A Watchdog’s Garden

A large family dog and an avid gardener don’t necessarily make for a peaceful team in any backyard, but there are ways of establishing a truce that can be lived with.

Tips for dog-friendly gardens:

Dogs always identify specific pathways to run along while on patrol in the garden. Living with a small garden and a large sharpei, like our Zorro, I have learned the hard way not to design any focal points or plan for any plantings in the middle of these ‘barking and hunting routes’, as he will simply trash them. The solution was to create a narrow corridor along the boundaries for the dog to run, and the planting on either side of this doggy path has never been mauled at all!

If a dog persists in laying on your shade plants, plant them in pots next to his soil bed. If you elevate pots containing prized shade plants combined with seasonal colour like impatiens and begonias, by placing them on big cement building blocks, you will have created an interesting focal point that draws the eye away from the barren doggy area beside it.

Don’t leave hosepipe attachments (or the hosepipe!) lying around, as dogs big or small just love to chew on them and the hard plastic can be dangerous.

Dogs love toys, and if you leave a few sturdy rubber toys around the garden they will chew on them and not on your plants. Stuffed toys are not a good idea as they will tear and the stuffing, which can be swallowed, is not good for a puppy’s tummy. One of the most-loved toys in my garden is a half-flat leather rugby ball. Another is the soft, teddy-bear-shaped covering that used to clothe an old hot water bottle. Both are taken into the dog kennel at night, which tells me that even a watchdog needs comfort in the dark!

Young, bored puppies don’t mix well with new gardens in which plants and the lawn are not yet established. Wait to get your garden fairly established before you get a new pet, especially if it’s in the form of a large dog. If you’re moving to a new home with no established garden, and Rover the watchdog is already part of the family, it’s a good idea to lay instant lawn instead of planting lawn plugs or seeding a lawn.

Buying large backbone plants in bigger nursery bags can curb some digging up damage, especially if you can create a simple, temporary teepee structure out of poles or long sticks around them. Instead of using smelly bonemeal in the planting holes (which will attract dogs immediately) rather use superphosphate as a root-growth fertiliser.

Dense swathes of ornamental grass in the foreground of a plant bed, and layers of coarse mulch between plants, normally keep dogs out. Dogs in general love open patches of sandy soil to dig in. Mulching a mixed succulent bed with a thick layer of coarse gravel also discourages a dog from lounging in there.

Create ‘garden rooms’ and fence them off with a cheap wire fence covered in pretty creepers– I have often saved the lives of dainty annuals, bulbs, veggies and other plant collections by planting them in a part of my garden to which only I had access, via a sturdy garden gate. With a stern ‘stay!’ from you, your pet will soon realise that its human has moved into an area where dog company is not welcome. The ‘watcher’ will simply lie down and wait until you come out again.

If you’ve planted a dense low hedge, take a more relaxed approach by leaving a few openings in the hedge for the dog to jump through if he needs a quick, direct run towards a boundary fence. With time you’ll get used to these ‘hedge gates’, as long as you keep the rest of the hedge lush and neatly pruned. I have learned that a dog will go all out to jump a garden fence, but seldom jumps over a low hedge into the dense shrubs behind it.

When sowing seed or planting little annuals in a vulnerable spot, place a piece of wire mesh attached to short steel droppers horizontally, just above soil level, to give the young plants time to grow. Old burglar proofing panels also work well, as the dog won’t be able to walk over it. Some folks protect their plantings with thorny branches or spray their plants with home-made concoctions containing chillies. These are not kind solutions at all, as both can be a danger to the animal’s eyes (chillies) and paws (thorns).

Plants to keep your pet happy:

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) – Vitamin, iron and calcium supplement.

Bulbinella (Bulbine frutescens) – Grazes, stings and irritated skin.

Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) – Sprigs tucked under bedding keep ticks and fleas away.

Mint (Mentha spicata) – Travel sickness

Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) – Breath freshener, stomach smoother.

Oregano (Origanum vulgare) – Digestive aid – sprinkle lightly over food.

Basil (Ocimum basilicum) – Antioxidant, antiviral and antimicrobial.

Although plants with medicinal qualities can never replace the services of a vet when your watchdog is really feeling under the weather, you can use them for minor skin ailments or in small doses as a healthy supplement in their diets or doggy treats. And remember, you can put them to good use for yourself too.

The Gardener