heel, or root, which 

vine weevils know only too well.)

The Solanaceae produce not only potato, tomato, aubergine and peppers, but also ornamentals like 

climbing Solanum crispum and jasminoides, Petunia and Nicotiana (tobacco plant).

The Papaveraceae are the source of notorious drugs, but also contain useful and attractive garden 

plants such as ornamental poppies, Dicentra (Bleeding Heart) and the invasive but splendid 

Macleaya cordata (Plume Poppy).

To throw in a few more: the Convallariaceae includes Lily of the Valley, Liriope (Lilyturf), Ophiopogon 

(also called Lilyturf) and Solomon’s Seal. The Butchers Broom is a close botanical relative and that 

really is a very tough native woodlander.

Daphne (Thymelaeaceae) is related to the Mallows (Malvaceae) which include Hibiscus, Lavatera, 

Abutilon and Hollyhocks.

Foxgloves are in the Scrophulariaceae family. Others include Antirrhinum, Hebe, Nemesia, 

Paulownia, Penstemon, Verbascum and Veronica. Then there are the carrots (Apiaceae, formerly 

Umbelliferae) including numerous herbs and, perhaps surprisingly Eryngium and Astrantia. Last, but 

not least, are some members of the huge Daisy family (Asteraceae), like Michaelmas Daisies and 

Echinops (globe thistle).

All these families have representative species in the British Isles which have successfully struggled 

with rabbits and deer through many generations. It’s a reasonable bet that some or all of their 

imported botanical relatives are similarly resistant.

Don’t think for a moment this is an authoritative essay. Very far from it; it’s just a collection of 

observations. But I’ve found families a good way of thinking about plants, not just for thwarting 

Peter Rabbit and Bambi. Families often share other useful traits for the gardener.

Finally, if the RHS can’t guarantee their lists, there’s absolutely no way I can!  

P.S. Don’t eat these plants, even the Solanaceae, at least in their entirety. Eat up your spuds, 

tomatoes, etc., but not the leaves and shoots.  And remember inquisitive children. 

(Source for the families plants belong to: Flowering Plant Families of the World. Heywood, et al. 

Published by RBG Kew 2007)

Andrew White
Last Updated on Tuesday, 01 December 2015 12:38
Art in garden design PDF Print E-mail

Among the forms of art in the garden, sculpture, landscape and floral design, will readily spring to mind. We don't expect painting. But why not?

Blank walls are not uncommon in gardens. As gardeners, our first instinct may be to cover them with climbing plants: roses, wisteria, climbing hydrangeas, clematis, Virginia creeper, grapevines and so on. This can be a very satisfactory solution.

How often though do we consider murals? They are perhaps more associated these days with graffiti artists, of whom Banksy must be the best known, at least by his work, if not by his face.

So what form of painting works in a garden? Recently we were faced with some blank walls, which dominated a small garden which we were re-designing and making over. One of them is used by the daughter of the house to practice her tennis shots. Clearly, climbing plants are not the right answer! One of the team of skilled people we work with is the artist Simon Glass. Over the years he has painted many outdoor murals. His solution was to paint a tennis court on the wall. He also composed murals for the two other walls, which completely change their character. 

You can see this creative and delightful work in pictures on this website in its own section under 'Garden Design' on the main menu. Please have a look! We hope you will be as charmed by Simon's work as was our client.

Plants for our part of the world

Our part being Oxfordshire and parts of Bucks and Berks (see map). What plants will and won’t be happy here? 

As with so many straight questions, the answer is, you guessed, it depends. But generally speaking it’s not necessarily always complicated. 

It can be though. One garden in Nettlebed where we worked contains deep pits, where in times past, clay was dug for the local pottery. In this part of the garden, the soil is acid, but take a step or two away from the pits and there is an abrupt change to an alkaline soil.  

In the garden of a well-known author, on top of the Chilterns, grows a superb collection of azaleas, camellias, eucryphias and other acid-loving (chalk-hating) plants. The garden lies within the acid cap which spreads irregularly over the hills. 

So some plants have marked preferences for acid or alkaline soils, but there is a huge range that will thrive where the soil is slightly acid or slightly alkaline to neutral. One needs to know the soil type when preparing a planting plan. One can test for this with an inexpensive pH kit from a garden centre, but this is a bit tedious as samples have to be taken from all around the garden. Results can mislead, because many gardens have imported soils overlaid on the original soil. A good guide is to look for local indicator plants, such as the presence or absence of acid-lovers such as rhodondrons and azaleas and bracken. Some native and crop plants are also good indicators. 

The plants in our monthly gallery ‘Name this plant’ are mostly happy in neutral to alkaline soils, because they seem to be more common in our gardens. 

The gardener must also consider other characteristics of the site. Is it exposed and windy, or sheltered? Which way does it face and how much sun will each part receive? Is it wet or dry and when? Does it drain well?  

Many more exotic plants, like cannas, bananas and palms suffer from shredded leaves on windy sites. There is a limited, but good repertoire of plants that are happy in shade, including box, holly, laurel, euonymus and other shrubs and herbaceous perennials such as hostas, heucheras and Japanese anemones, to name just a few. (And most ferns.) 

Many garden plants succumb to the combination of cold and wet, especially when prolonged in winter. Many Mediterranean herbs and the fashionable plants from South Africa hate these conditions and turn up their toes. Alpines need shelter from winter rain as well as fast drainage at their roots. Many of the South Africans not only need to drain freely in winter, but must not dry out during their growth in the summer. 

For the most part therefore, our gallery features plants that are good all-rounders that have proved their survival skills in our part of the world. 

When to plan a new garden PDF Print E-mail

Building a new garden is a longer process than at first may be imagined.

There’s much more to it than digging out a new border or two and putting in some plants, although this it may well be at its simplest.First, there’s the briefing meeting (which Brannfords offers free), then we write up and cost a specification to produce a budget.

This can be several hours’ work and invariably has to be fitted in amongst ongoing work and may be in a queue with other briefs. This stage may take from 2 days to 3 weeks, depending on workload.Next, with an approved specification and budget work may begin. We must now draw up a to-scale ground plan. Frequently ground must be cleared and herbicide applied to get rid of unwanted weeds and other plants.

There may also be a ‘groundwork’ phase, when we move earth around or out of the garden (or bring more in) and install drainage if needed. This may take from 3 – 8 weeks, depending on the weather.The next stage is usually hard landscaping such as patios, paths, walls, pergolas, trellis, etc. Again, this can take some weeks.While this is going on, we prepare a detailed planting list for approval, then start to collect the plants. We can then lay lawns and start planting. Allow 2-4 weeks, again depending on weather.Finally, we lay down an irrigation system (if required) and mulch over the planting to retain moisture and reduce weed growth.

This process may therefore take 3-4 months or longer. The reality is nothing like the impression created by instant TV garden makeovers. Ideally, it should be timed for an early autumn brief, so that groundwork is done before the ground gets too wet. It’s good to do hard landscaping over the winter, when landscape gardeners have a little less gardening to do.

Then we plant trees, shrubs and roses over the winter and herbaceous in the spring.This is of course an ideal. In practice, we build gardens all-year round. In addition, we plant bulbs in autumn and spring, so a winter-spring planted garden may wait for bulbs until the autumn.Absolutely the best time to start the process? In August (or even July) for a garden completed ready for the following year. But don’t despair, work can start more or less at any time.

Architectural antiques, salvage and curiosities for the garden PDF Print E-mail
Brannfords office is just a couple of miles down the road from a veritable treasure trove of wonderful objects for adorning a garden. Lassco now has a country seat at the Three Pigeons, an old coaching inn in Milton Common, Oxfordshire. It’s well worth a visit if you want to visit an Aladdin’s cave of rescued (and reproduction) objects for the house as well as the garden. You’ll find statues, fountains, ironwork, columns, friezes, clocktowers, entranceways, rose arches, old signage and much more. Whether you buy or not, it’s well worth a visit for a good look round and a cup of coffee.

For details, please see ‘Links’ on the Brannfords website.

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