RHS Chelsea Flower Show designer and dog lover Sam Ovens offers tips on ensuring your garden is a dog friendly space. By Hannah Stephenson
Any features both dog and human can enjoy in unison?
I think sensory elements are great, as they are stimulating for both man and dog. A simple water feature set among planting can provide a natural sound that’s as calming for dogs as it is for us. It’s also a source of water for thirsty dogs, as well as an attractive thing to sit and watch.
Other elements enjoyable to human and dogs include scented plants, as well as natural sounds from ornamental grasses and bamboo, which create a calming environment.
What plants may be beneficial to dogs and stimulate interest on all sides?
For me, a dog-friendly garden can be beautiful. Dogs love to explore and I think a plant-filled garden is a great place to investigate and play. Care just needs to be taken to ensure the plant selection is robust and will bounce back when your dog decides to take short cuts across the borders. Choose robust plants, as well as ornamental grasses like miscanthus and pennisetum, but in any case, be- ware of spikes and thorns, particularly at eye level. For something both dog and owner can enjoy, plant herbs like oregano, fennel and nepeta are all good, safe choices.
What else should you avoid in a dog-friendly garden?
Heather Covey, head of internal medicine at the AHT small animal clinic, advises: “When planning a garden, remember that our dogs are great scavengers and can find a number of things to eat, many potentially dangerous to your dog.
“Certain plants, such as fox-gloves and delphiniums, are toxic. Be careful with bulbs which can be dug up and eaten, as these can cause stomach upsets and in some cases severe irritation of the mouth and throat. Make sure your dog doesn’t eat snails and slugs, as these can cause lung worm, a serious condition in your dog, and instead of using slug pellets, use the old remedies for slug prevention, such as eggshells and copper tape.
“Don’t forget about your com- post heap. This can contain food scraps, such as avocados, grapes and onions which may be tempting to your pet, but can be harmful.
“Your compost heap can also contain mould toxins, which if ingested can have worrying neurological or liver side effects. If you want to compost at home, then a sealed bin is a good idea. Finally, if an owner is concerned about their animal’s health, they should always consult their vet.
Which design ideas could be incorporated into a dog-friendly space?
Dogs enjoy a shady spot on those hot summer days, and different textures, from paving and grass to cobbles and mulch.
Also, a clear path around or through the garden space for the dog to run around, fresh water to keep dogs hydrated and cool, but with shallow sloping edges so they can easily get in and out, and herbs and other scented plants that smell great.
Anything to avoid that’s likely to be trashed by a boisterous dog?
Boisterous dogs can damage young and delicate plants, either by digging them up or running through them. It’s best to avoid small and delicate plants that are slow growing, as these will struggle to recover from the rough and tumble of dog play. Planting larger and more established plants than normal is also wise, as established plants are more resilient.