Coping with a dog in the garden.
ROUTING THE TRAFFIC
Rather than worrying about dog-proofing every square inch of your garden, you can take a laissez-faire approach to most of it. Then you can defend smaller battlegrounds - a bulb bed, a vegetable plot, prize dahlias - more vigorously.
On an average-size suburban Portland lot, Donn Callaham has a handsome garden in which three dogs romp. Callaham realized that they always wanted to be at the property's edge, barking, sniffing, monitoring. He surrounded his property with a sturdy but see-through fence of cedar posts and chain link. All plantings along the garden's perimeter are 2 to 3 feet from the fence, giving the dogs a complete run. Gaps at 15-foot intervals allow the pooches to get on and off their freeway. "No more knocked-down shrubs or perennials," says Mr. Callaham.
In Cliff Kaylor's garden in Eugene, Oregon, narrow-gauge bamboo stakes detour Babe. Six 18-inch-long stakes (set 6 inches deep) make a semicircle around a planting of ferns and camass bulbs. In six months, they changed the traffic pattern. Says Kaylor, "Those stakes are inexpensive, easy to move, tough, good looking if at all noticeable. Yet to Babe they're like the Berlin Wall."
Wire fencing, chicken wire, and bird netting work well, too, and are inexpensive and easy to move. They let air and sunlight into the plants but say "Stay out!" to a dog.
PLANTING FOR FIDO OR FIFI
Like children and burglars, dogs hate stickers. A strategically placed rose, pyracantha, or mahonia can be the answer to a gardener's thorniest problems. A pyracantha hedge around a perennial bed, berberis sprouting at the outside corner of the lot and used as background to a begonia planting, a band of ground-cover juniper between lawn and a collection of dwarf rhododendrons - all seemed to have voodoo power over resident and itinerant canines.
Unknown properties make epimedium a fine deterrent to passing male dogs. For years, Seattle gardener Bonnie Werrbach was exasperated by their marking her front-yard cottage garden. Then she flanked the walkway with epimedium. "Since then I haven't had a wet leaf. I don't know what it does, but it works! Dogs stop, sniff the leaves, and trot on." Many dogs are suspicious of viny ground covers like ivy or vinca. They'll walk into them cautiously but rarely charge through. These are good plants to put between lawn and beds of fragile plants. Fast-growing and resilient plants like star jasmine coexist well with active dogs.
PUT PLANTS OUT OF HARM'S WAY
Big containers put plants high and away from a wagging tail or an errant paw. Filled with soil, they're hard to knock over. Flue tiles used as containers have the advantage of letting the plant's roots go into the soil below. Lois Blalack of Newport Beach, California, gives added security to large Italian terra-cotta pots. She hammers a 2-foot-long metal reinforcing bar 9 to 12 inches straight down into the ground where the pot will stand, slips the pot's drain hole over the bar, and fills the pot with soil.
Raising a bed 18 to 24 inches is a quick and economical way to alter a course. "Off limits" can be a rocky road. A volleyball-size stone will guard any plant. As a replacement for lawn, small rocks may get flung around a bit, but they won't be torn out by the roots. A gravel surface slows dogs down; crushed rock, with its rough edges, works even better.
DEALING WITH DROPPINGS
For most dog owners, nothing replaces the semiweekly patrol with a plastic bag and large trowel. "You can isolate your work," says Seattle veterinarian Ken Bible. "Dogs generally feel nature's call after eating and sleeping. Temporarily fence off a section of your garden and take the dog there when you let him out. He'll sniff around and know he's gone there before. When you remove the fence in a few months, he'll frequent that area out of habit."
Finally, if your pooch or a visiting dog urinates on the lawn, causing dead patches of grass, use a spreading grass that repairs itself, or replant the affected spots with seed or sod.