Edible Gardens for Pets

By Anthea Davidson
Creative Horticultural Consultant & Garden Designer
EdibleGardenDesigns.com

When I arrive at a client’s house I am nearly always greeted by a friendly pet. The dog is overjoyed and looking for attention and the cat smooches my legs giving me ‘approval’. I won’t even talk about the fur and slobber left on my black trousers after a day of consulting! But it made me think. These animals are like a family member—they like a varied, healthy diet to keep them in the best possible shape. Their well-being is important to their owner and the pet needs an animal-friendly garden. 

grass

So let’s think about practical garden designs that can be shared and enjoyed by owner and pet together. Most importantly, how to incorporate plants that pets can eat or rub against to gain the essential vitamins and minerals needed for a shiny coat, good digestion and fewer allergies, making a happy, healthier pet!

CATS
In my experience people spend far more on plants for their cat than for their dog.

Catmint, cat thyme and cat grass are the most common herbs used for cat health and wellbeing.

Catmint: This bears a spectacular lavender-like flower spike and green to greyish foliage. It’s good as a low groundcover for hot dry spots. It’s extremely drought tolerant, too. Catmint looks great mass-planted under roses—it creates a carpet effect. Cats love it because it has a hallucinogenic effect! Cats rub against it or nibble at it releasing a chemical called Nepetalactone. You will see the cat bouncing around, rolling on the ground and possible drooling. It’s a little like the behaviour you see in a human after a few glasses of wine! Catmint is also excellent for repelling mosquitoes and even cockroaches. So plant it near your outdoor entertaining area.

Cat grass: This is a cereal grass which eliminates furballs by making the cat vomit. It is also high in vitamins and minerals. This is best kept in pots as it looks a little ‘weedy’.

cat in garden

Cat Thyme: The aromatic foliage on this 1 metre high growing plant is eye-catching. It is very silver and likes a hot spot. It can be kept pruned to create a low hedge effect. It has dainty pink flowers. Cats love the aroma and you’ll see them smooching this plant. This is a good herb to pick and dry. Place it into a breathable bag and put it on your cat’s bed. It is calm and soothing and will give your cat sweet dreams!

These cat herbs are all fantastic in pots, too. Leave them near the back door where cats are likely to hang around.If yours is an indoor cat, the plants can also be kept indoors in a bright sunny room for short periods.  Just remember to use organic sprays only on plants your animals may eat.

DOGS

Unfortunately there are more toxic plants out there for dogs than edible ones. Dogs do enjoy eating ferns, especially those beautiful juicy sweet new shoots, and gnawing on bamboo, both mainly safely edible.

The number one favourite for dogs is Lavender—but watch out for the bees! Lavender has a lemony taste to it. Lots of varieties are available for garden uses from Spanish, Italian, and French to English. English lavender is commonly used for its striking grey foliage and is great in hedges and for potpourri.

dog in garden

The others have showy flowers with aromatic foliage and look good planted in clusters of 3 or 5 (yes, keep them in uneven numbers for best effect!). They also do well in pots. As I mentioned, bees love them so they are great for bringing bees into your edible garden for pollination. Lavender is a great aromatherapy product for dogs, as it is humans. It is commonly used in dog treats, for shampoo and to keep fleas at bay—and that’s just for starters.

POSITIVE PET CORNERS
For those serious animal lovers, you can devote a corner or small section of your garden to your pet.  Plant all the edible, perfumed plants your animal loves. It can be used for rewarding positive behaviour when dog training, for one thing. Your dog would be allowed to enter this area after a successful training session to tantalise the senses and relax it—and it could also be an alternative to a food treat.

EDIBLES AS A DETERANT
Edible plants can also be used to deter animals from garden beds or even steer them away from unsafe areas. Although we love our pets, sometimes there are certain areas which we like to see remain animal-free. I often hear clients complaining about their dogs creating a muddy track through the garden or trampling through a manicured box hedge, leaving a gaping hole every time this happens. Many clients give up on planting an area because “it’s the dog’s digging area” or “it’s where the cat goes to the bathroom.”  Well there is a solution.

You can change animal behaviour by planting these areas with plants that release an aroma or oil that is distasteful to the pet. Some of these are edible and some are ornamental but both give either flower or foliage interest to the landscape.
Here are some examples I’ve found popular: edibles such as marigolds, nasturtiums, chives and basil are not liked by cats and dogs due to their aroma and sharp tasting foliage.

Coleus cannis, commonly known as ‘dog’s bane’, is an impressive looking succulent plant that is not only hardy but bears a lovely lavender-like flower spike in the cooler months. Dogs hate it—and won’t go near it!
The added bonus with a lot of these edibles is they also help to keep away insects that may cause skin, eye and ear irritations in our pets.

PEST CONTROL—AND A SAFETY BARRIER, TOO!
Here’s another bonus. Consider using herbs that may help prevent unwanted pests. For instance, the perfumed citronella geranium releases an oil that is an attractive mosquito deterrent. It’s perfect for those damp areas or around the kennel or cat run! The culinary herb fennel helps prevent fleas on cats and dogs. It also makes a very trendy kitchen salad! I make one with green apples, chicken, green onion and fennel, tossed with a horseradish dressing.
 
The herb feverfew and artemisia help to control insects. Feverfew has soft lacy limey leaves. Artemisia, part of the daisy family, is soft, fluffy and grey in colour. They have great foliage effects when planted when massed.
 
Every edible flower a dog eats—such as pineapple sage, hibiscus, carnations, and pansies—is high in vitamins. They can also be used in the cooking of doggy treats. Thorny edible plants may also be used as a deterrent for unsafe areas such as steep banks, screening off pool equipment or to prevent dogs jumping onto fences. We can use edible canes such as raspberries or blackberries, with caution.

OTHER PET PRODUCTS
Have you seen all the other edible pet products that are proliferating madly? I’ve heard of pet bakeries selling organic treats and there are lots of farmers’ markets selling gourmet pet treat concoctions, too.

If you’ve been to some US airports recently, you might have notice the ‘pet relief areas’. Philadelphia International has 7 of them, with features such as mulch, a faux fire hydrant and biodegradable waste bags.

No wonder the US pet market is set to hit almost $48 billion this year. In Australia, with 22 million people and 33 million pets, that market was worth $6 billion last year.


About EdibleGarden Designs.com
EdibleGardenDesigns.com was created for the growing band of people who want to harvest their own food to stay healthy and save money BUT who want well-designed gardens, too—not just a traditional vegetable patch!

About Anthea Davidson
Anthea is a creative horticultural consultant and designer. She has more than 20 years’ experience in the retail horticulture and design industry with a multi-award winning garden nursery.
After the birth of her two sons, she established her own garden consultation and design business to give her more time flexibility. (Her sons have enjoyed helping in the garden since they could walk.)
Anthea’s clients appreciate her creative flair, her down-to-earth knowledge on a vast array of plants and their care, and her ability to get inside her clients’ heads to help them create the perfect garden for their home.
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