Tag Archives: dogs

When You Need FIERCE Foliage

Do you need to get TOUGH? Warm climate gardeners can use this vicious Euphorbia x ambohipotsiensis to keep curious animals out of their garden; I need a solution for Seattle.

I’m working on re-designing a clients suburban front garden with a primary heartfelt plea to “please stop the neighbors  dogs  using this as a bathroom”.

I totally understand their frustration. They love dogs  although they don’t currently have any pups of their own. However you wouldn’t know that from the amount of time they spend cleaning up after everybody else’s dogs!  I remember watching one lady casually standing by, her little dog on its leash, watching and waiting as the dog did its business in my own front garden many years ago.  I rushed out to confront her, incensed that she thought this was perfectly acceptable behavior! (She never did that again).

While I can’t train the dog owners, one thing I can do for these homeowners is make the garden less desirable and harder to access for canines while still maintaining an aesthetically pleasing outlook that works with the neighborhood. Local regulations prevent me from adding a fence so I will mound up the soil creating a berm and add a number of chunky boulders. Between these I will plant some thorny, low growing barberries. This is where dogs have better judgement than some owners as they will quickly recognize this as a ‘no go’ zone. It’s just no fun  to sniff around in between prickly bushes!


Concorde barberry retains its luscious deep grape color all season

Barberries are not invasive in our area so I am using the burgundy Concorde (Berberis thunbergii ‘Concorde’) that will grow into tidy 3′ mounds as well as the low growing dwarf coral hedge barberry (Berberis x stenophylla ‘Corallina Compacta’) which has evergreen dark green leaves and vivid orange flowers.


Aloe are interspersed with less prickly companions on this rocky hillside at the UC Berkeley Botanical Gardens

In warmer climates you may consider agave, aloe and other super-spiny succulents and cacti. Remember to deter dogs, something low growing and/or wide spreading is the most effective.


Now THIS could work – but sadly not where I live. Huntingdon Botanical Garden, CA

Other options might include groundcover type roses e.g. the Flower Carpet series.

Deterring Larger Intruders

Whether two footed or four, there are times when one might need to deter larger visitors from trampling your garden – or gaining access to a window. This is when we need super-sized, thorny shrubs.


Pretty marbled colors of Rose Glow barberry

My first call is still for barberries which I use to send deer on a detour around the outer perimeter of our large island border. Rose Glow (Berberis thunbergii ‘Rose Glow’) is inexpensive, easy to find and the burgundy foliage splashed with cream and pink works well as a backdrop for most plants. With each deciduous shrub forming a 4′ x 4′ fountain a hedge of these creates a formidable barrier.


Gorgeous spring flowers on an evergreen barberry; UC Berkeley Botanical Gardens

The larger evergreen barberries typically have orange flowers which look stunning against the glossy dark green leaves. Darwin barberry (Berberis darwinii) and William Penn (Berberis x gladwynensis ‘William Penn’) are two popular varieties but there are many others.


Love the pincushion of extra spines on this hedgehog holly

Hollies are also a great option; specifically those that are sterile. I have just purchased a nice big hedgehog holly (Ilex aquifolium ‘Ferox Argentea’ ). Love the bright variegation and extra cream-colored spikes on some of those leaves!


Goshiki Japanese holly is a great choice for barrier planting

Japanese holly (Osmanthus h. ‘Goshiki’) has similar spiny leaves to true hollies without the concern for invasive tendencies . For some reason mine have not done well over the past few winters, even though last year was quite mild. They have lost almost all their leaves so I am slowly replacing them with other shrubs. Still a great choice for many gardeners, however, and they can easily be sheared to keep to a smaller size.


Charity Oregon grape is a favorite of mine – and hummingbirds

There are many varieties of Oregon grape (Mahonia species) that you could turn to. The taller varieties such as Winter Sun, Arthur Menzies and Charity will all work well as deterrents in areas that get afternoon shade and the yellow flowers attract hummingbirds and bees.


Those stiff spines on the stems and leaves are SHARP!

Gunnera might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of thorny plants but the stems on these giants are definitely wicked. If you have moist soil and lots of space this could be an option, making a great visual statement from spring-fall. Sadly it won’t help much in winter as this is a perennial and will be dormant during that time.

Going All Out


Part of Loree Bohl’s garden in Portland, OR

One notable gardener has created the infamous Danger Garden. Loree Bohl has turned her Portland lot into a remarkable showcase for all things fierce. You can re-read the article we wrote on her unique garden here.

We know you all have great ideas so do share! What plants do you use for fierce foliage – and what are you trying to deter? Leave us a comment here or on our Facebook page.

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Fido-Proof Foliage


Bo (left) and Mia. Photo credit Gethyn Clothier

I have two golden retrievers with varying degrees of intelligence. Bo is big, blonde and goofy. Mia is smaller and more devious. For the most part our garden and the dogs live in harmony. The vegetable garden is fenced to keep the deer out and also serves to keep canine noses within reach of just a few strawberries and only the lowest apples.

Bo knows that  this path is off limits. Knowing and remembering, however, are two different skills

Bo knows that this path is off limits. Knowing and remembering, however, are two different skills

They know they have to keep out of certain areas that aren’t fenced but have a distinct change in tactile surface e.g. grass is OK but the wood chips path that winds through the bigger borders is off limits.

OOPS - we'd only had Bo a few days at this point so forgiveable

OOPS – we’d only had Bo a few days at this point so forgivable. Photo credit; Gethyn Clothier

The problem arises when they see deer. Or Rabbits. Or a squirrel. Or heaven help us the neighbor because at that point 85 pounds of blonde fur is likely to fly through shrubs and perennials, tail wagging with abandon.

Sound familiar? How can the garden survive such joie de vivre? I find dense planting helps (no clear pathway between them) but certain plants are tougher than others.

I look for flexible branches that will give way rather than snap, tough foliage that won’t shred under paws and multi-stemmed shrubs so that if one or two canes get damaged it’s not the end of the world.

Here are some of my favorite tromp-able foliage plants that look good enough for me and survive happy dogs.


Kaleidoscope abelia has colorful variegated foliage

Kaleidoscope abelia has colorful variegated foliage

These evergreen or semi-evergreen shrubs work hard in the garden. Drought tolerant, deer resistant and rabbit resistant they also have fragrant flowers that attract bees and hummingbirds. Kaleidoscope is one of several variegated forms. Plant this next to a purple shrub such as a smoke bush or weigela and you’ve got the makings of a top notch vignette.

David’s viburnum

Davids viburnum with river birch

Davids viburnum with river birch

This tough evergreen shrub has a bad reputation for being boring thanks to its ubiquitous use along roadsides, in shopping malls and just about anywhere else you need a low maintenance, fuss-free plant. Hang on a minute though; since when was that a bad thing? These wide spreading shrubs survive deer, rabbits, drought and DOGS. Spring flowers, fall berries and easy going; you may need to put your pride aside and look at David’s viburnum again.

Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica)

Fall Foliage on Little Henry

Fall Foliage on Little Henry

I favor the compact variety Little Henry as it fits easily into modest sized gardens but this is a foliage workhorse even at full size (Henry’s Garnet). Fragrant spring flowers and stunning fall color that often persists through winter are two great attributes but this deciduous shrub also thrives in wet soil and grows by suckering. For dog owners that’s a plus as it means there are lots of soft pliable stems so some will remain unscathed after the dog-chases-rabbit rampage is over.

Blue star juniper (Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Star’)

Many low growing conifers survive the odd tennis ball but the short branches and needles  together with its irregular growth habit help the Blue Star juniper easily disguise some minor trampling. Larger pine boughs would definitely be missed by comparison.

Flanked by a viburnum and spirea the blue star juniper survives bouncing tennis balls and paws

Flanked by a viburnum and spirea the blue star juniper survives bouncing tennis balls and paws

Box honeysuckle (Lonicera nitida)

Lemon Beauty has an attractive lemon and lime variegation

Lemon Beauty has an attractive lemon and lime variegation

If you have a shrub that you can prune anyhow, anytime and it still looks OK then chances are good that it will be fine with dogs too. Box honeysuckle (Lonicera nitida) is a sprawling semi-evergreen/evergreen shrub with several attractive varieties sporting interesting foliage colors. Lemon Beauty is one of my favorites. I allow it to grow into a wide arching shrub to disguise irrigation pipes in one area of the garden but prune it more closely for shape in another.

Plants to avoid – at least initially

Dogs love to eat grass – especially the expensive ones like Japanese forest grass and mondo so wait a while on adding those if you’re training a puppy. Taller grasses can also quickly be ravaged by boisterous dogs.

Western sword ferns may not be the most delicate - but that is why they survive dog play

Western sword ferns may not be the most delicate – but that is why they survive dog play

Soft, delicate ferns are likely to get torn to shreds (e.g. western maidenhair fern) but the tougher more leathery varieties will cope better e.g. western sword fern

Anything whose beauty is associated with perfect symmetry! That suggests leaving globe shaped conifers behind in favor of ones with a little more personality.

Paws for thought

I haven’t mentioned plants with thorns such as Oregon grape (Mahonia), holly or barberries. These will hurt dogs and none of us wants to do that. When your dogs are trained by all means include these great shrubs if they are suitable for your area, but perhaps set them into the border a little way. Even well behaved dogs have accidents when leaping for a tennis ball!

Share your ideas

We’d love to hear what plants you have used that have survived being torn up by paws or knocked flat by tails (or rolled onto …)

Why do I feel as though the dogs will have the last laugh??

Why do I feel as though the dogs will have the last laugh??

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