How Does Your Garden Grow?

I don’t want to speak too soon, because we all know what the British weather’s like (you watch, it’ll snow next week) … but it looks like spring could be springing! As I write this, the windows are open, the birds are singing outside, and we’re being bathed by glorious spring sunshine. I’ve noticed many of my neighbours tidying up their gardens and this weekend I’m going to have to tackle mine … I’ve got lawns to mow, pots to plant, borders to weed, patios to clean, it’s exhausting just thinking about it but I know it’ll be worth it when I can sit outdoors with a glass of something chilled and admire the fruits of my labour!

Ziggy, Poppy and Betty love this time of year too and will no doubt join me in the garden, ‘helping’ in their own special way – as will the little man Jesse, who loves to look for worms and randomly flick soil everywhere as I toil away!

As a pet owner, I do have to be careful of what I’m planting in the garden as some plants can be toxic to animals. In fact, you might be surprised which common and innocuous-looking plants are potentially pretty toxic for your furry friends! The Blue Cross has compiled this very useful list (although not entirely comprehensive) with those in bold noted as particularly dangerous:

Poisonous for cats: Lilies, Iris, Yucca, Leeks, Tomatoes, Potatoes

Poisonous for dogs: Bluebells, Lupin (leaves & seeds), Wild Cherry Tree (twigs & foliage), Yew (berries & foliage), Rhododendron, Sweetpea (stem), Onion

Poisonous for both: Tulips, Daffodils/narcissus (bulbs), Foxgloves (leaves & seeds), Hyacinth (bulbs), Ivy (whole plant), Buttercups, Azalea, Cyclamen (root), Peach (stones and leaves), Apples (pips), Apricots (kernels), Elderberry, Rhubarb (leaves)

Poisonous for rabbits: most evergreens and most plants that grow from bulbs.

‘Whaaaat?!?’ I hear you say. ‘That’s about half my garden!’

– yes, I appreciate that it’s a fairly big list of some very common plants but, before you dig everything up and opt for a wholly green, grassy garden instead, don’t worry – there are plenty of ‘safe’ plants that will bring some lovely colour and attract pollinators like bees and butterflies – a crucial part of our ecosystem. These busy, buzzy pollinators love sunflowers, cosmos, lavender, Echinacea, aster, buddleia (aka ‘the butterfly bush’) to name but a few – and these are all safe for pets. Many herbs, including rosemary, sage, basil and mint are also safe and can add some fragrance to your garden. For spring colour you can opt for crocuses (except colchicums or autumn crocuses) over the more traditional (and toxic) daffs and tulips. African daisies, calendula, fuchsia, petunia and nasturtium also offer safe, bright blooms. This is obviously not an exhaustive list – there are 100s of pet-safe flowers and plants to choose from – but, before introducing new varieties to your garden, it’s always a good idea to check that they won’t pose a hazard to your furry friends. Of course, you can have these potentially toxic plants in your garden if you wish, there’s absolutely no rule against it and many pet owners will have them (either knowingly or not). You may be reading this thinking ‘Well I’ve had dogs and daffodils for years without any problems!’ and this may well be the case, but it’s always best to be informed and aware of the risks. Younger puppies and kittens especially may be prone to a little nibble of some foliage, petals, bulbs or a berry or two as they explore the garden and, unless you’re going to constantly supervise them outdoors, it’s probably better to be safe rather than sorry.

If you’re concerned that your pet may have taken a little culinary tour of the garden and had a chew on something they’re not supposed to, give your vet a call. We’ll be able to tell you what to do as the toxicity varies – some plants are likely to cause nothing more serious than a slight tummy upset while others are potentially fatal. Look out for the following signs that your pet may be suffering from poisoning:

– Sudden excessive drooling

– Loss of appetite

– Lethargy

– Vomiting of diarrhoea

– Drinking or weeing more

– Rashes or red skin

– Ulcers

– Twitching, seizures or collapse

You also need to be careful of which products you’re using in the garden, too, as many fertilisers, weed killers and pesticides can be dangerous for pets. Be sure to check the bottle which should state whether or not it’s pet friendly or, if possible, choose natural products rather than chemicals. If you do need to use them, put up barriers to keep pets and other wildlife out.

While we’re on the subject of other wildlife, it’s really important to make your garden welcoming to other creatures, too – a huge percentage of land in the UK is taken up by domestic gardens so if we all made a little extra effort to make our gardens more inviting and wildlife friendly we could have a huge impact on biodiversity and the populations of species that are in serious decline, such as hedgehogs. Log piles, leaf piles and compost heaps can be attractive to hedgehogs, but beware that compost heaps can also contain mould and bacteria that can be dangerous to dogs so, for the sake of the hedgehogs’ peace and your dog’s health, make sure it’s in an area that’s not accessible to Fido! It’s also important to link your garden to your neighbours’ via a small hole in or under the fence or hedge, so that hedgehogs can safely trundle between gardens up and down the street without venturing onto the road. Log piles or ‘insect hotels’ can also host a variety of insects, all of which play an important role in our ecosystem. Bird boxes and bird feeders can encourage birds into your garden too, but make sure they’re safely out of kitty’s reach otherwise you’re just tempting the poor little winged creatures into the mini-lion’s den! Get the kids involved in creating a wildlife haven and keep a note of all the different visitors that come to stay in your beautiful, inviting garden.

With considered planting, some wild areas and interesting corners, safe scented flowers and, of course, all the seating and toys you want, it’s possible for everyone to safely enjoy your garden this spring and summer – you, your kids, your pets and an array of wildlife, too!

*The author accepts no responsibility for any plants that may be killed off by frost or late snowfall following this slightly optimistic and possibly premature announcement that spring has arrived!