No matter how much we know about the habits of our animals, I believe the gardening lives of our dogs will always be a world that is secret to us.
Every time I see some strange phenomena in the garden - a plant I’ve never seen before, a rock placed in an interesting spot beside the pond, a diminutive path through the alders - perhaps just tall enough for a wee elf – I take pause. No harm done, just odd goings on. Are there ‘little people’ in the garden? Well yes, there are; in fact I make a habit of feeding them. They have fur, paws and noses that follow everywhere. And, in reality, they’re not all that small.
I’ve always kept the company of dogs and consider them to be quite irreplaceable. They provide unconditional love, companionship, a ready source of entertainment, a reason to take exercise and an unsurpassed sounding board for a bewildered designer. They are also very good gardeners!
Our oldest dog, Rosemary, is the self-proclaimed pond gardener of the family. She and her late brother, Basil, took that job away from me six years ago. The first thing she does in the morning, after creeping out from under the bed, is head to the pond. It’s her last destination before crawling back into her den at night. She drinks from the pond, plays in it, sits by it, watches critters swim in it, and just generally co-exists with it. It’s her favorite garden spot. She goes there in the winter and even though it’s frozen, icy and covered with snow, she paws, digs and ‘drinks’. She’s there every day as it thaws in the spring, encouraging its breakup, drinking scummy thaw-water and wading into its icy depth. It is Rosemary that keeps the vegetation at bay along the edges. It’s Rosemary who propagates the water plants as she pulls on them, distributing little bits here and there to grow anew. It’s Rosemary who moves the rocks and gravel along the bottom into positions more suitable for footing. She and Basil were the architects that created their own special drinking hole and molded the sloping walk-in approach that we all enjoy.
Basil was a trim one hundred and fifteen pounds, and Rosie is just under one hundred. Their superior weight and wonderfully large paws did things in the depths that I could never have accomplished – smoothing the bottom, rearranging the flora, working the leaf compost and insect environment – gently keeping the pond alive. Ever vigil, the furry ones quietly gardened while I was occupied elsewhere.
We now have a new gardener, steadily learning under Rosie’s tutelage. His name is Chervil and he is a vigorous addition to our staff! Although his talents are yet undeveloped, it looks like he’ll be more of a terrestrial gardener; a keeper of the trees and paths. Eighty pounds of puppy thundering down the walkways has a very stabilizing effect on the stones. His interest in tasting the shrubs has already provided some unexpected propagation and creative pruning, and his love for fruit should provide seedlings galore next spring. I look forward, with interest, to the changes in the garden as he learns his craft. While I have great hopes of lending some measure of control to his horticultural education, I harbor no false expectations. Perhaps a nudge here and there as to what actually needs pruning, as I remind myself that surprises are fun and change is good!
A wee nibble here and a new shrub shape evolves; a visit to the pond – some overdue separation of your water plants, but wait! There’s more! Dogs are the happiest, most non-kvetching soil mixers on earth! Training dogs to dig only in a soil-pile is quite simple and, in fact, is a useful outlet for their digging instincts. Mound your dirt, compost and amendments in a pile and repeat the command ‘mix’ as they plunge vigorously onto the mound - soil flying. (It would be a good idea to step back and shut your eyes about now). The tiniest bit of raking will re-gather your soil and provide you a mixture that will be the envy of your fellow gardeners. Even if you don’t have a garden, providing a pile of dirt with a bit of judicious training will save your lawn - and you’ll make Rover very happy!
For more photos of dogs at work in the garden click the Garden Dogs link to the right.