This column is dedicated to my dog Sherman, who lived almost 13 years, until he just ran out of gas. Sherman was a black Labrador/border collie mix who had more energy than any dog I have ever seen, and the most pleasant disposition, loving all people who came to the door. In Hebrew, the word for dog is kelev, which combines two words, one meaning “all” and the other meaning “heart.” Sherman was all heart.
Sherman was a good dog. And I could not get mad at him, over the years, for destroying a significant amount of lawn and garden. Ultimately, I ceded the backyard to him and channeled all horticultural efforts into the front. From this cautionary tale, it would seem there is no way for gardens and dogs to co-exist, but is this really true? Research on the subject reveals a number of ways to make a yard and garden friendly to canine creatures.
If all else fails, you can literally put your dog in clover. White clover makes a wonderful lawn substitute and stands up well, or recovers well, from dog traffic. You have surely seen white clover at one time or another. It has unmistakable white gum drop flowers and deep green, trifoliate, shamrock leaves. Often, in a rather yellow lawn, you will see outcroppings of lush clover. The reason for the dark green color of the clover foliage is that clover is a legume, which means that it manufactures its own nitrogen. Thus, lots of clover in a yellow lawn is an indication of nitrogen deficiency since the only plant that prospers is clover, which does not need supplemental fertilizer to flourish.
If you insist on having a traditional lawn, one recommended procedure, although tedious, is to lay chicken wire or plastic mesh over the soil. Bury the edges of the wire or the mesh deep and then lay sod over the top. When your dog digs in the lawn and encounters the wire or mesh, he will be discouraged from continuing with his excavation. You will still have to watch your dog while he frolics on the lawn, since his urine will cause brown spots unless you immediately hose down those spots after your dog has left. Keep in mind that rye and fescue (Marathon) lawns are the most dog-sensitive, while tropical, ropy, rhizomatous grasses, such as St. Augustine, Bermuda and Kikuyu, are more resistant to canine damage.
From a dog’s point of view, borders – long planter beds found either around the edges of a lawn or running the length of a walkway or property line – should be composed of scruffy types of plants where dogs can feel at home without causing damage.
In this regard, the first category of plants that come to mind are ornamental grasses, in which dogs can both forage and, in the taller types, find shade. You do not have to sacrifice color to go with grasses, as many blues, reds and golds, in addition to the greens, are available. Greenlee Nursery (www.greenleeenursery.com), in Pomona, has the most complete selection of ornamental grasses you will find. Visits are by appointment only. Perennials such as Shasta daisy and butterfly bush (Buddleia) are also dog friendly.
To make a landscape dog-friendly, you can create passageways under a deck and even fence in an area within the garden that will be reserved for your pet. Make the fence around the dog’s area easy to see through so that he will not become agitated from not knowing what is going on around him. You can even put a kiddie pool in there so he can cool off on hot summer days.