Designing a garden for dogs

Designing a garden for dogs

By Brian Burke, Killenard, Bloom award winning garden designer

We have talked recently about the deliberation and reflection required to produce good design.

That’s good design in any realm, but it applies even more pointedly when it comes to the garden.

We have mentioned how an evaluation of and a familiarity with the schedules and lifestyles of the users is a given for the designer to successfully deliver a pleasing and rewarding experience.

We talk about gardens and garden design and attempt to cover every possible eventuality, potential use and user. But is there a danger here that we are missing out on accommodating our most zealous garden users, our greatest proponents of the great outdoors? Our dogs.

I think there is. We all know and appreciate the role that dogs, and pets in general, can play in our lives.

The benefits to growing children of caring for and stewardship of an animal are well understood and well documented.

We are well acquainted with the positive effect that a dog can have on family life and every year thousands of us make the leap to welcome one into the household, to become part of the family.

And oftentimes there is no issue but sometimes the honeymoon ends very quickly. Why is that?

’A dog is for life, not just for Christmas’. So goes the pre -Christmas warning we hear every year, a warning designed to highlight the commitment that responsible dog ownership involves.

The warnings get plenty of air yet every year we see a lot of healthy, perfectly good dogs being abandoned or worse again, unnecessarily put down.

So, what happens, how does it go from sweetness and light to dropping off at the pound or opening the boot at the bottom of a dark country lane in the dead of night?

There is a certain type of person who should never have a dog, sure, there will always be those. But there are also the people who are perfectly capable and emotionally equipped to look after a dog but who lack the proper environment in which to do it.

If we are going to share our, mostly, suburban homes with a dog are we sure that the setting is appropriate?

Take the theoretical young family; two adults and a son aged seven and a daughter aged four.

Work and school commitments decree that the dog will be alone in the back garden from 8am to 6pm five days a week.

Is it a back garden that can provide stimulation, diversion and entertainment for a dog for fifty hours every week?

The answer will invariably be no. And what does our lovable pooch do when he or she has absolutely nothing else to do?

Destruction, that’s what. And blaming the dog is like blaming the sun for coming up in the morning. In the absence of anything else that’s just what they do.

So, Mum and Dad come home to find the lawn dug up, the clothes pulled off the line, the kids football boots chewed to smithereens, poop everywhere. Cue frustration, disgruntlement, disharmony, hostility and eventual abandonment.

Let’s design for dogs as part of the family the same way we design for children, or entertaining.

If we are serious about wanting to take advantage of all the positivity that a dog can bring then we have to get serious about accommodating them, catering for their needs.

Dogs need stimulation and distraction to stave off boredom and prevent your Olympic standard two-hundred-euro New Balance runners or your specimen Magnolia stellata being eaten to shreds.

Designing a family garden that is to be shared with dogs is not impossible.

With a little planning and forethought an appropriate and stimulating canine garden environment can be cost effectively created and in the process provide the domestic harmony which will ensure the pets enjoy a long, happy and stable life.

At Bloom 2017 I will be creating a Show Garden which, I believe, can help significantly in redefining and rebooting the general perception of what is possible in a garden which is to be shared with dogs.

Watch this space.