Sharing your garden with pets and critters

Published 9:30 am Saturday, January 14, 2012

Column: Carol Hegel Lang, Serendipity Gardens


At some point during a gardener’s lifetime they will probably be sharing their gardens with pets or children; I have shared mine with various dogs, cats and other critters (squirrels, raccoons, skunks, possums, toads, snakes, mallard ducks and a pheasant) as well as my granddaughter during my 30-some years of gardening.

Carol Lang

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Having a cat share my garden has always been a dream of mine but alas all my cats were house cats until Rosie came into my life. Rosie belonged to the neighbors and was an outdoor cat; she loved to spend time in the garden watching the birds at the feeders. Then one day I noticed feathers on the ground under one of the hanging feeders on the pagoda dogwood tree.

“Wonder what happened there,” I thought.

A couple of days later more feathers on the ground and then I started suspecting that my friendly neighbor cat was enjoying an extra treat. Yup, Rosie was indeed catching birds for her snack.

If you have cats that are outdoors it becomes necessary to put a bell on their collars to warn the birds that a predator is nearby. I moved some of my feeders so that they would have protective cover from her and then raised the height of them so she couldn’t just leap up and snatch a bird. Don’t get me wrong, I do know that this is part of the balance of nature, but I was knowingly putting the birds at risk. We also have about nine feral cats in the neighborhood and all of them are hunters. At some point you can only do so much to protect the birds from these predators. Having Rosie cozy up to me when I sit in the gazebo and listen to her purring won out, it is just something I have to live with by sharing the garden with her and the birds.

Sharing the garden with a dog is an entirely different set of challenges; enter Buddy, our bearded collie. Buddy believes that he was sent to live with us so that he could eliminate the squirrels in the backyard. When the patio door is open he makes a mad dash across the garden in pursuit of those furry creatures.

Carol Hegel Lang’s gardening pal, Buddy.

Something had to be done so that all my flowers wouldn’t get trampled, and the only thing that would work was to have paths for Buddy to chase through the gardens and not destroy everything, easier said than done. By watching which routes he routinely took on his dash after the squirrels I was able to make an obstacle course for him to navigate around the flowers.

I moved a tall wire birdbath and put it directly in the path he usually took. He nearly collided with it the first time through the garden, but it worked, he had to change his course. I put down mulch which also helped to keep his feet clean on these journeys of his in his pursuit of eradicating the squirrels. Patio blocks were laid in the route he made around the garden and that stopped the trenches he was making while he galloped around the island bed. Larger planters were also moved to further detour him on his pursuits of the squirrels. All of these changed his navigational route so we could live in harmony.

When we had Buddy’s grandmother, Tess, I thought we would never be able to let her play freely in the backyard; the word “no” didn’t register at all with her. She was just a young puppy that spring and she would invariably walk through the garden and trample down the lovely flowers.

I purchased a small fence that was about 12 inches tall hoping to distract her before she would run through the garden and it worked. On this particular day I was planting a flat of red salvias just inside this small fence, Tess had been lying about two feet from me moving along with me as I planted. I needed to get the watering can to water the salvias that I had just planted and when I returned what did I see but all the salvias pulled up and lying on top of the soil. I’m sure she thought she was helping me as she looked so very proud of the deed she had done. What could I do but laugh, and then she was banished to her kennel until I was done planting flowers that day.

Yes, pets can be great company in the garden, but they can also be very frustrating at times. You just have to find ways to distract them when they do something that is wrong and then hope they have learned their lessons well.

Some of the other critters that shared the gardens with me haven’t always been welcome guests, especially the year when we had a family of seven skunks. Planting tulip bulbs I learned the hard way that squirrels love to dig them up so now I only plant daffodils and have lovely spring flowers to enjoy.

Sometimes you have to think outside of the box to outwit your pets and the other critters to happily share your gardens with them. I have spent many wonderful times with my dogs and the cats and I can’t imagine my gardens without them alongside me, even though at times we don’t always agree on their behavior.


Carol Hegel Lang is a local green thumb who can be reached at