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Marge Says, "Make Your Garden Pet Friendly!"

Allen and Marge in the Vegetable GardenI never would have described myself as a cat person, but Marge has turned me into one.  She is such a delight.  People say my entire demeanor changes when she is around.  I’ve even forgiven her for snagging my brand new navy sport coat with her claws.  It was really my own fault for picking her up.  She would have been happier right where she was, lounging in the sun.

Over the past 3 years, Marge has spent a lot of time in the garden.  She’s always there to oversee my activities.  Because of this she has developed some pretty good ideas for designing a pet friendly garden.  Here are a few “Marge-approved” design principles she feels gardeners should know.

1.    Why set us up for failure? Keep your garden design loose and natural rather than formal.  Mishaps will be less evident in an informal garden.  
2.    Give us our own spot. Set aside a designated area for pets to use the bathroom.  Train dogs to use one place in the yard and set up an outdoor litter box for cats.  Please place the litter box is a sheltered spot where we can have some privacy and feel safe.
3.    Dry, dusty soil is the purrfect spot for cats to scratch and roll around.  We just can’t resist.  To reduce the temptation, fill bare spots between perennials and shrubs with a ground cover.  Keep soil in vegetable gardens moist or cover with straw mulch.
4.    Just like you, we animals have a preferred path around the garden.  If you don’t want to see a trail worn through the grass or hate it when we track in mud, make the path permanent with flagstones or brick. 
5.    We are safest when we are confined to our own yard.  Encircle your garden with a fence to keep in dogs.  It should be at least 4 feet tall.  Make it higher if your dog is a jumper or climber.
6.    Being  cats, we can’t read so we don’t know if something isn’t safe to eat or roll in.  Keep all garden chemicals stored out of reach and use only non-toxic, organic fertilizers and controls.
7.    There’s nothing like a sunny spot on a warm spring day.  We always appreciate a flat rock placed out in the light for sun bathing.  Equally important is a shady area to escape from the hot summer sun.
8.    Garden patrol sure is dehydrating, so it’s important to have a source of water. If that source of water is a fountain or pool with fish, cover it with netting to protect the fish.  Hey, cats like fish, what can I say?
9.    Keep plenty of toys in the garden and spend time playing with us.  This will help us differentiate between what is ours to chew on and what’s off limits.    
10.    Give us shelter!  No one wants to be left out in the open unprotected.  Cats in particular need some place to escape when the neighborhood bully shows up.  Provide an entrance to the house, a garden shed or the garage.  As mentioned before, store all those garden chemicals where we can’t get to them. Also appreciated is a table for jumping on to or shrubs where we can hide.
11.    Male cats and dogs like to mark their territory.  It’s a guy thing, so don’t try to fight it.  Keep plants set back from paths and consider replacing plants in a popular wetting spot with a post or sculpture.
12.    One of my favorite activities is watching the neighbor’s terrier run back and forth beside the privacy fence.  He considers it his job to police the border.  Unfortunately, he’s worn a nice muddy path the length of the yard.  If you have a “fence runner” cover the path with material such as wood planks, flat native stone to keep the area from getting muddy.  Plant an evergreen hedge about 3 feet away from the fence to hide the path.
13.    I learned early that the one thing Allen would not tolerate was rummaging around in the flower beds.  I just keep out, but if your pet is a hard learner there are a few things you can do to prevent total destruction.  Buy mature shrubs, perennials and ornamental grasses, which are less likely to be destroyed by an attack.  And put a temporary barrier around them until they get established.  Space your new plants close together in the bed.  Place tough plants near the outside of the border and more delicate varieties toward in the middle or back.
14.    Remember that we animals are usually at eye level with your flowers and shrubs.  Avoid prickly plants or those with large spines.
15.    Although I have excellent feline instincts I don’t always know that a plant is harmful to me.  So avoid poisonous plants.  Visit the ASPCA’s website to view a list of plants that might be harmful.
16.    I only had to rip into the new wicker furniture once to convince Allen that my own scratching post on the loggia would be a good idea.  Your cat would probably appreciate one as well.