The Deer Have Seats at the Hanover Garden Buffet

Have you heard about the new All-You-Can-Eat Buffet in Hanover?

It is a vegetarian’s delight with delicious salads of only the freshest organic ingredients. The endless variety of mouth-watering, tender, leafy, greens is beautifully displayed among colorful seasonal flowers. The decor is surprising for such a casual place. Tucked in the back is a statue of Hebe, the Greek goddess of youth and cupbearer to the gods and goddesses on Mt. Olympus. A steady stream of water splashes from her goblet into the fountain basin below her, adding just one more sensory delight to the dining experience.

Here are some other features that set this new dining establishment apart from the rest. As popular as it is, you don’t need a reservation. It’s open 24/7. The dress is come-as-you-are. And it is all free.

There is just one small restriction. You must be related to Bambi or at least be a very close woodland friend. I’m sure that these customers have been coming here for years, about 6,000, give or take a century or two. But I’m sure the enhancements over the past 20 years have stimulated even larger appetites.

My love-hate relationship with the local wildlife started as soon as we moved to Hanover 21 years ago. We had just moved into our newly built house on the outskirts of town. Growing up in Brooklyn, I wasn’t familiar with wildlife — at least not the four-legged kind. My mother-in-law and I were sitting at the kitchen table having coffee when suddenly a small red fox burst from the woods behind the house and raced down the hill skidding to a stop just as he was about to hit the glass patio door to the kitchen. I jumped up and backed away from the door yelling “Oh my god, it’s a real fox,” and my mother-in-law, in her inimitable way, calmly continued to sip her coffee saying, “he’s probably thinking, who the hell put that house in my way?”

It was my first backyard wildlife sighting. I was so excited.

I also was such a fool. Twenty years and hundreds of dollars worth of landscape plantings later and the excitement has dulled. Turkeys, pheasants, deer, fox and bear, to name a few, have regularly gathered around the All-You-Can-Eat Buffet that our gardens so abundantly supply.

It’s not that I haven’t tried to dissuade them. The first thing I ask the nursery staff when I do my landscape shopping is show me anything that the deer won’t eat. They smile knowingly and recommend one annual or perennial after another. Nope, I say, they ate that. Nope, they ate that too. And that too, I say, until it is clear that the staff have now run out of the usual suggestions. So I sigh and stick with the one or two plants that have survived the voracious appetites of my woodland customers and just buy lots of them. That has been my only plan.

I sincerely appreciated the other suggestions from life-long New Englanders to deter my four-legged friends. They all swore by the effectiveness of each, but I had my doubts. What happens to the Irish Spring soap shavings when it rains? If there are no humans coming after them with weapons (which there are not), will they learn to just ignore the “beauty-shop-floor human hair deterrent?” And as for the wildest suggestion that my husband relieve himself on my plants….well, that just wasn’t going to happen, never, ever! We have been lucky lately that the foxes, pheasants, turkeys and even bear have pretty much stayed away, but for some reason the deer have taken a liking to me. Yes, I admit that I love looking at them. They are beautiful, elegant animals with big, soulful brown eyes. They come and drink out of Hebe’s fountain by the back patio. They stroll along the front walkway, munching on the selection of hostas that were in full bloom just days ago, trimming them with an uncanny precision. There is little to deter them, except my husband banging on the windows whenever he sees them and yelling at them to go back where they came from.

But they still love it here so much that recently they have been pressing their noses against the windowpanes. I was working in my office one day and had that sensation that someone was watching me. I looked over to the window and there was Bambi, just staring through the window, watching me talk on the phone. Every now and then she would turn to nibble on the lilac bush but then turn back to watch me gesturing wildly on the phone. I think she knew I was talking about her.

Later that evening, I was in the kitchen cooking dinner, and I glanced over to the living room window. There she was. She had climbed up onto the stone wall, standing in the raised flower beds and staring at me as if to say “What’s for dinner?” I couldn’t believe she was so unafraid and so contented to just stand there watching me cook; just one more embellishment to the All-You-Can-Eat-Buffet ... an open kitchen. I grabbed my phone and walked right up to the window and took her picture. I swear she smiled for me.

Now if I could just convince them all to leave a big tip.

Joanne Belviso Puckett lives in Hanover with her husband and woodland friends.