How to Make Your Small Urban Garden Dog-friendly
Follow this expert advice to make the most of your petite plot for you and your four-legged friend
“I’ve had a lot of instances where clients want me to consider their dogs,” Georgia Lindsay says. “They often want a stylish space, but one that works with the dog in mind.”
So how do you combine a fun-packed canine chill zone with one unhindered by the likes of yellow patches on the lawn, dug up flowerbeds and flattened plants?
Professional advice from: Georgia Lindsay of Georgia Lindsay Garden Design; Amanda Shipman, formerly of Amanda Shipman Designs; Laara Copely-Smith of Laara Copley-Smith Garden & Landscape Design
Amanda Shipman suggests forgoing a lawn, and Laara Copely-Smith says, “I’ve had clients with dogs that have had no grass at all.” But what are the eco-friendly alternatives that will work for you and your pup?
Laara suggests that if you want to have a paved area, you could equally have a decked area, which is not only soft enough to be comfortable for your hound to lounge on, but also allows water to drain away. You can choose from a variety of materials, including several types of recycled decking boards.
Browse decking and patio specialists in the Houzz Professionals Directory.
Another idea is to tuck away a little zone where your pup can spend a penny in peace. “I recently did a consultancy for some people with a dog,” Laara says, “and that was part of the brief. Their dog was trained to use a specific place.”
This is easiest, of course, if your dog is currently a puppy, but, with consistency, some older dogs can learn new tricks, too. If you can screen off a little area with a bit of trellis or shrubs, so it’s out of sight, all the better. Sweet-smelling plants nearby won’t hurt, either.
Choose a surface that’s easy to clean and make sure the hose will reach it, so you can clean it every day.
“Ensure your boundaries, fences and gates are secure,” Amanda advises. As well as being something to do when you’re introducing a dog to your household for the first time, it’s a good idea to make periodic checks, too.
That said, Amanda adds that it’s a good idea also to consider other small animals that may use your garden or live in your house. “Create cat or hedgehog boltholes at the base of your fences,” she says.
Be careful, of course, if you have a very small dog – and be careful not to create holes beneath which the ground could be dug by a determined dog to create an escape route.
“Many clients have requested a digging zone,” Georgia Lindsay says, with the aim of attracting the dog to dig solely in this designated area (well away from beautifully planted beds like the ones pictured, of course).
“You can bury some interesting toys that have a smell and encourage the dog to dig in that area. Keep burying new things and train them to dig for them there. Obviously, though, it does depend on the pet whether they’ll comply!”
Most dogs love to lie about in the summer sunshine but, advises Amanda, do provide plenty of dappled shade to protect them from the harshest rays yet let the light filter through. “And keep a deep plant pot saucer filled with water,” she adds. It’s a great way to keep at least one doggie accessory in tune aesthetically with your garden.
In small gardens without the space for mature trees, shade can be hard to create. Georgia suggests trees that will easily grow in pots and recommends acers. “They’re small and form quite a low shade. They’re also very safe for dogs in case they munch on any of the leaves.”
While on the topic of safe plants, Georgia adds that varieties needing a lot of slug or snail protection are not an ideal choice if you have dogs; both the creatures and preventative pellets are toxic to them. So how to avoid them?
“Having lots of tender plants is not a good idea,” Georgia explains, “but varieties such as salvia [seen here] are great – snails don’t like them and they’re safe for dogs if they eat them.”
Lists of plants toxic to dogs can be found on a number of reliable websites, including Dogs Trust and The Kennel Club.
Soft leaves to lie on under the cover of a couple of shady shrubs – what dog wouldn’t want to climb into your carefully tended flowerbed for a snooze? Flattened flowers can be a recurrent frustration for green-fingered dog owners.
Georgia suggests strategic planting, not to deter so much as withstand a snoozing pup. “Plants such as herbs are great for dogs,” she says. “Things such as low-growing thyme are so robust, a dog could lie all over it and it’d be fine. Also try chamomile and mint.”
Lemon balm, part of the mint family, is another option to consider. Rosemary, Georgia adds, is also really robust, and not as comfy, so it might even double as a deterrent.
Alternatively, you could endeavour to keep your dog out of your flowerbeds. Laara suggests dense, clipped planting – or, better still, if maintenance is your strong suit, consider a topiary border. “Grow very thick, evergreen borders that will stop a dog getting in as the planting is so dense,” she says.
If you have a smaller dog, Georgia suggests using sleepers – but arranged vertically rather than horizontally – as a stylish way to protect borders. “Rather than full-size sleepers, use them at around 80cm tall. They’ll look like an intentional part of the design, but will in fact create a border and screen it in a visually pleasing way.
If you can hide it from view, she also suggests chicken wire. “It’s obvious, but it can ruin the look of a garden,” she warns.
“Normally, people have taps in their back gardens,” Georgia says, “but one client with a dog asked for a front garden tap, so they could hose down the hound after a muddy walk. It’s a great idea if you’re renovating more widely.”
“Gravel can be a problem, as it can get stuck in the pads of their feet,” Georgia says. “Resin-bound gravel [pictured here] is a very good alternative, as it’s also permeable. You often see it under trees in public areas.
At Battersea dogs’ and cats’ home, they have lots of it, as it provides a bit of cushioning and can easily be hosed down,” she continues. “I think it looks really great for paths – you can create interesting curves and get lots of different colours.”
Do not try to DIY this, Georgia warns. “It’s quite a specific process and it needs a professional to lay it,” she says.
Do you have a dog? What garden design challenges have you faced because of your pet and how did you overcome them? Share your thoughts and tips in the Comments.