For me, gardening with one of my "garden buddies" adds to my enjoyment. I wrote of losing my Shaca at Thanksgiving. She was inseparable from me and was always a fixture in my gardens as I worked. Before her, my dog Stranger helped supervise my efforts. Both of them loved to lie in a fresh garden bed and enjoy the cool soil when I allowed the opportunity. Now our new puppy Lily is beginning to take an interest in gardening.
|Lily helping me develop more garden beds.|
An important aspect of gardening with pets is to make the effort to train them for appropriate behavior. If your dog knows the command to get off the furniture, it's little effort to modify that training to get out of a raised bed; I worked with Lily on that and she learned quickly. If you've trained them to drop a ball or a shoe, it's easy for them to drop a garden glove or tomato when given the command. If they know to not eat the people food on the table, they'll learn not to eat the people food in the garden.
Recognize that animals don't instinctively understand the concept of borders or expensive flowers or "wait until harvest." When Shaca was young she loved to run into the house with a big green tomato in her mouth. For her it was just like a tennis ball and she was ready to play, but for me it was another ravaged tomato. With concerted effort I was able to train her to leave the tomatoes alone and never again had that problem.
For one beautification project I constructed a little winding stone path that led to the vegetable garden gate and fully expected the dogs to figure it out. They never did. When running to the gate they took a straight-line approach through whatever plants were in their way. I lessened the impact on some perennial beds by planting sturdy, prickly bushes like Barberry in the most obvious intersections of their travels. Stone benches and big pots worked in other places.
Recognizing their patterns can help. At our new house I took the time to identify the paths they travel. This time when I put in a stone path I placed it on top of the path they had worn into the lawn. I reduced the damage to the grass, added a decorative path, and let their tendencies affect my plans.
Years ago I made many attempts to grow shade plants at the base of a big Silver Maple in the backyard. One day I spent the entire morning planting ground covers and low flowers. I ran to the nursery for more flowers and upon my return witnessed devastation. There was no sign that a single plant ever existed in that space. A squirrel entered the tree shortly after my departure and Shaca spent the entire time leaping for the squirrel and ripping out the plantings in the process. I soon abandoned trying to grow anything there except in pots. When it came to squirrels and that tree, there was no stopping Shaca's enthusiasm.
|Shaca jumping for a squirrel in the locust tree.|
You can remedy most situations by anticipating that damage will happen. I fenced my previous vegetable garden to keep the dogs out, except when I was with them. A fence goes up around my new vegetable garden soon. They'll leave the tomatoes alone and stay out of the beds when they know you're looking, but when on the trail of a scent in your absence they don't pause to think about their course. A low fence is all you need to keep pets where you want them.
It's easier to break bad habits by not encouraging them. It's fun to watch a young dog dig a hole with passion, but they don't understand the difference between a bare spot that is being tilled and a treasured bed filled with imported lilies; digging is just digging to them so don't let it start. Few things are as disgusting as being on your hands and knees planting bulbs and finding a cat's "gift" deposited in the soil beneath your fingers. If you have a cat, take every effort to let them know that the garden isn't a bathroom.
You can ensure zero damage by leaving pets in the house or in a fenced run and never letting them roam the yard. That's an option, but not one to which I adhere. My deer problem is not as bad as it could be because our dogs roam, leave their scent, and make their presence known. Though Shaca caused some damage chasing squirrels, I never had the squirrels cause any damage to my plants.
Having pets in your garden is about creating a partnership. You're the senior partner and it's up to you to set the rules. By being firm with your training you can develop a sense of protection in your pet. Your dog will chase away the birds raiding your strawberries or the deer chewing your bushes. Shaca accidentally dug up one of my young lavenders once, but it was because she did a great shop digging for gophers and limiting their incursions in the garden.
|Shaca and Zeffer on watch by the raspberries.|
My personal focus is on dogs because that's what we have. Geese can be great protectors of your yard. Chickens will rid your garden of insects and weeds. Cats are known for their abilities to keep vermin at bay. Whatever your pet, let them be part of your gardening experience.
I know of gardeners who truly partner with their pets while gardening. Their dog will carry tools or vegetables in a pack. Dogs can pull carts and be taught to pull hoses. I haven't tried that yet and probably won't, but if you have the training skills it may be worth the effort.
Take the time to think about how you garden and how your pets are part of it. With a little effort you can make it more rewarding than it is now. I'm looking forward to gardening with Lily. And I'm sure she'll enjoy it too.