landscaping for dog-people who “can’t have nice things”

“She used to get mad over absolutely everything. I remember the time I knocked a Flintstones glass off the table and she said, ‘That’s why we can’t have nice things.”

attributed to Paula Poundstone, comedienne, via website stackexchange

Appreciating what you have, as a married man, a parent, a grandparent and a dog-person that I have learned over sixty years, could be weekend talks around our soon-to-be-completed patio for ages to come. Like the apostle Paul said, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (Philippians 4:12)

We bought our home before having large green lawns in southern California was out-of-fashion. It was then I first learned that contentment was being okay with “not having nice things”. Plants would be dug up or under by dogs seeking shade in the hot summers. Kids would walk up and down the roof or sunbathe from the roof over the patio – it later turned out to be structurally unsound from rot and prior termite damage. Boys roughhousing in our front yard broke off sprinkler heads. Cars got soda residue and melted food in the seats and carpets. Bedroom walls and fixtures might mysteriously be damaged. An unattended candle would nearly set the house afire. A couch or recliner slept in repeatedly by a sweaty teen for nights on end was tossed out before I had spent any time in it. The landscape was also pretty worn out before I could appreciate it. Our dogs back then did not spend much time inside the house.

A coral tree I planted almost a decade ago for shade was awesome, until its size and invasive roots threatened the house. To control the dust – El Cajon is always dusty – I had laid down small river rock, leaving a smaller dirt area for the dogs to relieve themselves. They tended to expand their potty-spots all across those stones and onto the cracked and stained concrete that passed for a small patio.

Though they had free run in the backyard, our dogs never were given free run of the front. In back, slowly the grass gave way to dirt and scraggly ground cover. The front yard’s demise was another story. Now in its third decade, drought caused us to rethink having a lawn ten years ago. An invasion of gophers when a new subdivision blasted across our Rattlesnake “mountains” backdrop, made lawns a battleground. Even within the narrow confines of water shortages, rock-like soil, and sun-scorched “seasons”, grass was all but impossible with gophers. Of my closest neighbors, I was first to swap grass for dirt, stones, cactus, palms, and ornamentals. In the last two years, the gophers seem to have found other, easier, places to survive.

dabbling with a Garden Planner

We began in late summer a total landscape makeover, emphasizing new patios, hardscape and drought-tolerant plants. I deliberated for weeks over the design. It will be a landscape that is both dog-tolerant and welcoming for our friends. We have the task of “teaching old dogs new tricks”. While work continues, I walk them four times a day until I can teach them to use a “potty-corner” we have designed in for those between-walk emergencies. Since both Dexter and Comet have a fondness to pee on plants, pots and posts, I’m thinking of a hardy, urine-tolerant old container plant for that corner.


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