Sunday, May 1, 2011

Deer Country: Brunnera, a Spring Perennial for the Shade

Pat H.'s brunnera
Photo by Pat

Washington Post “Green Scene” columnist Joel M. Lerner in a recent column mentioned brunnera, which he called “false forget-me-not,” as being a deer-resistant perennial. After I posted a link to Lerner’s column, Pat H., a Howard County Master Gardener intern, emailed that she grows the plant, Brunnera macrophylla, also known as Siberian bugloss, and confirmed it is deer resistant.

Pat H.'s brunnera in bloom
Photo by Pat.
“I have an old copy of Wyman’s Gardening Encyclopedia that says it is native to the Caucasus and Siberia and should have deep, moist soil to grow well,” Pat wrote. “Mine is growing in the shade of 30-year-old pine trees, but they pop up in other places.” Pat said she bought plants at a local nursery.

Brunnera sounded as though it would be a good addition to the Deer Country showcase of spring perennials that are deer resistant, so I queried Howard County Master Gardeners for their reactions. Here’s what they said:

Suzette H.'s 'Jack Frost' brunnera.
Photo by Suzette H.
Suzette H.: “I have brunnera and agree that it is deer-resistant, right up there with daffodils and ferns. It's for shade/partial shade, flowers so prettily in spring, and the foliage is attractive with a nice clumping habit, and looks good through fall. A bonus: the regular variety seeds well, giving you extra baby plants to easily move around or share or to slowly colonize an area. I also have two hybrids, ‘Jack Frost’ and ‘Mr. Morris.’ They haven't self-seeded, but have variegated foliage, and are also deer-proof.”

Linda B.: “Yes, brunnera is deer resistant and beautiful right now [April 24]. Its large, textured leaves make it a great plant in the shade garden throughout the summer season.”

Nancy R.: “I grow brunnera, both the green- and the silver-leafed variety. They're quite beautiful with their little blue flowers on tall stalks now [April 25]. I've had them for several years and they have not been touched by deer. One note: They're somewhat invasive, if that's the word. I have no problem with it since I have broad expanses I want to cover. But they appear often at a distance from the original plant. If they show up where I don't want them, I just dig them up and put them somewhere else.”

Donna W.: “I grow brunnera and the deer absolutely leave it alone.”

Natalie B.: “I grow four cultivars of brunnera and have never had any deer damage. I have about 25 deer that come through, so I have had to do a lot of improvising over the years! I still get deer damage but have learned how to minimize it with mixing plants they don't like with plants they do.”

Georgia E.: “Yes, I have brunnera and the deer do not bother it. It spreads nicely as an early spring flowering plant.”

Frankie S., neighbor of Aylene G.: “We have brunnera and it is doing well. It is in a very shady garden that has frequent visits from deer.”

The Missouri Botanical Garden website entry for brunnera indicates it grows 1 to 1.5 feet high and 1.5 to 2.5 feet wide; grows best in well-drained, consistently moist soil in shade; has light blue flowers with yellow centers in April and May; and slowly spreads by “rhizomes and self-seeding to form thick ground covers.” Its dark-green, heart-shaped leaves are three to five inches wide. The plant grows well in borders, woodland gardens, and near streams and ponds.

Diseases and pests? “No serious insect or disease problems,” the botanical garden says, though slugs and snails occasionally may visit. And, yes, brunnera is deer—and rabbit—resistant.

To read more about this plant at the Missouri Botanical Garden website, CLICK HERE.

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