R.I.P., 'Thomas' Sanders Blue

by Neal Sanders
Leaflet Contributor

He wasn’t even thirty inches high and he had barely settled in as part of the family. Finding him that cold morning, savagely mauled and mutilated, I could only think of what might he might have become when he grew up. He was a victim of pointless violence and a public mindset that those who killed him are themselves innocent victims that cannot be held responsible for their actions.

Picea glauca ‘Sanders Blue’, a dwarf Alberta spruce with bright slate-blue needles, came to us in March; a gift from a friend who spotted it at a specialty nursery. Apart from its striking appearance, the ‘Sanders’ moniker is also our own. The ‘Thomas’ name was always an inside joke. For years, some marketing list-maker has suffered under the delusion that there is a teenager named ‘Thomas’ living at out address, and we get a steady stream of mailed offers for SAT test prep and technical school enrollment. When Sanders Blue arrived, we decided that this must be the long-awaited ‘Thomas’ prophecied by our postal carrier.

The tag said Thomas would do best in full sun and there is only one spot on our property that meets that requirement. And so we pulled out some uninvited, self-seeded rudbeckia from a planting bed by the street, giving Thomas a fitting site, a bucket of compost, and ample water.

Is that the tree you want
Artist's rendering of the culprit
Our property abuts several square miles of town conservation watershed and that land is infested with deer. ‘Infested’ is not too strong a word. There are hundreds of them and, like most suburban towns around Boston, hunting is prohibited.

We deal with the deer two ways. When we see them on our property, we run, scream and throw rocks at them. Because the deer would otherwise retreat just a few feet into the woods, we make a point of pursuing them until they are several hundred yards from our property line. But this is only effective during daylight hours when we can see them, or when we are home.

Our second, and more effective line of defense, is a product whose active ingredients are putrefied eggs and other nasty stuff. During the gardening season, we mix up as many as three gallons of the stuff and spray it once a month on everything that we care about. It smells awful for about three hours. Then it dries and the smell goes away, or at least abates to the human nose. To deer, it continues to smell and taste unpleasant. It is sufficiently effective that we have watched deer nose up to a hosta, start to take a nibble, then back off.

The plan is that the deer learn to avoid us, passing down accumulated wisdom from generation to generation. (“Pay attention, Bambi. The people who live here are crazy. They yell and throw rocks and their plants taste terrible.”)

Gingerbread Competition
Sanders Blue 11-23-10 after being mauled by Bambi
But this autumn we let our guard down. We cleared the perennial beds, then mulched them with chopped leaves, leaving little for any critter to eat. The vulnerable evergreens were fenced, but Thomas seemed too small to attract attention. Had we been more diligent, perhaps Thomas would have been spared. Then again, being out on the street made him visible – and therefore vulnerable - to the deer that populate our neighbors’ lawns and gardens.

The photo shows the extent of the damage. The deer ate not only the needles (which have no nutritional value) but also the bark. There is no recovery from such an attack. Thomas is a goner.

This weekend, I’ll dig him out and take the carcass to the compost pile at the back of the property. I’ll do so with a sense of resignation that a hunter with a bow and arrow might have saved Thomas. Or even a well-aimed rock.

Neal Sanders is a frequent contributor to the Leaflet. We encourage you to read his contributions to our In the Gardens Blog where he focuses on interesting cultivars that can found in the Elm Bank gardens. Neal's first novel, Murder Imperfect, has been published. You can learn more about it here or order it through Amazon.com.