Have kids? Have pets? Planting a pet garden may just be the summer combo project that's right for your family. Depending on the age of your children, effective design suggests that you size the plot of your garden to your children's height and reach. For youngsters, you can set aside a 4'x 4' plot for your children to try out their green thumbs. Easy reach and less maintenance are key for smaller gardeners. For older children, you can increase the size to 10' by 3' bed for a border garden. You can also use containers or raised beds for ease of access for children.
Using safe plants for your family pets is critical. Check out the ASPCA's list for toxic and non-toxic plants for cats, dogs, and horses. (Horses can be pets, too!) It's also important to reduce any routine pest control in the landscape to prevent wind spray or accidental application of insecticides into your pet garden.
For a dog and cat garden, plant pennyroyal and garlic to prevent fleas and rye grasses and catnip for your dog and cat to snack on. Cabbage, cauliflower, kale, figs, and melon are delicious snacks for the family hamster's diet. Salad burnet and parsley will feed guinea pigs, rabbits, and canaries. You can grow mint, catnip, and garlic in your kitchen garden to use in baking homemade recipes for dog treats. Sunflower seeds will keep indoor and outdoor birds happy.
Keep in mind that placing catnip next to the bird feeder is poor planning. You don't want to have to explain the realities of life to your wee ones when you're trying to have fun in the garden. If you have a butterfly or pollinator garden, select a location for your pet garden far enough away to prevent bee stings or accidental digestion of an unexpected bee flying through your yard.
Don't forget you can have lizard houses and toad homes for the neighborhood anoles and toads. Take steps to encourage beneficial bugs in your garden for natural pest predation without harsh chemicals. Make sure your children wash their hands off with soap and water after gardening.
Remember to also be extravagant with your own childhood pet stories. Let your children use their imagination with your inspiration to create a memorable garden for their pet.
Originally published In Your Backyard newsletter, 2006.