Those of us who are animal lovers have the difficult task of striking a precarious balance to ensure that animals – both pets and wildlife – live harmoniously with the plants and trees in our gardens. Many animal lovers can nevertheless feel utter despair at the havoc created by the very wild animals that we enjoy attracting into our gardens. In addition even if we adore our dog and tolerate the neighbour’s cat there can be times when our garden is messed around and sometimes even ruined, which then creates an emotional tug of war.

If you cat or dog enjoys chewing your favourite plants or flowers, consider dedicating a small part of your garden just for your pets. Unfortunately, training your pets is the key to creating real harmony between your pets and plants – and it is easiest to start when they are young. Even if you do set aside a little pet area, you will need to encourage your pet to visit it and even stay in it.

Most pets require a certain amount of greens in their diet, so you will be providing them with some nutrition.  Experiment to find your pet’s personal preferences. Some dogs like to chew on oats, others go for strawberries or dig up vegetables. If your dog chews on your grass, consider a patch of fescue – a fine but hardy and low maintenance type of grass.  Cats adore catnip shoots (Nepeta). They also like the young tender leaves of oats. Pet rabbits and small rodents such as guinea pigs and hamsters are less fussy – they will chew just about anything in your garden. Put a very fine mesh fence or solid wall fence around their garden patch and ensure that the fence is sunk in the soil three to four inches. 

Many animals simply trample over your garden. Of course there are a number of perennials that are paw resistant. These include Sedum ‘Stonecrop’, Netpeta  (catmint), Vinca (Perriwinkle), Hemecrocalis Daylily, Thyme and Ornamental grass.  Dog-proof ornamentals include Berberis and Rugosa roses.

One of the most annoying problems faced by pet owners is the appearance of small areas of dead grass caused by a dog’s caustic urine. Unfortunately there is no easy answer with the exception of following your dog with a hose pipe and diluting the mess left behind.  The best solution is to train your dog to do his business in a specified place. If you have a male dog, set aside a small square of gravel with a post in the centre which should encourage him to lift his leg appropriately.

Many gardeners dislike cats, as cats are often blamed for killing or scaring off wild birds. Try hanging your bird feeders from metal poles instead of dangling them from branches. This prevents the cat from climbing the tree and attacking from above. A garden full of trees and shrubs gives birds an escape route from cats. However the best solution is to keep your cat well fed. He or she will soon discover that it easier to pound on your back door than stalk an angry bird. If cats really are proving a problem in your garden, try planting Rue. The blue leaves look beautiful but cats seem to hate the odour. Cats are not too keen on roses either, as the thorns are rather uncomfortable. Do take note however, that some people can develop a skin allergy from Rue.

If your garden is quite bare try sprinkling cayenne or ground up grapefruit or lemon rind to ward off cats. Alternatively, make tea from rue and spray your plants.  Of course there are commercial solutions for discouraging visits by cats – but if you are an animal lover, no doubt the home-made solutions will be more appealing.

Wild animals are often more challenging to control than pets. Rabbits are a particular problem. They adore all vegetables, tulip shoots and chew the bark, buds and stems of woody plants – to name but a few. There are a number of commercial repellents on the market, but you must ensure they are safe to use around children and pets. 

Apparently, rabbits dislike the scent of marigolds, so you could try planting marigold around your borders. If an excess of marigolds is not to your liking, try sprinkling a mixture of black pepper and bone meal over rabbits’ favourite foods. When you are planting bulbs, sprinkle them with a little chilli powder before placing them in the ground. Try to apply any repellents at twilight as rabbits prefer to eat after dark. All of these should deter rabbits from devouring the fruits of your labour.

So we know that pets can cause harm to our gardens, but gardens can also cause harm to our pets. Unfortunately there are a number of plants that are poisonous if eaten by your pet. Most domestic animals have a sixth sense, which prompts them to leave these alone, but young animals may be tempted out of curiosity. Oleanders, Aconitum (Monkshood), Foxgloves (Digitalis spp.), Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis), Deadly Nightshade (Solanum nigrum and S. dulcamara) and Euphorbia marginata and E. tirucalli are all particularly toxic. Azaleas and Rhododendrons have toxins in the leaves.

It is worthwhile remembering that a number of seeds or pits in fruit contain cyanide and should never been fed to animals or birds. These include cherry pits, apricot stones, almonds and apple seeds. In addition many common flower bulbs are toxic if eaten, so remember to store your bulbs in a place that is not accessible to animals.