down to earth – on gardening with a dog

This was already published here on 2-10-11 but I thought it might be better avec photos of The Noodle.

Dogs put us outside, not the other way around

I read somewhere once that it’s impossible to have a garden if you share the land with a dog. Baloney. Such anti-canine sentiment smacks of pro-feline propaganda and although cats are picturesque, they have extremely smelly poo, are murderous of wildlife, and just as knuckleheaded about sampling poison as any dog – or child for that matter. Not that I have anything against cats. In fact, I believe that keeping pets, no matter what species, is a natural extension of our gardening way-of-life, the same way eating locally grown food is.

I have three fur-covered “kids”. A couple of LOLcats manage my indoor garden and have a truly ingenious way of alerting me when houseplants need repotting. Our mutt on the other hand is perennially unfazed by the cats’ horticultural enthusiasm and seems to prefer accompanying me on garden tours around town to tending his own patch. Not incidentally, a dog at the end of your leash is the best camouflage there ever was for stopping to study other gardeners’ most interesting plant combinations.

To their discredit dogs are best known for digging, chasing, eating disgusting things, peeing and pooping and unfortunately none of those talents is welcome in most gardens. But dogs also have an adorable knack for napping belly-up in a sunbeam. I am a firm believer that a tired dog is a good dog and after Nino’s and my twice-daily hour-long walks neither of us is capable of doing much damage in the garden.

I don’t put the dog out in the yard to just to pee or leave him in the garden for a whole day unsupervised – and never tied up. That’s just asking for holes dug to China along with aggressive anti-social behavior according to most animal behaviorists. Instead he and I hang out together and work as a sort of team. Nino has let me know that if I allow reseeders and weeds to block his entry to a cool under-deck hideout, he will create a new path by uprooting something far more precious. Good to know.

He obligingly chases the woodchuck away from my cabbage patch and although he won’t yank my shoulder out of its socket in pursuit of squirrels while we’re walking, he has an implicit understanding that they’re fair game in the garden. Nino also marks the perimeter and I hope that the neighborhood raccoons and cats might eventually take the hint and scram.

So far Nino’s favorite forage has been uncut lawn grass and if he had the digestion of a goat, I’d hire him to shear it. But the scamp also grazed a pretty little Hakonechloa macra (Japanese forest grass) to nubs. After I moved what was left of that plant though, he stopped eating it. I’ve known other dogs with cravings for things like tomatoes, broccoli, compost and hosta, and plenty of gardeners who chose to plant in raised beds. One of my favorite gardens ever was a tiny one filled with big English sheepdogs and a grid of chair-height planting boxes, which now that I think about it probably had more to do with keeping the ladies from reclining on the annuals and perennials than eating them.

Despite, or perhaps because of the challenges, most of the gardeners I know have dogs. Famously, there’s Christopher Lloyd of Great Dixter who had his dachshunds’ portraits drawn in an ironically large mosaic for a terrace floor; Martha Stewart – enough said; and if it wasn’t for Tasha Tudor who stated the obvious when she said that corgis make good garden ornaments I might still be exclusively pro-kitteh.

In winter, Nino spends more quality time in the garden than I do. He bounds like a deer to monitor wildlife activity, and eats snow while I stamp my feet impatiently. It could probably be said that one of the best reasons for sharing the garden with a dog is because they put us out in it, all year round.