How much is that doggie in the window?

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…Or how much is that doggie in the garden!  I love unexpected projects that come my way as a result of being a horticulture person in the gardening business.  Recently a local client recommended me to her mother for planting a life sized dog sculpture made of chicken wire.  Her mother obtained it at a dog show last year.  Both the mother and daughter own and show Irish Setters at events.  This life size dog represents a love of their favorite breed and passion as dog competitors, thus it truly had a personal connection to both the mother and her daughter.

When her mother came by my house, she said she went to a couple nurseries for help on how to plant it but they were too busy to assist at the time.  She tried to grow morning glories on it last year, but it just didn’t work, and she didn’t know what to try next.  I’m so glad she showed up at my door step for help.  I knew I would have much fun working on it, and ideas started to pop in my head right away.  We agreed I would keep her posted on my progress and if I didn’t find the right plants or materials, I would let her know.  But I was optimistic for yes, this is a container project, and I’m Container Crazy Cathy T.

Working with chicken wire forms is time consuming and tricky.  It is no wonder during the spring rush season a nursery person hesitated to take on the project.  And you have to be careful to not damage the plants as you work and also think to include the proper elements in the wire frame to help support the extra weight of the moss, plants, and soil.

I recommend using a sphagnum long-fibered moss which is 100% organic and the perfect filler.  Unlike peat moss or sphagnum peat, both non-renewable resources, sphagnum is harvested from perennial live plants that grow in wild rich marshlands or bogs.  It is renewable because it grows back every several years in the bogs.  Once moistened, it can absorb up to twenty times its weight in water.  Pre-wetting the moss makes it easier to work with and it is a good idea to wear gloves to protect your hands.  If you attempt this process, be sure to not breath or inhale the tiny moss bits that can fly around as you open the bag.

The perennials I selected for this dog container garden project were all full sun lovers, primarily stonecrop sedums and herbs.  Thyme, I have to say, worked extremely well because it is tiny and pliable, easy to move through the wires openings.  One variety I selected was Silver Thyme (Thymus vulgaris).  It has a shrubby growth of tiny leaves edged in silver.  Besides being useful for low borders for herb gardens and flower gardens, and in dog sculptures like this, it is drought tolerant and culinary.  Plus its soft visual appearance makes you want to touch it – or in this case – pet it!  The other variety of thyme I included was Woolly Thyme (Thymus lanuginosus).  It added a contrasting softer texture.  Woolly Thyme has gray green leaves and a hugging habit.  It looks felt fabric like and dainty.  Both plants perked up the next day as if enjoying their new home immediately on the back of the dog.

Other plant candidates used as I continued inserting plants were various small leaved stonecrops Sedums.  These plants were a little trickier to manipulate.  They are pliable also, but very breakable and delicate.  Sedum kamtschaticum, a stonecrop with yellow star shaped blooms in summer, Sedum stoloniferum (Green Stonecrop) with pink blooms, and Sedum album (Worm Grass Sedum) with white blooms were used.  Worm grass is one I’ve used in other projects.  It forms a groundcover matt like habit quickly.  Each of these Sedums, along with some others, will have their showing as the plants take root and grow more on the dog’s body.

Delosperma ice plants were additions as well to the design.  One cultivar, ‘Herbeau’ (or Herbeum) will bloom white aster shaped flowers and the other, ‘Cooperi’, will showoff purple blooms.  Because the foliage of the ice plants is soft and kind of jelly like in feel and movement, they did not break easily and moved nicely through openings as I worked to carefully tease them into place.

So with this combination, the arrangement will showcase yellows, whites, purples, and pinks.  This will be especially showy in future years as the plants progress, take hold, and thrive with the proper care and focus on watering but not over watering.  Moss holds water well, but these plant candidates should not stay wet either, so I  carefully planned to review the appropriate watering routine with the client.

And lastly, I could not resist inserting some baby chicks from Hens-and-Chickens (Sempervivium tectorum) plants.  It will be easy for the client to add additional baby chickens plants by separating the small outer rosettes from a “mother” plant and inserting them as desired in various places on the dog.  They added the perfect finishing touch and are extremely easy to insert into the moss.  They can be used to create a dog collar around the neck too!  The bonus with these plants is as the little baby chickens grow, they create a source for plants to continue filling the life sized dog sculpture without adding an extra expense.  You just have to be a little patient.

During the final part of the assembly, when I attached the dog’s head to the body, I swear I felt it come alive.  I know my cat did too as she stopped dead in her tracks as she walked by me looking up at it.   She paused for a moment to contemplate if it was a real dog.  I had to reassure her it was a garden ornament while chuckling at her behavior.  She took a couple sniffs to investigate then carefully walked away checking her back side to triple assure herself the dog would not chase her.

But a more comical part of this story is pertaining to a stonecrop called Sedum hakonense ‘Chocolate Ball.’  It has a darker chocolate colored tone to its foliage that will turn reddish in the fall, and the texture looks a bit rough, but without any forethought, I ended up inserting it near the dog’s rear area.  Then later, when the client came by with her husband to pick up the finished product, I was suddenly pointing to the dog’s unmentionables area saying with much enthusiasm, “…and this is Chocolate Balls Sedum.”

You cannot imagine the laugher all three of us broke into when I made that comment. It just came out that way as I was describing each of the plant’s features. My face turned bright red, but we laughed through it.  It will surely be a humorous talking point in their garden.  I don’t think they will ever forget the name of that plant, nor the adventure of the dog sculpture.  Ironically the timing of the project arrived right before Mother’s Day weekend too – so being a Mom and Daughter story, it was all the more enjoyable.  Cathy T

Dog at Clients

Photo by Owner

Update:  This photo to the left was taken right after the dog was completed.  Below it is a current photo.  Sent to me in November by my client.  You can see her tall Delphiniums in the corner by the fence behind it – noticeable due to the 6′ high stalks and leaves that are palmately shaped on that perennial, and the purple blooms of the irises are noticeable in the below photo as well.  She called me too to ask how to care for it this winter.

~ This is what she wrote:

Cathy, Thanks so much for planting the great plants in my dog.  I got so many compliments – Maryellen.
Laster in the season

Photo sent in November.  The dog’s plants filled out nicely, and just wait til next year when they grow more…

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