Dog Gardens Improve Lawns for Canines and Humans

Mulch and fencing can help reduce doggie wear and tear and still look inviting for humans.

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Playground mulch is easy to rake and maintain in the wake of two boxers' restless paws.

Design a Garden With Dogs in Mind

Playground mulch is easy to rake and maintain in the wake of two boxers' restless paws.

Photo by: Image courtesy of Austin Ganim Landscape Design

Image courtesy of Austin Ganim Landscape Design

Playground mulch is easy to rake and maintain in the wake of two boxers' restless paws.

For all of the joy and affection they offer their human companions, rambunctious dogs can leave a manicured lawn looking ragged and unappealing.

Solutions and compromises can be reached, though, that please all of the lawn’s users. Consider a “dog garden,” such as these that were designed for the “canine clientele” of a pair of standard poodles in Stratford, Connecticut, and two boxers in nearby Fairfield.

“Both homeowners have these very playful, large-breed dogs with modest-sized, shady yards,” says Eva Chiamulera, a landscape architect with Austin Ganim Landscape Design in Fairfield. “The dogs were digging and wearing down the grass, compacting the soil and exposing large tree roots, making the yard muddy and unpleasantly lumpy and causing more dirt to get tracked into the house. The homeowners were not using their patios for those reasons, but, still, they wanted their dogs to be able to run and play and do all the things pups like to do.”

Children’s playground mulch makes an ideal carpeting for active paws. “It’s easy to rake, and it doesn’t clump,” Chiamulera says. “The transition between the play area and the planting beds is defined by a change in the color and type of mulch as well as a vertical edge, brick in one instance and black metal loops in the other.  These visual, tactile cues work to deter the dogs from running into the beds, but they’re flexible enough to bounce back without hurting the dogs in the process."

The homeowners also wanted vegetation to soften the fence-line, and the most important factor for any garden frequented by pets is toxicity.  A few common plants to avoid include: amaryllis, andromeda, skunk cabbage, rhododendron, foxglove, apple trees, peony, primrose,  St. John’s Wort, sweet pea, tulip, tobacco, wisteria and some—but not all—lilies. Boxwoods, too, are bad for boxers.

“The shade-tolerant plants that we use in these two gardens are astilbe, coral bells, summer sweet clethra, agastache and catmint, which is a relative of catnip,” Chiamulera says. Other pet-friendly plants include rose, African violet, bamboo, Boston fern, cape marigold, camellia, jasmine, hawthorn, phlox and pampas grass. 

Hydrangeas can cause minor indigestion and probably should be avoided with puppies in the chewing stage, but they usually do not present issues for older dogs who have outgrown that tendency. 

“We consult with homeowners to find out which plants they prefer, and then we do a lot of research with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Cornell University, which has an extensive database on plants," she says.

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