I adore gardening, and I love my dog. Fifteen years ago I retired with two goals. One was to learn more to enhance my townhouse garden, and the other was to get a dog. Fast forward 15 years, and I have a 14-and-a-half year-old toy poodle named Chocolat, and I have become a Green Spring Master Gardener. My garden is still a work in progress, and sweet Chocolat is my constant companion while I design, dig, prune, water and putter. When I was taking classes at Green Spring and studying at home, I also was learning about gardening with my best friend. A book I found helpful was Cheryl Smith’s Dog Friendly Gardens-Garden Friendly Dogs.
The Master Gardener mantra is “Right Plant-Right Place.” This could not be more accurate for sharing the garden with our furry friends. Dogs like to investigate and trot around plants. If you’re into training, teach “stay out of the beds.” Chocolat learned this very early. If you find yourself more tolerant of dog garden exploration, plant vigorous plants. Try, for example, coneflowers, black-eyed Susans, liriope, or Mexican primrose. A few tough shrubs include Pieris, laurel, and viburnum. Hollies and barberry are prickly bushes that might discourage some dogs. Do not plant any variety with sharp thorns or points. They might injure a dog’s eyes. If you have a specific plant question, find a Master Gardener at a Fairfax County Farmer’s Market or on Saturdays at Green Spring Gardens.
While you garden, stop and play with your dog. Provide him/her with outside toys. If you have space, give him a section to dig. Teach your dog to defecate in a specific area. Pick up fecal matter as quickly as possible to keep your dog healthy and to discourage rodents. I learned not to weed in front of Chocolat. She would copy my behavior and begin digging up flowers. Container gardens can be a good solution for pet friendly gardens.
Eco-Savvy gardening was a big part of the Master Gardener classes. I now always use nontoxic products. If you share the garden with your animal, you really need to be strictly organic. The National Institutes of Health found that canine lymphoma is significantly elevated in dogs exposed to lawn pesticides. Using cocoa mulch also can be harmful to your pet.
Last summer I thought the squirrels were eating my strawberries until I noticed Chocolat happily nibbling them off the bush. I shared this with a Master Gardener friend who told me her Golden Retriever loved raspberry canes. Chocolat is only five pounds, so she did leave some strawberries for the squirrels. The humans in the house got very few. I will put in more plants this season.
Do not leave your dog unsupervised in the garden. In our house, a big dog is called a “real” dog. Chocolat is tiny. She can’t be left alone because the neighborhood Cooper’s hawk finds her fascinating. He often flies low to investigate her. If you have a real dog, leaving him alone will probably encourage digging. Being in the garden with him can stop the digging before he makes a mess and thinks that it’s all fun and games.
A great deal of bonding can take place when you’re out in the yard with your four-legged friend. So get your plants and pet and enjoy the time outdoors.
Author Gioia Caiola Forman is a Green Spring Master Gardener.