Dog Friendly Gardens
When I was a kid we had a chow dog called Tanya. She made a shallow dug out area in the cool soil under the crabapple where she stretched out on hot days.
Some months after she died a mass of flowers bloomed under the tree right where she used to lie. They were bulbs mum had planted years before that had never flowered. Tanya had flattened them every year so they’d never been able to grow and bloom.
Each year those flowers are a magical reminder of our wonderful dog. They also underline the fundamental incompatibility between gardens and dogs. The flowers couldn’t grow and bloom while we had the dog, but thrived when she’d gone!
Planning For Your Dog
For your dog, the garden is its place to dig, run, jump or just lie about. In the process, plants get trampled, broken and squashed.
Zoning helps our garden survive our dogs. We erect wire barriers – simple affairs of wire mesh and stakes - to stop the dogs from romping where they’ll cause damage. Gates make the vegie patch a no-go area while temporary wire keeps them away while a hedge grows or a plant gets established. The barriers also train them, as they stay clear even when the fences are removed.
Dogs also love running along the boundary lines – especially if they can bark at the dogs next door. Normally plants are trampled. Solve the problem by leaving a dog running zone along the fence behind the garden shrubs. Plant the garden 60cm to a metre out from the fence and make a mulch path where the dogs can run without damaging any plants.
Dogs also love to lend a helping paw when you work in the garden – often digging up plants you’ve just put in. I get my dogs to dig planting holes for me so they are a help rather than a hindrance.
If you have a dog that digs up new plantings, protect the plant until it has become established and the dog has forgotten about it. Surround it with a temporary wire cage or stakes wrapped with shadecloth.
I’ve also learnt to leave space for the dogs to have their summer dugouts like the one Tanya created under our childhood crabapple. If a plant looks as if it is going to be damaged by over zealous digging or languid lounging, it’s easier to dig it up and move it than to have a turf war with the dog.
Good Plants, Bad Plants
Soft, flexible plants that tolerate regular pruning or shoot from the base are the best choices near pathways. Daises, grasses and other clump-forming plants such as agapanthus are fairly dog proof and if damaged quickly recover.
Avoid displaying potted plants or ornaments on edges or ledges where a running dog or a wagging tail may knock them over.
Remove plants that are likely to cause skin irritations such as wandering Jew (Tradescantia), honeysuckle and ivy. Also dangerous are plants with berries or stems that are toxic. Berries on yesterday today and tomorrow (Brunfelsia spp.) are highly attractive to dogs but also toxic. If you have a dog, don’t plant it in your garden. If you have one growing, prune it right after flowering to remove the spent flowers before any berries form.