Thursday, 29 May 2014


Another way of growing starwberries
out of the reach of dogs ...
Preferring to stay indoors
out of the rain
Oh dear! This week's post has crept up on me and caught me napping ... it has been pretty much wall-to-wall rain since I last blogged, so during the few dry spells I have grabbed a shovel and zoomed up to the allotment to try and finish digging over what will be the pumpkin patch. Nearly there ... just a little bit more to go, and three pumpkins are out already. In the meantime I try not to look at the fruit bush area as the weeds are loving the warm, wet conditions and are threatening to smother them. The one good thing about them is that it seems to make it more difficult for the pigeons to scoff all the fruit - they normally don't even wait for it to ripen - as I haven't yet got my net curtains out and draped round them. (The bushes that is. The pigeons will just have to dress themselves.) The pigeons aren't the only fruit lovers round here - the  alpine strawberries growing by the back door are already producing luscious red berries. But no picture I'm afraid, as Archie and Angel already harvested them before I could reach for the camera!
Lots of blossom on the apple trees this year.
Which brings me once again to the subject of bargains - if you have fruit bushes, old net curtains will not only keep greedy pigeons off, but greedy dogs too, provided you net carefully and don't just throw them over the top. I usually stick three or four garden canes in the ground and then wind a length of net curtain around them to form a barrier. Where to get the net curtains if you have no old ones lying handily around? Try your local market. I found a stall there several years ago selling nothing but nets. When I explained that I wanted something really cheap and what it was for, the stall holder produced yards and yards of stained or slightly damaged 'seconds'. I bought a tenner's worth off him and came home with five bulging carrier bags. It lasts well and is less likely to tangle up the feet of wildlife than netting, so has been something of a bargain. It is also much less fiddly than faffing around with netting which I'm not fond of ever since I found a blackbird snarled hopelessly in its meshes on a neighbour's allotment. Luckily I was able to set it free, but if I hadn't gone up that day it might not have been so fortunate. Hedgehogs and other animals can also get ravelled up in its snares.
Of course, net curtains may not be enough to keep really determined dogs at bay, so you may need to fence fruit growing areas off completely, or supervise your dog when he is out in the garden. Teaching a good 'Leave it' command will mean you don't have to be breathing down his neck the whole time.

Finally, watch out for some exciting guest blogs coming up soon! If you would like to contribute one yourself, let me know - you can get in touch with me via the contact page of the Dog Friendly Gardening website HERE

Read more HERE

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Happy Hunting!

Another couple of wet days have kept me from doing much in the garden. Archie and Angel, who dislike water in any form, have been unenthusiastic about joining me out there, and watch incredulously from the warm dry safety of indoors as I check that hanging baskets aren't in need of watering (don't assume they are fine just because it's raining! Some need a LOT of water, and containers next to house walls don't always get very wet in even the heaviest of showers - well, not if your gutters work efficiently)

To keep boredom levels at bay I've been setting out treasure trails for them. This is a great game which most dogs love and which you can set up in the garden - or if it's a bit wet and your dog really prefers not to get wet feet, indoors. The videos here were taken yesterday while out in the secure paddocks I'm currently lucky enough to be able to use. As we made our first circuit round, I scattered the empty cardboard tubes from the centres of toilet rolls behind me, creating a trail for Angel to follow on our second circuit. The cardboard tubes of course, weren't completely empty - each had a treat inside and had then been folded up to keep it from dropping out. Obviously you can only do this on walks if you know there aren't going to be any other dogs around ... but if you want to try it in a bigger area than your garden, you could always try asking a local farmer if you could hire a paddock or field for an hour. In your garden, lay out the trail while your dog is still inside, otherwise he will be gobbling the 'treasure' as quickly as you can put it out. You can make it more interesting and challenging for him by using different types of treats, and maybe using different containers, such as (emptied!) cereal packets, large boxes, placing them under upturned (empty!) plastic flower pots, inside a twist of newspaper, or even under a towel or inside a treat ball. Having laid your trail out around the garden, encourage him to 'Find!' - if it is a new game to him, join in, running to the first and using an excited voice. You may have to help him find and unwrap the first one or two, but most cotton on pretty quickly, especially if you use treats with a strong scent. It's a great way of combining a bit of activity which won't tear up your lawn, with the excitement of hunting, the pleasure of finding and eating and using the sense of smell as well as sight - not to mention having to work out how to get hold of the 'treasure' once it is discovered in its hiding place. If you have two dogs, it is best to play this game with them individually so there is no bickering over the treats; and if playing it indoors, leave your dog in a separate room so he can't see you laying the trail round the rest of the house. Angel had a whale of a time following her trail, galloping from one to the next with a happy grin on her face!

Click HERE for link

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Fill up the senses

The lovely Tony Head!
Firstly, congratulations to Penny, who won the copy of Dog-friendly Gardening signed by Tony Head, in the recent charity auction held by iheartwhippets. Paola does a wonderful job running twice yearly auctions with some truly luscious goodies up for grabs. This year's Spring auction raised in excess of £6,200 which will be divided between charities Scruples Whippet Rescue and The Greyhound Sanctuary  and Galgos del Sol.  Keep an eye out for the Christmas auction which will be held in November - you can find out more about it and sign up for updates HERE

Secondly, with garden centres currently stuffed to overflowing with all sorts of plants, a spell of good weather predicted, and another Bank Holiday coming up, now is the perfect time to plan a garden makeover with your dog in mind. Keep an eye out for the article on creating a sensory garden for your dog in the June issue of Your Dog magazine. Yes, I know it's still May, but it is on sale now - do grab a copy as it is full of great ideas about ways in which you can make your garden a more interesting place for your dog to spend time in. 
As well as using planting to sniff at, graze on, push through and hide in, there are some neat suggestions for landscape features you might like to include. Gardens are so often wasted spaces where dogs are concerned - an area for him to toilet in and maybe have a game of ball in - but with a little imagination and effort can be made into a far more satisfying environment for him. And as many rescue centres are finding out, it can help him in overcoming any stress issues he may have (or help prevent them arising) and allow him to indulge in doggy behaviours such as digging and denning. 

Click HERE for link

Friday, 9 May 2014

Nice weather for snails

We'd all rather got used to the recent warm, dry and sunny spell. Yesterday it turned overcast and wet again: Archie and Angel were back in raincoats for their walk in drenching rain and are mooching around in their favourite indoors sunbathing spot in the hope of a few passing rays, rather than enjoying being out in the garden. Although temperatures are fairly warm, it feels quite chilly especially when the breeze picks up, so I'm glad that I've resisted the temptation to put out tender bedding plants just yet.
                                                       It's good news for the snails though - they have been out in force - is there a collective noun for them? A slime of snails, a slither, or a munch maybe? They have discovered the new Lamium which I'd just planted out on my Mum's side of the garden and have nearly decimated it. Never having shown much interest in these plants before it is annoying to discover that like humans, their tastes can apparently change.  As I garden organically, for the sake of the wildlife as well as my dogs, one of the daily tasks is to gather up these unwelcome molluscs and dispose of them. Being a tender-hearted gardener, this means relocating them elsewhere, to a piece of rough ground where I hope they manage to develop a taste for weeds instead ... Unless of course, anyone can suggest a humane method of disposal, especially in view of their potential for harm to pets.

As well as devouring plants, don't forget that slugs as well as snails, can pose a health hazard to your dog, as they can be carriers of lungworm parasites. Worryingly, it seems to be spreading from just a few areas to across the country: our own vet has even had to treat several dogs for this potentially life threatening problem. So poo pick diligently (out on walks as well as in the garden) and make sure you keep his worming schedule up to date - find out more about what is becoming a growing problem HERE  

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Right plant, right place

What to put where?
I love it, but it's got to go ...
It's often a problem, needing thought about whether plants you'd like to have in the garden will thrive in the soil and location you have available. Not just that, but thinking about the size it will be.  Like puppies, some can have the habit of growing and growing, and in a few years time that cute and attractive little shrub you fell in love with at the garden centre might turn into a huge space-hogging triffid by the time it has attained its full growth. This Ceanothus is about to become a casualty - sadly, because I love the incredibly intense blue clouds of flowers, and the bees adore it. On sunny days it hums with life. But once it has finished flowering, it will have to go - entirely my own fault, as I bought one which grew too big for the area I had earmarked for it, and it's now impossible to mow beneath it, and the branches are in danger of drooping into the pond. 

If you own a dog, you need to do a bit more research still, to ensure that it's not going to cause problems for your pet. If your dog likes to nibble, then toxic plants definitely need to be avoided. Even if you haven't actually spotted your dog sampling garden plants, many do graze while out on walks, so don't rule out the possibility that the habit might one day be extended to the garden as well. And if your dog enjoys hedgerowing, having learned to pick his own blackberries while out on walks, you may also need to be careful about any plants in your garden which bear berries that he may help himself to, but which aren't necessarily going to be good for him. 
Although many people talk about dogs 'self medicating' by picking out herbs and plants and grazing on them, I'm afraid I just don't subscribe to this idea. How are they supposed to acquire the knowledge as to what plants are good for them? How do they know which ones are toxic? No dog would ever suffer the effects of poisoning if they were able to distinguish between safe edibles and dangerous ones. Most are governed by a combination of curiosity and greed, and will taste things through a spirit of experimentation rather than because it is driven by a nutritional or medicinal need for a specific plant. Offer a dog a grape and it is likely that it will eat it - even though it is toxic. Many years ago, I used to give mine the occasional one as  a treat, before the potential danger was publicised, and they were never, ever refused. While I'm happy to provide a selection of herbs and to leave a few patches of long grass for them to snack, on, I'm not convinced that they are doing anything other than that - snacking.  Angel especially, will try anything she can put in her mouth: I found her delicately picking off viola blooms the other day. Hence the desirability of dog-friendly plants in the garden!      
Herb basket out of reach by the
kitchen door

Archie and Angel catching up on some
sunbathing while I work in the garden.
Enjoy the Bank Holiday!

Finally ... 
Don't miss the opportunity to snap up a copy of Dog Friendly Gardening, signed by actor Anthony Head, who also wrote the foreword. You'll remember him as one of the stars of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Merlin amongst many other things! Find out more by visiting the iheartwhippets charity auction HERE