Growing flowers, fruits and vegetables here in Idaho can test your gardening skills, with the weather, the weeds and the bugs. But if you live in or around the foothills at the edge of the Treasure Valley, the steep hillsides and the wildlife can make growing a garden especially challenging.
Today on "You Can Grow It," garden master Jim Duthie visits with a Boise foothills gardener who has found a successful way to grow a garden on a steep hillside, and at the same time, protect it from the hungry deer that want to snack on her vegetables.
Idaho gardeners sometimes face a variety of challenges, one of them being the wildlife in the foothills, and also, the vertical landscape. We’ve got some ideas that you may be able to use.
Living along the Boise foothills offers incredible views of the city and the Treasure Valley below, but it can be difficult to grow a garden on the steep hillsides.
So, Caroline Bryan and her husband Thor came up with a garden design that not only works well for their vertical landscape, but also protects their plants from the deer and other wildlife that would turn her garden into a vegetable smorgasbord.
“So the first year we built one bed and came out one morning to find all of our plants just mowed over by the deer," said Caroline. "So we frantically went and got chicken wire and made this little – we called it the covered wagon – where we could lift it up and get in, and so that seemed to work and keep the deer away. So the following year, my husband built these beautiful covers to keep the deer out, and it’s been very successful.”
The design is attractive and practical. The frames are built into the steep hillside, and are enclosed with wire mesh that keeps the deer out, but allows pollinators to get in. The garden is accessible through full-size doors, so Caroline can easily get inside and work in the garden.
There are also large hinged windows that allow access to the garden from the outside of the frames.
“My husband really came up with the idea for the structures, and I think he went on the internet also and just kind of got an idea how to build that structure to enclose it and keep the deer out and make sure we could get in and access the fruits and take care of it,” she said.
That solved the problem with the deer and the steep terrain, but then there was another challenge.
“Water. Trying to keep the water from coming out into the grass.”
They solved that problem by lining the lower walls of the garden beds with fabric weed barrier. It still lets the water through, but holds the garden soil in.
The deer can’t get to Caroline’s garden now, but they do make a meal off some of the neighbors’ vegetables.
“And it’s kind of give and take in the neighborhood here, the way we share. The deer kind of munch on Bob and Cheryl’s tomatoes up there. However, the squash bugs seem to have taken to my plants and theirs have been saved. So I’m sacrificing my squash plants this year, and they’re having some lovely squash. So they share their squash with me when it comes up.”
And Caroline shares her tomatoes with them.
“Yeah, and I just keep killing squash bugs, and it seems to work out very well.”
Caroline, who hails from New Orleans, says it’s been a new experience coming from the South and learning to grow a garden here in Idaho, and to deal with the changing seasons. But she’s still managed to grow a taste of home in her hillside garden. Like okra, a staple in southern vegetable gardens, but maybe not so common here in Idaho.
“It’s nice to have the little cucumbers growing in here, growing up that trellis, and then this is a volunteer butternut from last year that just popped up.”
But her favorite crop is her tomatoes.
“Because I love to make the spaghetti sauces and just cook tomatoes.”
“I’m glad I did so many tomatoes this year, because as short as the season seems to be, I’ll get a lot, because instead of just doing a few tomato plants, I’ll have a whole bunch all at once.”
There are lots of stairs around the side of her house up the hill to the backyard, and Caroline has made good use of the space, planting a large herb garden along one wall of the house, which is easily accessible from the steps that lead up the hill to the garden.
Caroline has had a career as a professional athlete, and she and her husband maintain a very active lifestyle. Growing her own garden has been important because she is health conscious, and likes the fact that she is eating fresh food that she grows herself.
“So if I’m not going to use it, absolutely, you know, the neighbors get it,” she said. “And it’s been a nice calming hobby.”
Made all the easier, thanks to a creative, attractive, and workable garden design.
Just a few ideas on what you can do with challenging areas of garden growing here in the Treasure Valley.
If you have some unique garden designs that you’d like to share with other viewers, Jim would love to hear about them. Send us your pictures and a little description of your project to: