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Garden author reflects on research efforts, successes

Carolyn Singer preparing to publish third book
By: Gloria Young Home & Garden
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Grass Valley resident Carolyn Singer is best known for her “Deer in my Garden” Vols. 1 and 2. But she is also a speaker, newspaper columnist, instructor and landscape design consultant. She has spent many years testing and cataloging as she continues to add to her reference works on deer-resistant plants. Her third book, “The Seasoned Gardener: 4 Decades of Practical Garden Wisdom,” will be published this fall. Singer grew up in Sonoma County, but moved to the foothills 35 years ago. She has a degree in social psychology from UC Berkeley and studied horticulture after college. On Sept. 5, she’ll be the guest speaker at the Meadow Vista Garden Club, where she plans to discuss deer-resistant ground covers. It is the second time Singer has been a guest speaker at the club. “Carolyn mostly talked about the plants she had in her first book and how she determined which plants were deer resistant by trial and error,” club vice president Eve Smith said in an email. “She had many pictures of her garden. She also talked about a propagation class at her place. In a recent interview Singer discussed her lifelong love of gardening and her passion for plant research. What created your early interest in gardening? I grew up in a gardening family. I’m sure that as soon as I could walk with my father, he probably had me in the garden. His father came from Holland and helped build the gardens at Stanford University to earn money for his education. That was back in the late 1800s. Describe your garden. It is on the site of the old Sonntag Homestead property and was open for public tours for about 25 years. It is no longer open to the public. When I moved there, the gardens had been abandoned. Probably the only things alive were daffodils and violets. I had old apple trees, old pear trees and old walnut trees that dated from the 1800s. If I look at the entire space, it is probably an acre. It includes fruit trees, berries, vegetables and hops. I share those with beer-making friends. The vegetable garden area is fenced off, but I have perimeter plantings outside the fence in case the deer are tempted to cross it because they can sail pretty high. The hops are very unusual. They are very large. I took them down to Sonoma County for the first Heirloom Festival in Santa Rosa. Having grown up there, I knew there were hops everywhere. But these are quite unique, quite large. In your years of research, how many deer-resistant plants have you identified? There are a couple of hundred in my books. I’ve not written yet about herbs and shrubs — so well over 300. Everyone is asking for a volume 3 on shrubs. I have so many more photos than I did when I completed the first book, so the next one will revisit some of the plants discussed in the first two volumes (and will include the additional photos). It will include a section on shrubs. What can readers expect in your next book, “The Seasoned Gardener?” What I’m doing is taking past newspaper columns and expanding them — in some cases doubling them — so I can say everything I want to say on a particular subject. The book offers lots of gardening advice. It is organized in a month-by-month format. I’m adding activities so people can track what to do on a month-to-month basis. There will be many photographs. I’m shooting for late October publication, but it could possibly be as late as November. It will be out before Christmas. Then I’ll be doing the Auburn Home Show next spring. Where are your books published? I publish all my books and I am a member of the Independent Book Publishers Association. Volume 2 of “Deer in my Garden” took me all the way to New York City as a finalist — up against the big publishers. To end up in the Plaza Hotel with “Deer in My Garden” sitting there as one of the top three was really exciting. That was for the Benjamin Franklin Award in 2010. Is there some basic common sense advice for creating a deer-resistant garden? Actually there is. Something I discovered between writing the two books is that the use of nitrogen fertilizer makes any plant more appealing to deer. Even a plant on the list in my book, if it is fed with nitrogen fertilizer, it will create something in the plant itself that is more attractive to the deer. There is a theory that it is the salts. I discovered that when deer ate something I had brought in for a landscape client and I knew it was deer resistant. I spent half a year finding out why and then saw that they ate the fertilized one and not the other one. What are some of your favorite deer-resistant plants? I love the ornamental grasses. Some people think ornamental grasses would be appealing to the deer. I have tried many ornamental grasses and never had the deer eat any of them. I’ve used them for different clients and the deer have left them alone. Similarly euphorbias and the hellebores — I love those. I’ve never had the deer eat any of them. All forms of creeping thymes are outstanding. What are some of the most unique ones? One that I have is called Jerusalem sage. It is not a sage. It’s phlomis and it is a beautiful evergreen perennial. It comes on strong with beautiful soft yellow flowers. When it fades, the seeds on it are very beautiful for the winter. What is your favorite part of gardening? My favorite aspect is the peace that it brings people. For me personally, the same is true but I would add also that I love to be outside. My day almost always starts in my vegetable garden and it’s there I really connect with everything in our world. Then I have to move on to work and write. But it is that connection with the natural world that is so significant for me. What is your approach to teaching? People come from all over because I have hundreds of deer-resistant plants. I teach them how to propagate and then they go out into the garden and get cuttings. I watch over their cuttings for a few weeks until they have rooted. Then students come back and pick up their flats and go home with 100 to 135 plants each time. Singer’s very full schedule goes beyond writing, speaking and consulting. She does her own photography for her articles and books. She’s also a revegetation consultant for the Nevada Irrigation District, where she’s working on hydro-seeding of native grasses in certain areas and replanting natives where a pipeline has been installed through properties. During the summer she teaches classes at Peaceful Valley Farm Supply in Grass Valley. She also teaches a propagation class in her own garden. ----------- For more information on “Deer in my Garden” vols. 1 and II, and the upcoming “The Seasoned Gardener,” visit carolynsingergardens. com