How to Have a Great Garden and Happy Pets

Posted on April 11, 2016 By

I love working in my garden when my cat Fluff is sitting watching me. I am sure she loves the fact that I am doing all the work and she is doing none. She is my overseer, making sure I do a good job. I am lucky, she hasn’t really done much damage. I can’t really think of anything really precious she has ruined. But this is not always the case, as in some gardens I have worked in were constantly being trashed by the owner’s pets. This can be very frustrating and also very expensive as the plants are constantly being replaced. In large gardens destruction can be hidden but in small gardens you don’t have any where to hide the damage. Choosing the right pet is also important as working dogs get bored easily and can become very destructive. Pets especially dogs need somewhere where they can dig, roll and bury bones. Cats also need somewhere where they can go to the loo, sleep under plants and lie out in the sun if they so please.

If you are trying to design a good garden, then you need to put some thought into the type and size of pet you have and what their needs are. It is very unfair to have a dog in small back yard, that is completely paved and where there no spots where they can lie or dig. You need to designated an area that is the ‘pets space’ and if you have special beds, then you may need to thinking about fencing off these beds. It doesn’t need to look awful, in fact if you choose wisely, you may not even notice the fencing. I looked after a garden, where two beautiful golden retrievers lived and I used green chicken wire to keep them off the garden beds. After a while, I didn’t even notice it there, as the plants had grown through it and it had blended in.

It is a good idea to draw a plan, even a rough one (not to scale) where you work out the various rooms of your garden. There may be an entertaining area, grass area, garden area and a pets place. This is the time to decide whether you are going to have a special pets space or share the entire garden with your furry friend. The best time to design a pets space, is in the beginning, when you are designing the overall garden. But even within an established garden, you can incorporate a pets run. If you decide on a run, it is important to observe where north/south/east/west lies and work out the hot sunny spots and cold windy spots. You need to provide them with a comfortable area with protection from extreme weather conditions.There needs to be some kind of shelter like a kennel with the opening facing away from the prevailing wind, so they can escape the cold and rain. You also need to think about the sun and shade, especially in summer and have somewhere cool they can go, to get away from the hot summer sun. Within the enclosure, there also needs to be a space where dogs can be dogs without getting in trouble because they have damaged your plants. Wherever you place you pet’s enclosure make sure you don’t accidentally make it the focal point of the garden.

Location of the enclosure is the most important aspect. If it is facing north or northwest make sure that there is some sort of shade such as a mature tree or shade cloth to allow your pet to escape the hot summer sun. Dogs especially love to dig holes in the soil to escape the heat so don’t pave the entire area. Planting a lawn is also a good idea as dogs love to roll and it will also help keep them and their space cooler. Initially you may need to wire off the lawn area to get it established. Grasses such as buffalo, kikuyu and couch are very tough and able to withstand a lot more punishment than the finer grasses such as fescue or rye.

To build an enclosure you can use materials like tea tree or bushwood fencing or a good quality trellis. You must make sure that the fence is securely anchored to the ground, because in wild weather it may blow or fall over and your pet/s escape. If you decide to barricade off the garden beds there are several wire products available. Green coated chicken wire works perfectly. Another more aesthetically pleasing option which is more suitable for smaller animals such as rabbits, is a wire border-fencing product. It is an interlocking system with a range of heights, the highest being ½ a meter.

Once you have established your pet’s playground, the next step is to consider the plants. Many common garden plants are toxic to animals and the internet is a good place to search for information. For example one very common species is Oleander (Nerium oleander). Every part of this plant is poisonous, from the leaves, flowers to the branches. Others are Azaleas (Rhododendron spp.), Ivy’s (Hedera spp.), the indoor plant Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum walliasi) and bulbs like Hyacinths (Hyacinthus spp.) and Daffodils (Naicissus spp.).Remember, many animals like to chew sticks, so don’t put poisonous plants into their enclosure.

If you decide to not to build an enclosure and want to share the entire garden with your pet but still want a nice garden, then here are some hints:

  • Don’t plant delicate annuals
  • Don’t plant small 3inch tubes buy at least 6inch and even better 8inch pots.
  • The plants will be bigger and able to survive being bounced on better
  • If you dog/cat keeps trashing one area, give in gracefully and let them have that space
  • Put your annuals and bulbs in pots
  • Train your friend to keep off the bed and go to the lool in the one area
  • Training your dog is the best way to control the damage in your garden
  • Plant spiky or prickly plants – one experience of prickles will teach them to stay off
  • Manage boredom – animals especially dogs are intelligent and need to be occupied
  • Responsible ownership includes providing mental stimulation for your pet
  • Squirting water at your dog or cat is a gentle way of teaching them, NOT THERE

From my experience cats don’t seem to do as much damage in the garden, although there is always an exception to the rule. The only damage my cat Fluff has done is chewed some of my ornamental grasses. So, I provided her with her very own pot of Kangaroo grass (Themeda australis) to chew on. She likes to climb in, sit down (you can now see a dint where her bottom has been) and eat the grass.

Lawns take a huge battering (mainly from dogs) from being dug up to having brown patches, which can look most unsightly. Digging is a natural instinct but can often be an indication of boredom so you need to organise activities that entertain Rover such as more frequent walks or rubber toys packed with food. Trying to get the food out will help keep Rover amused for hours. Brown spots on the lawn are an indication that the urine is too acidic (usually female dogs). There are several things you can do. One is to change your dogs food and buy a less acid product or buy Dog Rocks® and place them in their water bowl which neutralises the pH of the dogs urine.

You can live harmoniously with your pets and share your garden with them too. Through careful planning, you can design a garden that is pet friendly and resistant to damage. It is important to locate your ‘pets room’ in the best position you can and choose plants that are safe. As a professional gardener, I find there is nothing nicer than sharing my garden with my cat Fluff and having a fantastic looking garden.

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