When we adopted our wonderful dog Molly just over a year and a half ago, the most common question asked was, “How will you keep her from destroying the garden?” Molly is a terrier mix, and everything we were told indicated that she might be a bit of a menace in the garden. It was winter at the time, and since my garden was still covered in snow, I had plenty of time to focus on the other dog learning I had to do (which was ample) before worrying about how to train her not to tear up the garden, trample and pee on plants, or dig up the dirt. Still, I figured I’d be posting back here that spring or summer with an update or a desperate plea for advice.
Today’s post was slotted to be one detailing our wonderful, recuperative trip to the desert, but then we met Molly.
Our desire to adopt a rescue dog was solidified over the Holidays and during the trip so on return, we started looking seriously with the intention of finding the right dog for us. I told Davin, “This is going to take some time, months even.” I expected to bring a dog home around the time that the peas go into the ground.
Molly was posted on Petfinder on Tuesday night. I called on Wed afternoon and had a long chat with the woman fostering her. She sounded too good to be true. A gentle, loving dog with no behavioural issues that would be overwhelming to people like us who do not have much dog experience.
Molly was being fostered in a home just outside of Toronto so we booked a rental car for Saturday knowing that she might not be right and that this could be the first in an exhaustive line of disappointing dog visits. We were eager to adopt a dog, but we also wanted to be honest and mindful of our limitations. Neither of us have much dog experience and we were worried that a dog with serious social issues and/or showing any signs of aggression could be more than we can handle. I have a tendency to root for the underdog, but I knew it would be detrimental for everyone if we took a dog based on feeling sorry for it, or with good intentions only.
It’s a tribute to the experience and integrity of the foster parents that Molly was exactly as described. It wasn’t long after meeting her that we knew she’d make a wonderful addition to our family. She was hesitant about us at first. She took her time to approach, but warmed up surprisingly quickly for a dog who has been through so much recently. What’s more, the allergies that normally plague me with prolonged exposure to shedding dogs was absolutely non-existent with this fluffy little Muppet (a mix of non-shedding breeds). A few hours later and she was settled on my lap in the back seat and we were on our way home together.
And just like that we are in love with a scruffy little dog.
My 12 year old cat Voltron is a determined plant nibbler – in fact most cats have a natural curiosity about their surroundings and tend to enjoy a little taste of fresh greenery now and again.
Unfortunately many common houseplants are toxic so it is worth familiarizing yourself with both your plants and your cat’s tenacity. Many houseplants can cause some form of digestive upset or nausea, and some such as dieffenbachia (aka dumb cane) and philodendron can even be fatal. I’ve included a short list of dangerous common houseplants to avoid [see below and sidebar for further resources]. A little bit of plant material, even the inert stuff can make kitty throw up a little. However, symptoms such as excess vomiting, diarrhea, and a lack of appetite can suggest poisoning and should be taken seriously.
Before rushing to throw much-loved houseplants into the compost heap, try out a few tricks that have worked to create harmony among the species in my own household. Keep in mind that every cat is different and some are just a whole lot more persistent than others! Consider:
Make a cat-curbing spray using a “tea” of seeped cayenne pepper flakes and spray on your plants’ leaves or soil surface. NEVER spray your cat directly with this kind of tea. Cats hate strong smells especially citrus. Place citrus peels on the soil surface.
Some cats are agile climbers and won’t be deterred by high bookshelves or furniture obstacles. Use hanging baskets to keep enticing grass-like plants such as spider plants out of reach. In addition placing plants grown just for kitty in accessible spots will train him to distinguish between his plants and your plants.
Plants for Kitty
Rather than going to war, grow a plant or two that kitty can safely chomp. “Cat grasses” such as wheat, rye, and oats are easy to grow in a shallow container. Alternatively try grasses with a bit of flash such as blue fescue or lemongrass. If neither you nor kitty jive with grasses try herbs such as valerian, catnip, lesser calamint, or Persian catnip. Don’t forget that chemical pesticides and fertilizers can be toxic too – grow organic!
- Corn Plant
- Easter & Tiger Lily
- Dieffenbachia (aka Dumb Cane)
- Forced Bulbs – Daffodil, tulip, amaryllis
Guest post by Felicia Friesema
Gardening, as you may well know, is a constantly changing learning process that tests our willingness to give in to the natural world, to submit ourselves wholeheartedly to a process that denies us what we think we want in favor of what the garden wants. You want fresh zukes? Battle powdery mildew then. Dreaming of a leaning tower of tomatoes? Gotta squash the caterpillars early on. You get the idea. What we want isn’t always what we get. But sometimes, Nature smiles on us and gives us something bigger and more unusual than ever before. For me, it took a dog playing in the grass for Nature’s light bulb to go off over my head.
Emma, our persnickety canine, is queen of all she surveys. Aside from a small, community-style, garden plot for summer veggies, the backyard was hers to rule with an iron paw. Stray cats, opossums, and curious crows dared not enter the domain for fear of her wrath. Our own lack of interest in clearing out old Bermuda grass from our clay-based soil meant that it stayed that way for some time, untouched, untrimmed, and often times, unloved.
It’s a mid-sized yard, about 50 feet long and 35 feet wide. My community gardening days back in the city of Baltimore had taught me how to cram as much as I could into a 6′ by 10′ garden plot as I could. The result was a jungle of tomatoes, cukes, zukes, and herbs that you couldn’t walk through by mid-July. Moving to a house with a backyard in sunny Southern California opened many doors garden-wise, but I stuck to what I knew and carved out a square plot for myself among the weeds. And then I saw Emma walking through the grass.
The area around the plot was often referred to as the tundra. And through this tundra, Emma had carved a winding path through the weeds and grasses that led to the back of the yard and around the garage. I realized then that she had done the hardest part for me already. All I had to do was follow her guidelines and I would have a series of well-defined beds and borders.
I started with a centerpiece. As Emma entered the yard, she would make a wide turn to the right before swinging left to head toward the back. This left a natural curve that had me thinking it was part of a circle. Off of that curve, I constructed the first garden element: the Pasta Island.
The Pasta Island is a raised circular bed, about 5 feet across, constructed of reclaimed stones from and old demolished patio, that sat cupped on the left side of the curve of Emma’s path. The stones are actually a very lucky find under a pile of old leaves. Their texture and shape meld perfectly with the lines of Emma’s path. Being a themed veggie patch, the island contains tomatoes, onions, basil, oregano, parsley, and bell peppers.
With the centerpiece finished, I added two more semi-circles leading up to the Island and a long wavy raised bed to the right, leaving Emma’s path intact and adding greatly to the overall appeal. There wasn’t a straight line anywhere. The soil was easier to amend, now that I had easy access to it via the path.
It’s like a domino design effect. Once the main elements, the island, the semi circles, and the right hand wave border, were installed, the rest of the garden opened up to me like a massive sunflower. Suddenly there was space for a patio made from reclaimed concrete paving stones. And next to the patio the was room for a mini perennial Mediterranean garden full of rosemary, oregano, lavender, thyme, tarragon, and a bay laurel tree in a large pot.
Emma took to the “new” paths right away, speeding through the veggies as though it were an obstacle course designed just for her. The natural shapes keep her out of the veggie beds as well, since we’re not intruding on her own backyard rhythms or making her redefine her territory. And at last my eyes are comforted by gentle, meandering curves, no longer confined to rigid rows. The veggie garden is now a decorative garden in its own right, easily adaptable to crop rotations and soil amendments and pleasant enough for a summer night glass of wine shared by the light of citronella candles.
Now if I could only teach Emma how to dig up weeds.
All Photos courtesy of Felicia Friesema
Felicia Friesema is a community garden advocate and Development Coordinator for the YWCA of San Gabriel Valley. Her dedication to community gardening extends to her own backyard, which she has turned into a community garden for her friends, allowing them to plant any vegetables and flowers they wish.
Guest post by Claire Pfeiffer
Cats are so lucky.
It takes just a sniff of catnip to get them feeling wonderful, whereas we humans must rely on more invasive and costly contraband materials to receive the same effects. And catnip is so cheap; if I gave my cats an allowance, they’d become total dope addicts. My mom had some catnip planted in her garden last summer, and she made lots of feline friends–the catnip patch became a communal meeting place for all the cats in the know, like a kitty café. A garden just isn’t quite complete without a few kitties romping in it.
The effects of catnip are so pleasing to cats, and also to their people, who get to watch the hilarious action of their cats rolling around blissfully. In our Lab this month, I took two unwitting guinea pigs, or rather, cats, as test subjects in an experiment on the effects of catnip on cats. My hypothesis was that differing grades or consumer varieties of catnip have dissimilar effects on kitties, as extrapolated from knowledge of other types of drugs and their variance. Though the variables in this test were wildly uncontrollable, and proved only to get increasingly uncontrollable as the test proceeded, I believe to have proved my hypothesis correct, and submit to you my results, in the hope that my research will contribute to you finding more ease and wisdom in purchasing or growing catnip.
Our cats, Maddy and Opale, were the test subjects. Forthwith is my scientific log of events.
I started off by testing some catnip pronounced Primo by experts. I scored it at an “herboriste”, where they sell all sorts of arcane herbage grown in pristine organic conditions in spiral formations reminiscent of alien landing sites. My cats weren’t visited by visions of little green men (observed: they didn’t act freaked out, and they didn’t say specifically that they saw these ubiquitous little dudes. Obviously this points to one of the main problems with conducting experiments on cats, namely that they can’t speak human, but since I have a strong relationship with each of our cats, I believe I can tell what they’re thinking, and also vice-versa, which creeps me out, really.
But I am not discounting the fact that they could’ve been protecting something, as some people have proposed that cats are actually from outer space. But I digress. In fact, I think that instead of whirling out into the galaxy, this trip for them was pretty grounding. They were really “in” their bodies, and didn’t give a shit that they looked like total goofs as they rolled all crazy on the floor, getting pieces of paper stuck on them and so on. They were a lot like the peaced-out hippie ladies I bought the stuff from. The coming-down was totally settling, and now they are both quietly doing their own thing.
Day Two:First of all, I was very surprised that the Cosmic Cat-Snacks I bought were meant to be eaten at all, considering that kitties only gotta smell the weed to feel alright. After trying these on one cat, (the other one turned up her nose to these liver-flavoured nuggets) I was disappointed that she didn’t react like the cartoon cats on the package, who looked crazed and ecstatic. Mind you, the illustrations were of orange cats, which are usually of a more maniacal nature than mild-mannered grey ones. Indeed, Opale did cavort with a bit more frisk, but I can’t even be sure that she wasn’t just acting as usual. I even tried giving her a double dose just to see if she’d go nutty, but without results. (There are no reported negative side effects of catnip on cats.) Meanwhile, Maddy is still catching a buzz offa the minute amount of organic homegrown still lingering on my floor from yesterday.
The scientific veracity of today’s experiment was foiled by the cats jump-starting the process and ripping open the little baggie of industrial-grade corner-store catnip in my backpack while I was scrubbing up. I wonder whether they aren’t now hooked on the weed. Will observe them for withdrawal symptoms and report later. I thought this stuff was supposed to be safe; my suspicions now tell me that in fact, this may be a lie concocted by the establishment to keep all cats complacent and silence them, preventing them from exposing the truth. (Trust me, if I knew what this truth was, I would tell you. That’s the whole problem.) Today’s stuff proved largely ineffectual, although it could be only in comparison with the potent variety they sampled on Day One. The trip only lasted 10 minutes, and they both ended up all rolled up in the living-room carpet, purring. Now they are making advances on me to give them another hit. But I am through with pushing–I’m thinking of some humane way I can devise a metered-dose system for my poor little drug addicts.