I have been both a gardener and a dog owner for the best part of a decade and up until recently these two aspects of my life coexisted peacefully, bar the odd indiscretion by India, my eldest Rhodesian ridgeback. There were occasional holes dug here and there. Seedlings trampled inadvertently. She once even developed a short lived predilection for pulling developing flower buds off their inflorescence with her teeth – not to eat them, mind you. She would just pull them off, spit them out, sniff them, and then continue until there were no buds left. The only explanation I could come up with was that she just didn’t like Asiatic lilies. These were the kinds of cute indiscretions I was used to – the quirky and easily forgiven kind. I look upon that past as an idyllic time in the garden compared to the fate that has recently befallen us. You see, about three months ago we got another dog and gardening has turned into something of a battle of wits ever since.
We got Whisky, then a 10 month old ridgeback, from a shelter and were surprised at how well she settled in with our 13 year old ridgy, India. We imagined, somewhat foolishly in hindsight, that the old dog would introduce the new dog to the rules of the household and show her a thing or two. Like demonstrating to her that doing your business in the house was not the done thing, or digging a hole or running through the vegetable patch was a big no-no. What never occurred to us was the possibility that the influence might run the other way, resulting in our greying lady of 13 rediscovering her puppy side in the presence of the new and boisterous Whisky.
That’s pretty much where we now find ourselves, masters hanging by the very last shreds of sanity, trying to keep a lid on the canine rambunctiousness. The garden has suddenly become an area of great interest to the dogs, much to my horror. I recently spent a great deal of care preparing two vegetable beds for planting out in a couple of weeks’ time. The day was perfect for such a task, one of the first hot days of Melbourne’s warming Spring. I cleared out the last of the harvestable crops, weeded, dug in manures, composted and mulched. Needless to say by the end of it I was feeling very relaxed and satisfied, despite reeking of aged animal excrement. All such feelings of serenity were dashed the following morning.
The first visual sign was dirt on the kitchen tiles, although the crunchy texture underfoot between the bedroom and the kitchen made me pretty sure that something untoward had gone on in the night. Suddenly realising what had happened, I dashed outside only to be confronted by the gardening equivalent of Dresden. The lovingly prepared vegetable beds had been torn apart, turned over and thoroughly mucked about in. Mulch was everywhere. You couldn’t see the decking owing to the sheer volume of soil, manure and mulch tossed asunder. I could have cried. There was nothing to do but calmly reassemble the beds, which owing to the mess made, felt like trying to put humpty dumpty together again. And build a dog-proof fence – something I hate doing because it always looks ugly, which is probably due to the slipshod manner in which I erect them. Vegetable gardening is all about utilitarianism, but having to build a dog fence around it is, for me, a utilitarian step taken too much at the expense of aesthetics.
So now I have a planted-out vegetable bed with an ugly fence and a whole lot of other problems to contend with. Seeing as the dogs find manure irresistible I’m left looking at ornamental beds where I know I’ve dug it in previously and thinking, “Will my echiums be next?” Not only that but seeing as the dogs are actually eating the manure, I can’t use snail bait safely (not that I use it that much any way). With plans afoot to redesign the backyard once we knock down the impossibly large shed, I’m now dreading having to establish a new garden in the presence of these monsters of which I am supposedly master.
There are ways you can tip the balance in your favour, of course. Using compost instead of manure and using liquid fertilisers is a good start. Compost doesn’t hold the same fascination for dogs as manure does, making them far less likely to dig it up. Having clearly defined boundaries with plants and landscaping is a good way to direct dogs to stick to certain areas, though plants take time to establish. Keeping a ‘run’ around the border of your backyard can also go a ways to keeping your dog (and you) sane and less likely to misbehave. The ‘run’ is just a half-meter gap that can be left around all or some of the perimeter of your garden, giving your dog access to patrol the boundaries of your yard (hopefully) without traipsing through your garden. Well thought-out garden beds to direct the dog into certain ‘run’ access points can make the world of difference, and hide the run for those with aesthetically sensitive eyes.
I can’t guarantee that any of this will stop your dog from messing about in your garden, but they all help to tip the scales in your favour. I also suspect every dog is different, requiring new and more inventive strategies to dissuade them from ruining your gardening efforts (that hopefully don’t involve my specialty, make-shift fencing). With each dog comes a unique battle of wits, and is seems mine has only just begun. Wish me luck!
Until next time, happy gardening.