When I was growing up we had a red chow dog called Tanya. Chows have a thick furry coat so keeping cool in summer is a priority. Tanya made a shallow dug out area in the cool soil under the crabapple where she could stretch out on hot days. Some months after she died we noticed a mass of flowers under the tree right where she used to lie. Looking at them my mother remembered she had planted bulbs there many years before, but assumed they’d died.
We realised that Tanya had actually flattened them every year so they’d never flowered. Each year the flowering bulbs are a reminder of our wonderful dog, however their appearance underlines the basic incompatibility of dogs and gardens. The flowers couldn’t grow and bloom while we had the dog, but thrived when she’d gone!
Planning for the dog
Dogs love to be in the garden where they can dig, run, jump or just lie about. In the process, plants get trampled, broken and squashed.
So how do you have a garden and a dog? My solution was to get a bigger garden, but that’s not always practical and doesn’t necessarily solve the problems. Even in bigger gardens, the dogs still ran through hedges and garden beds, lay on top of precious plants and foraged for strawberries and cherry tomatoes.
When I am working in the garden, they love to lend a helping paw – often digging up the plants I’ve just put in. I get them to dig planting holes for me so they are help rather than a hindrance.
As well as redirected digging, zoning helps our garden survive the dogs. We erect barriers to prevent the dogs from romping where they’ll cause damage. Gates make the vegie patch a no-go area while temporary wire keeps them away as hedges grow 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. With careful planting you can leave a dog zone along the fence that’s concealed with shrubs. Plant the garden 60cm to a metre out from the fence to make a mulch path for the dogs to run along.
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 is easier to dig it up and move it than to have a turf war with the dog.
One spot my dogs have zeroed in on in our new garden is a patch where the wandering jew (Tradescantia alba) has gained a foothold. The dogs love its lush cool stems, but it’s a skin irritant so I am working on removing it completely.
[Note – this blog was first published in Jennifer Stackhouse’s garden column in the TasWeekend in The Mercury.]