What is a sensory garden?

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These are areas that are designed to have a variety of elements that usually stimulate a range of senses, but could be designed to target just one or two, such as smell and taste. This could be provided for animals by planting a variety of herbs and botanicals they could interact with.  For more information on suitable plants see below, or why not arrange a Herbal Choices session to identify which plants are of particular interest.  If using containers, care should be taken in choosing those that do not leach chemicals; this also  includes the use of  worn tyres which also have the potential to do this.


To stimulate other senses, such as touch, other elements could be added including a variety of materials to walk on such as pebbles, mulch, twigs, sand, wooded and gravelled areas.  Sound could be added in the form of water, such as fountains or waterfalls, or grasses that would create sound when they move in the wind; however adding objects that create loud or unpredictable noises are best avoided.  Some animals may also enjoy things such as wind chimes, but you will be best gauged if this is suitable for their character.  Having a lawned area, or chamomile lawn, could also be beneficial, as well as a water feature such as a pond or stream.  


The purpose of this type of garden is to not only provide sensory interest, but also a place that is relaxing for your animal; and whatever space  is available, sensory enrichment elements can be scaled up or down to fit within this area.

Adding Enrichment

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Enrichment can be made accessible within the confines of a garden or yard and can take many forms.  Knowing your animal  will be the key to providing this for them; basically what makes them happy.  For your dog this could be as simple as placing their favourite toy in a pile of autumn leaves and giving them guidance to seek it out.   


The introduction of  structures of varying heights for cats and dogs could not only provide enrichment but also work different muscle groups.  Cats could make use of a log as a scratching post.   In addition a "den" area  could provide a "chill out zone" or area of shade in hotter weather, or just somewhere to play hide and seek.

Companion animals can also benefit from having access to plants for their health and well-being, as well as for enrichment.  These may be eaten, rolled in/rubbed against or just inhaled.  In fact  a study analysing wolf (the closest relative of the dog) scat during the summer months revealed their diet contained 8% grasses and berries, with other studies showing around 20% plant matter.   It is sometimes thought grasses are consumed to prevent parasites, but David Mech  (an American wolf expert) feels it may be consumed for the vitamin content.  A short study by Dogs First seems to support this,  with only 1 in 10 of the dogs that regularly selected grass being diagnosed with worms.

Some beneficial plants for dogs:

  • Barley grass
  • Cat mint
  • Chamomile (Roman or German)
  • Cleavers
  • Echinacea
  • Fennel
  • Lavender
  • Lemon balm
  • Lemongrass
  • Marshmallow
  • Parsley
  • Pot Marigold
  • Roses
  • Yarrow

 

References: 

Diet composition of wolves (Canis lupus) on the Scandinavian peninsula determined by scat analysis , S Muller

 https://dogsfirst.ie/stage-1-grass-eater-trial-complete/ 

Cats may too eat plant matter, but as this is indigestible for them it is unlikely to be for nutritional benefit.   In a study of wild cat scat they found 25% contained plant matter, consisting mainly of grasses and twigs (Ref: Feeding Ecology of a Feral Cat Population on a Small Mediterranean Island).


Some beneficial plants for cats:

  • Barley grass
  • Cat mint
  • Lavender
  • Peppermint
  • Roses
  • Valarian


Herbal supplements are sometimes added to an animal's feed however given the choice they may not choose all the constituents of these, but they could be broken down at a Herbal Choices session and offered individually; allowing your animal to choose.  However, supplements prescribed by your vet should be continued and reviewed by them.  

Pet Friendly garden area plan

Even though our design entry for the  Pet Friendly Garden Competition at the Landscape Show 2019 was not shortlisted, there are ideas in the attached PDF files that could be adapted and used in your garden or yard area.  These include planting options supportive for both animals and wildlife. 


Lawned areas that are maintained pesticide-free, however small, rather than "plastic" or artificial grass which can heat up quite dramatically on sunny days and is not biodegradable, are encouraged.   Emission of toxins is also widely discussed on social media, however significant changes have been made since the first artificial turf was introduced in the 1960s, with lead and crumb rubber free options now available.  However cheap imports would appear to be best avoided.  


A lawned area is supportive for burrowing insects and worms, with slightly longer grass also attracting insects, and thus encourages wildlife and supports nature.  There is also the positive environmental impact of plant photosynthesis from a lawn.  On a slightly different tangent could the soil itself be beneficial; particularly for our microbiome?  See what you think: https://ourworld.unu.edu/en/the-surprising-healing-qualities-of-dirt.  Chamomile lawns are also a wonderful alternative to a traditional lawned area.   Moss lawns are also growing in popularity as an option, as are clover lawns which are more resistant to urine stains.


For organically grown plants and seeds which are ideal for animals, have a look in our Shop.