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The War of the Planter

Across the front of my house, under some big windows, is a long stone planter. Today it is filled with persistent plants from summer which haven't yet succumbed to cool weather: Licorice plant (Helichrysum petiolare) with its silvery velveteen leaves, soft white dusty miller, a few petunias, and Persian shield (strobilanthes dyerianus). To give it a fall update, I placed gourds and pumpkins amongst the other plants. The Persian Shield and petunias are looking bad, and I probably should pull them. The other plants don't know they are annuals and continue to flourish.

The planter has always been difficult. When I moved here, I dreamed of romantic flowers spilling over the rock facing. I wondered why the previous owners hadn't done anything with it. I soon discovered the planter received full, hot afternoon sun and absolutely no rain, for the roof overhung the area. The rocks held in the heat of the sun and created the microclimate of an oven.

The biggest problem the planter had, however, was our English setter Susie, an intelligent animal with a championship bloodline. The day after I planted flowers in the front planter I found them all dug up and withering in the sun. Susie was lying in the planter, resting in a freshly dug hole. She looked at me in defiance, and I knew I had a problem. Susie was a sweet dog, but she was the most stubborn, hard-headed, determined creature on earth. She owned the outside world. She liked to sit in front of the house and oversee us humans as we planted, watered, and mowed her kingdom. The planter was her favorite spot for a nap or to watch the goings-on in the front yard, and she claimed it for her own.

So began the War of the Planter. I would chase Susie out of the planter, and she would slink off into the woods with her tail between her legs, a sad, penitent expression on her face. It was an act. The minute I turned away, she was back in the planter, digging a new hole. 

Months dragged by, and I was tired of the deep ugly holes, right by my front door. I still dreamed of flowers. My husband and I finally, in desperation, hatched a plot to break Susie of digging holes there. We had some sharp carpet tacks left over from a remodeling job. We decided to put them in the planter. Although I had threatened to kill Susie and had often described how awful her demise would be if ever I caught her in the planter again, she knew they were empty threats. But I figured the first time she stepped on one of the tacks, her bad habit would be broken and I would have the planter for my own.

So one evening we scattered the tacks in the planter and covered them with a light layer of mulch. Afterwards I listened for a yelp. We never hear a sound. The next morning I looked out, and there was Susie, cuddled up in a newly dug doggie hole, snug as a baby in a bassinet. We found the carpet tacks all together in a neat little pile to the side.

Eventually I planted spreading juniper in the planter. These durable plants are often used by landscapers to control soil erosion on steep slopes; even Susie couldn't kill a spreading juniper. The horizontal branches hid the holes Susie dug, and she would lie comfortably, peeking out from amidst the greenery. We declared a truce, and the War of the Planter came to an end.

Susie lived a long, happy life. Today she is buried under a dogwood tree in the woodland garden. The juniper is also long gone, but I still think of Susie when I look at the planter.

She was a good dog, and we loved her.


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Reader Comments (27)

I chuckled often as I read through this post. I have a similar spot claimed by the dogs in my garden. Tucked under a lilac bush, it is a shady spot that is always a few degrees cooler than the rest of the backyard. I have planted a succession of plants there, all of which have died. Each time the temperature soars a fresh spot in the dirt is dug out to make a cool doggie bed. I too have waved the flag of surrender. As you say, I am but the caretaker in this doggie kingdom.

November 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer

Your planters look stunning with the blue-grey offsetting the bright orange gourds and pumpkins. We solved a similar problem by inserting short lengths of bamboo poles at regular intervals.

What a cute title that lead to a humorous story. Reading along, I almost thought Susie ended up in the planter in the end. She was persistent. I have a cat that has been digging a hole in a house plant pot and laying there. Dirt ends up everywhere. You have to wonder what goes through their minds. Your planter looks pretty good now though.

November 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDonna

So funny!!

I have managed to train our dog - the deer are another story. Thanks to them I have a dogwood tree with a Mohawk, a pom-pom ninebark and a weeping willow that looks more like a monks tonsure...........

November 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

Loved the story. Accommodating pets is part of a successful garden.

You mentioned the crape myrtle foliage. I think the different cultivars have different times to turn. The white crapes are slower to turn here. The Lilacina are the orange foliage ones. The others are not remarkable in color.

November 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNell Jean

Your planter look really good with its pumkins for autumn decoration. Our annuals are doing the same as yours, more flowers coming with all the warm weather, it can't be much longer before we have a frost. I think every dog owner would be having a quiet chuckle while reading your post, so glad you came to a compromise with your spreading juniper and that eventually a truce was declared.

November 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPauline Mulligan

What a lovely memory of Susie, something you'll always cherish :) And I like the pumpkins and gourds you have placed in the planter which updates the display. Looking forward to what you'll do with it for the winter (assuming you have one).

What about sedums and sempervivums as permanent plants for the planters? They'll love the warm, south facing spot, and low maintenance too :)

November 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMark and Gaz

What a story! Sweet dog and how smart she was! And you, Deb, are a very good storyteller!!!

November 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTatyana

What a great memory and very humorous! When I was reading the description of the "oven" planter it reminded me of my whole garden this past summer. I can give you a list of plants (agaves, yuccas) that will do quite nicely..JK :)

November 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAmy/goaway, im gardening!

Love it when plants forget they're annuals and return in the Spring,

November 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCarolyn

What a lovely story! Susie sounds like a very sweet dog despite her penchant for digging holes in the planter. I really like how you decorate the planter with the gourds...very, very nice!

November 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterThe Sage Butterfly

You've shared some lovely memories - and what a beautiful display of pumpkins and gourds in that very special planter.

November 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRosie leavesnbloom

What a lovely story and what a clever dog - she probably wondered what you were up to!!

I do like the way you have extended the lift of your summer planters with squashes - very clever though would probably get strange looks here in the UK as we dont tend to have such seasonal festive planters, which is a pity

November 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterHelen

Loved this story. I don't have a dog, but it sounds like fun.

November 8, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterb-a-g

Licorice plant? Comes from South Africa and I just can't keep it alive. Green with mild envy. Will try again.

November 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterElephant's Eye

That's such a sweet story. I have a similar war being waged with my dog. There is a spot that I've tried growing several small shrubs and he just continues to claim the spot. Several plants have died there and I've just about given up. No matter what I do he squeezes his way in and languishes in his comfy spot! He is pretty good about leaving my other plants along, I probably ought to just give him the spot!

November 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCat

What a sweet story Deb! Made me laugh and cry! Well, the choices you've come up with in "Susie's Bed" seem to be doing well, and the gourds are just the perfect touch!

November 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEve

I love the way you wrote this post, it made me smile while I was reading it. you've done a great job with the planter, the pumpkins were a fun idea. Christina

November 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterChristina

I was so hoping you had come up with a solution to the dog-lying-in-the-flower-bed problem! Funny how she put all the tacks in a little pile! Sometimes all we can do is grin and bear it!

November 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterHolleyGarden

Ha ha. Your Sally was quite bright! We've had several dogs with very different personalities. Fortunately we're enjoying a lovely happily obedient gal this time around!

November 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGarden Sense

I love the inclusion of those colorful cucurbits among the green leaves. About the story of the dogs, we also do that with our pets. In fact last week when i was digging some soil for my pots, my nephew said i shouldnt go to my left because his pet cat is burried there 2 yrs ago, as if it is not yet decomposed in two years. We remember their sites until maybe around 5 yrs.

November 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea

Deb, I enjoyed this post so much that I've shared it on my facebook page www.facebook.com/lejardinet. There are several dog lovers that join me there and they'll get a kick out of this too.

November 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

Clearly Susie had her very own ideas about gardening! Dogs can be funny, and stubborn. We had a dog some years ago that was convinced that our side-yard lacked a moat. I kept trying to convince her not to dig moats around the house, but she insisted, and she dig them blazingly fast! If I had a brain, I would have buried pipes in those 'moats' to carry away water from our downspouts! Once I finally succeeded in training her to stop digging, we discovered that part of the yard really never dried out (and that was why the plants kept dying)...and guess what? We had to dig a trench down the entire length of the house to bury a drain pipe, and gravel, to improve the drainage. I swear that dog was smug about that for years afterward. Clearly, she knew best, as did Susie! ;)

November 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCurbstone Valley Farm

What a smart dog! Of my five dogs, one wears a collar for an Invisible Fence to keep her from destroying the garden. She is an expert hole digger and plant killer. The other five wander in and out of the beds doing little damage aside from occasionally stepping on plants. They are my constant companions and make gardening even more fun. However, none of them are as smart and stubborn as Susie!

November 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCasa Mariposa

My last dog Max was stubborn, too. He would dig a hole right outside the backdoor to take a nap in. I thought I would outsmart him by laying down three sheets of weed cloth and tacking with landscape staples. Then I put down a couple of inches of pea gravel. The next day he had pulled up all of the above and was leisurely relaxing in his favorite spot.

November 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGirlSprout

Hi Deb - love that story, as now I'm doing battle with a cocker spaniel with a taste for hakone grass - yikes! Your fall planter looks beautiful - the greys really show off those glowing pumpkins.

November 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCyndy

Deb, your stories are always a joy to read.

November 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDenise
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