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Category: Pets & Gardens

  • Gardening with Puppies – Can You Dig it?

    March 22, 2011

    Over the years I’ve had all sorts of dogs. Some are diggers; some are not diggers. Some learn to dig; some are just born to dig. My new pup’s brain was apparently wired at a back-hoe factory. And she’s been showing off her innate talent more now that she’s getting older, braver & the spring weather is improving. Fortunately, me and my garden are ready for her excavation antics.

    Digging Dog - Bad or Just Doing Her Thing?

    Digging Dog - Bad or Just Doing Her Thing?

    If you’re going to have dogs, you’re going to have to integrate them into your garden somehow. As experienced dog people, we’ve designated areas that are for the dogs.

    Since day one, Kula has been learning where she’s allowed to go whenever she wants and where she has to have an invitation. Fortunately (so far) she’s respecting these boundaries. Giving her lots of attention, a long morning walk, lots of chew toys and fetch toys,ย  and an afternoon play date with another dog or a long hike helps keep her fairly content. But dig she does.


  • Gardening with Puppies – Shear Delight!

    January 20, 2011

    Having a new puppy will help anyone learn and grow. I’ve quickly come to understand that Basic training for dogs is really basic training for humans who live with dogs. Along with all the cool things we’re teaching Kula to understand with the help of our trainers came a trick the trainers didn’t even realize they taught us — how to put your older garden shears to work for your dog!

    Even dull shears cut through training treats with ease

    Even dull shears cut through training treats with ease

    No, I didn’t try to crop Kula’s adorable tail with garden shears!

    In the first day of training, the assistants were cutting up strips of dried chicken treats into tiny training size bits, and they were using a pair of old Fiskars bypass hand shears. So, I tried their trick at home using a pair of ergonomic Fiskars shears, and boy was it great! The expensive and far too large strips — of which she should only eat a couple per day — were easy to quickly snip down to little training tidbits.

    Plus, using my oldest “junk drawer” pair of shears for cutting up treats has really saved my hands. Trying to rip up the strips with my tired, old hands was just frustrating, painful and pretty much a disaster. Now, I grab about three strips each morning, clip them into various tidbit sizes — some for training time, some for filling the food toys — and we’re ready to work on all the tricks Kula is loving to learn.

    So far she’s sitting at corners, ringing bells to go out to go potty, dropping, sitting, rolling over and responding to “go to bed”, “crate up”, “come”, “let’s go”, “wait”, “stay” and “leave it”. She’s even able to differentiate several of her favorite toys by name. She’s no Chaser, a Border Collie who knows over 1000 nouns, but our little Aussie-Border Collie is showing promise. She’s learned all these things in just over a month with us! Heel is next, and I think it’s gonna prove to be a doozy to learn. Probably harder for me than for her.

    **In the interest of full disclosure: Garden Mentorsยฎ is a paid writer for Fiskars, inc. However, this article was written without compensation.

  • Digitalis begone!

    December 29, 2010
    Foxglove Blooming All Around the Honeybee Hive as a Swarm Begins to form

    Foxglove Blooming All Around the Honeybee Hive as a Swarm Begins to form

    I’m already learning that things have to change in my garden now that we have a new puppy. First order of business: remove toxic plants from the doggie portion of the garden!

    Well, maybe I won’t remove all of the toxic plants, and really, I just need to move them out of reach of the snapping, hungry maw of a crazy, playful puppy.

    I won’t be digging up every rhodie in the backyard ’cause I doubt she’ll really try to eat those. But I did catch her snapping at some foxglove leaves, and that simply won’t do!

    Common Foxglove, a Digitalis, is a self-seeding annual in my garden. Some might call it a weed. Occasionally, I’d agree with that assessment. It pops up everywhere and grows like mad. But, it feeds the bees and adds beautiful color to the spring and early summer garden, so it’s pretty hard to hate. But, all of it is toxic. If puppy eats even a tiny bite of leaf, it might stop her little heart from beating. So, before we lose the light today. Before it snows tonight. And, before the puppy wakes from her current nap to run crazed through the backyard again, I’m heading out there to pull all the foxglove I can find. Fortunately, it comes up very easily!

    I won’t eradicate this plant completely from the garden. (Though my husband would be thrilled if I got rid of it; he simply hates it because it looks a bit ratty when I allow it to tower eight feet overhead late into summer. ) As I mentioned before, the bees and I really like it. And, much of the garden is off limits to a free-roamin’ pup. But, until puppy outgrows the phase of exploring the world by mouth, this plant is no longer invited into her playground.

  • Gardening with Puppies

    December 13, 2010
    Kula soaking up some Seattle winter sunshine

    Kula soaking up some Seattle winter sunshine

    There’s a new baby in our house, and I’m incredibly distracted by her. Kula is her name and puppy fun is her game.

    As regular readers know, we had to say good-bye to our sick, aging Shiloh dog earlier this year. It was a painfully brutal time in our lives, and my garden may have been a little fluffier without a dog peeing on it and sitting on it and digging in it, but really, my gardening soul always felt like something was missing without a canine spirit there to watch and “help” me as I worked. Honestly, I found myself not having nearly as much fun in the garden as I usually do. But, we needed time to heal and mourn Shiloh’s passing before we could fully welcome a new pooch to our prairie.

    It has taken my husband longer to mourn our loss and ready himself for a new pup. But the day I showed him our Kula dog on the Petfinder Iphone App, his heart melted and immediately opened to bringing her into our home.ย  Although both of us knew we would eventually bring a new pup home, neither of us anticipated we would adopt a 12 week old puppy. But there she was, looking at us as if saying, “okay, I’m here now. Come bring me home.”

    Banksia in the Kula Botanical Gardens on Maui

    Banksia in the Kula Botanical Gardens on Maui

    I filled out an enormous amount of paperwork required by Lil’ Waif Puppy rescue to apply for her. The next day, they asked for another round of in-depth explanations and details about our life and plans for sweet Kula. Once they reviewed all of our paperwork, I got a call that we were approved to meet the rescue team and the pups.

    Turns out, they get hundreds of applications for each puppy they rescue and place. They work very hard to be certain their rescues make it to a very good home. Fortunately, it turns out they agreed with Kula and us — she was meant to come home to us!

    Kula, meaning “meadow”, “golden” or even “school” (as I understand it) in Hawaiian, is also a gardener’s dream Up Country on Maui. It approaches a highly spiritual and important place in my heart – Haleakala. It is also a magnificent garden area on this wonderful island. The Kula Botanical gardens are simply stunning. Someday I hope to find myself, my husband and my Kula girl living in this gorgeous garden region together romping through meadows and growing plants that simply won’t grow here in Seattle.

    For now though, we’re just going to work on going “hurry up” on command, not pulling up hellebore and not sticking our noses in the honeybee hives. Keep an eye on the gardenhelp.org blog this year. I have a feeling it’s going to be a year of sharing advice about gardening with dogs (a-hem, young puppy dogs) as Kula schools my puppy-rusty self in the art of gardening with growing canine companion.

  • Remembering Shiloh and Those Who Came Before

    May 20, 2010

    I’ve had the pleasure of living with many, many dogs in my life. When I was born, my parents raised Great Danes. Josie, a breeding bitch, was my first best friend and pretend pony. She played with me in the garden, even saving my baby-life from at least one Cotton Mouth.

    Josie and me as Puppies

    Josie and me as Puppies

    Later, living in Northern California, I missed Josie, who we had given to a new home before moving to “the other coast”. I missed her so much, my imaginary friend was “Digger”.ย  Digger, in my mind, was a Golden Lab, quite likely envisioned after a visit with my Uncle’s dog Sunshine who ate my crayons. Together, Digger and I would go on adventures out in the neighborhood together. In my imagination, he would dig holes to China where we would explore together, coming home with fantastical tales of the Orient.

    When I was old enough to explore the local hills outside Tilden Park near our home, I one day found a neglected, matted, super-sweet Australian Shepard that I brought home, announcing to my parents he was Digger. I was quite indignant that they didn’t recognize my longtime friend. I could have cared a whit that I’d had them convinced Digger was a Golden Lab until that day. I’d found a real dog, and I knew it! We kept this new Digger for quite a while; he slept outside my sliding glass door on the deck, waiting for me at all times to run the mustard-filled fields of our hillside community. Digger was a good friend, but he moved to a new home when my parents divorced.

    Sal, Our Shepard Pup and Me

    Sal, Our Shepard Pup and Me

    After the divorce, we moved to a house on the outskirts of a tiny cow-town in Norcal. There we enjoyed the company of a number of pets, from rabbits, which I bred to goats that tried to kill me to ponies I road in parades and on cattle round ups. We also had a number of fantastic canine companions. My step-father came with an old, howling Blood Hound who wasn’t long for this world. Later, we adopted a sweet German Shepard who died young. Then, Samantha — a terrier-poodle-spaniel something else mix. She was little and danty. She enjoyed being dressed up in my doll dresses as much as she liked rolling in crap with the big dogs in the cattle fields near our home. She was hit by a car, following me and my sister to a friend’s house one day. Her best buddy was Jiggs.

    Jiggs and Samantha rank in the top five of my all-time dogs. And that’s saying something; I’ve lived with a lot of dogs. Jiggs was a German Shorthair Pointer. My stepdad came home one night with Jiggs tucked under his coat. Jiggs was jiggling -scared. But, quickly he settled down and became my best pal. He followed me on my pony all around our one cow town. He laid his head in our laps with sad eyes, asking for a gentle pet. Jiggs also had a wandering spirit that eventually got him into trouble. We moved from NorCal to our family farm on Virginia just before I entered my teens. Jiggs went wandering one day and never came back.

    Adorable Samantha with my Beautiful Mom

    Adorable Samantha with my Beautiful Mom

    I like to think he was adopted by a farmer who loved the look of this beautiful, sweet pure-bred. More likely, though, he was probably shot for hunting some farmer’s chickens. Hopefully, I’ll never know.

    Following Jiggs, we had a number of dogs on the farm. We started with Sooner, another less-than-Jiggs German Short Hair Pointer. Later, we adopted Vanessa — a fantastically beautiful Irish Setter with gas that could wilt the corn in summer. Joey, a coon hound, spent his puppy hood in my bedroom, pooping all night long; eventually, he became an outdoor dog along with a number of other coon-hounds.ย  Phoebe became a favorite on the farm. She was an Airedale terrier we adopted. She was riddled with heart worm, but bounced back to become a fun, swamp-stinkin’ mess in winter. She lived to a great old age, following the family back to NorCal in the early 80s.

    By the time the family had moved back to NorCal with Phoebe, I had moved to SoCal with my Dad. Together, we picked out Boo (aka Desmond Boo-Boo of Concord). Boo was a hilarious bear-cub of a chow-chow. He was dumb and cute and sweet and about as stubborn as they come.

    Jiggs My Adventure Pal

    Jiggs My Adventure Pal

    He kept his girlfriend, a yellow pillow nobody wanted to touch, tucked into a special corner of the back garden where they had loving liaisons nobody wanted to see. He lived into a ripe old age long after I moved away to college.

    During college, I adopted neighbor dogs in Isla Vista. Together with my (then) boyfriend Bob, we would stroll the beach with “our” dogs in tow. When we visited home, we enjoyed Bob’s parent’s dog Amber (a quirky Welsh Terrier), Phoebe, Boo, and later Laura – a crazy little Schipperke-Collie mut belonging to my littlest sister Sasha. Laura had a fantastic talent for cracking walnuts as a snack from the garden. Bob and I knew someday we’d have dogs together.

    Phoebe - the Swamp-Swimmin' Dog

    Phoebe - the Swamp-Swimmin' Dog

    When we finished college, we eventually adopted Bronte. Bronte was a black lab mutt whose SPCA name was “Happy”. Sometimes I regret changing her name, but never do I regret adopting her. She wasn’t a great garden dog, despite learning from Laura how to crack walnuts (and eat them until she was sick). And, she eventually came to understand that “out of the garden” meant business.

    After moving to Seattle and several years into Bronte’s life, we adopted Shiloh. We had recently lost one of our cats, and our pet-to-human ratio was just off. We had spent many weekends visiting shelters. I had spent a lot of time researching breeds and actually planned to get a small dog, and I swore I would not get a hound. That was my one rule. Then we met Shiloh at the Humane Society, and I ended up breaking the “no hound” rule I’d set for myself.ย  Despite having hound-giveaway facial markings, I knew right away she was special, but we didn’t know exactly how special until a bit later.

    We brought Bronte down to to the adoption garden to meet Shiloh to be sure they would get along. Bronte was dominant and picky about her friends at that point in life.

    Vanessa charms the Grumpy Ram

    Vanessa charms the Grumpy Ram

    Shiloh flipped belly up immediately forging just the right relationship with Bronte. We took them home together. Shiloh quickly taught us how to keep a dog contained in the garden. She was one heckuva digger in the beginning and could escape out, under our fences in less than 5 minutes. It was amazing. Later, she evolved into an adult who could be left to wander the garden without a fence. She also came already trained to sit at corners, heel to the left, drop on command and much more. How anyone gave her up continues to amaze me. She was a quick study! Told twice to stay off the sofa, she never tried to get on it again. Told to stay out of garden beds, she almost always complied. Told to take a nap on a bed of thyme, she gladly did so, for hours while I weeded or napped on my own nearby.

    Shiloh was truly a dog-loving, gardener’s dream. She wasn’t destructive — unless the plant was a brassica in which case she would devour the tasty morsels in a few quick snaps. So, sadly with a very heavy heart, today I announce the passing of the best dog I’ve ever had.

    Shiloh's favorite Bed in the Garden - Thyme!

    Shiloh's favorite Bed in the Garden - Thyme!

    And, if you’ve read this far, you know that’s saying something. Heck, I haven’t even mentioned every dog I’ve ever had — just some of the key players that stand out in my memory. But, Shiloh, well, she’ll be a tough act for any dog to follow. Her personality was go-with-the-flow, she was gentle, she was never angry, and she was my best friend, and I miss her. Today, she has passed to the next place. I like to think she and her sister Bronte are together again now, romping carefree in the Elysian fields of doggy heaven together, caring not a whit for my gardener’s protective reprimand “out of the garden beds girls”. Their spirits are free, and sadly, my garden is empty without them.

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