Gardens Incompatible with Dogs, Cats, and Gophers

It has come to the attention of this writer that, when all is said and done, gardens are truly incompatible with dogs, cats and gophers.
Each time a method for keeping the aforementioned animals out of the garden is described here, someone who has tried every trick in the book writes to say that all techniques, including the tactics of yours truly, are not reliable. Short of constructing physical barriers to the encroachment of these animals, or abandoning the idea of a traditional garden, it seems the homeowner must adopt a stoic attitude of live and let live.
Robert Brinkman of Burbank writes, in regard to his cat problem:
“I’ve tried planting both catnip and catmint to no avail. I have also tried bleach, lye, pepper, new clean earth, fresh clay, fresh sand and exchanging the plants growing in the cats’ favorite area with new plants. The only thing I can come up with next is to fill the area in with concrete.”
At this point, Robert, you might consider giving up on the idea of a traditional garden and consider a backyard forest instead. A horticulturist I know recently brought this new type of low-maintenance, pest-free landscaping to my attention. Take a tree that grows quickly, but reaches a mature height of no more than 30 or 40 feet. The tree should have a fairly pronounced vertical growth habit so that a sufficient number of trees could be grown on a single lot.
Certain species of eucalyptus fit this description admirably. Consider the willow-leaved peppermint eucalypt (Eucalyptus Nicholii), a rather cold, hardy tree of moderate stature and pleasant aroma. Planted 8 to 10 feet apart, you could easily fit 10 to 20 of these trees into an average-size back yard. The cats could climb the trees without damaging them. Meanwhile, you could be swinging on a hammock stretched between two of your trees, inhaling their medicinal peppermint fragrance, at peace with the feline world at last.
Olga Del Campo of Valley Village writes: “I was shocked 27 years ago when I arrived in Los Angeles and noticed no trees on the streets. I came from Argentina, where everyone has at least three trees planted along his property, next to the sidewalk, and I am talking about properties smaller than ours here.”
It all depends on your perspective, Olga. In Los Angeles, the focus of the front yard has always been the lawn. I doubt if, in Argentina, most property owners have front lawns. It makes it a lot simpler to focus on trees when you’re not worried about keeping up a lawn, with its weed, sprinkler and soil-compaction problems. The fact that homeowners cling so tenaciously to the idea of the front lawn – despite its headaches, expense, and virtual absence of aesthetic or functional interest – is a subject for historical, sociological and psychological analysis.
Here’s another idea for an alternative use of yard space: a topiary sculpture garden. Jenny Hendy has written a book called “Quick and Easy Topiary and Green Sculpture” (Storey Publishing; $18.95). Except for instant eucalyptus forests, you should doubt claims of “quick and easy” made for anything related to plants. Plants are a slow study, and horticulture is the lone remaining fortress for patient, caring people in a world gone mad with recklessness and speed, quickness and greed.
Quick and easy notwithstanding, Hendy makes a redeeming statement about her craft: “The key to success is simplicity. The bolder and less fussy the outline of the frame, the more effective it is likely to be when covered with plants.” By bending copper-coated, soft steel wire, you can speedily create two-dimensional squirrels and butterflies. No need to bother, then, with 3-D bunny rabbits, dogs and birds – unless they could be used to somehow distract those pesky cats.
Topiary comes from the Greek word “topos,” which means place. A topiary is a plant sculpture that becomes the trademark of a certain place, like the Mickey Mouse topiaries, clipped out of boxwood and eugenia plants, that you see at Disneyland.
Tip: Plant calla lilies (Zantedeschia aethiopica) in the shade for a long spell of white spathes that also light up a dark room when cut and put in a vase. Calla lilies can grow in damp, poorly drained soil. They spread underground with the help of rhizomes, bulb-like structures which can be divided for planting in other shady spots.

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