Last summer, a visitor to my garden pointed and exclaimed “Don’t you know that is poisonous to dogs?” I followed her scowl to the offending plant. Chagrined, I admitted that, yes, datura is toxic to dogs, people and probably every other mammalian life form. But so are tomato plants (closely related to nightshade) and a witch’s brew of other garden fare. Colchicums and aconites are even more potentially dangerous to dogs (and people) than datura.
Fortunately, my little darlings have never exhibited the slightest inclination toward consuming any of these.
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Furthermore, my coyote-snack-sized dogs are not allowed to wander the garden unchaperoned. What I failed to tell the worried visitor, though, is that my pair of Cavalier King Charles spaniels does, however, crave grapes. Why grapes make dogs, but not people, sick, I couldn’t say, but they do.
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Every autumn the grapes on the arbor above my patio ripen and are immediately set upon by raccoons. Not being a fan of grapes in general and Concord least of all, I don’t begrudge the raccoons their share. What I do object to is their messy eating habits. For every grape that goes into their mouths they drop 10. Raccoons dislike the Concord’s bitter skins and woody seeds as much as I do. They suck out the pulp and spit out the rest. Skins, seeds and half-eaten grapes all fall through the slats of the arbor onto the bricks below.
Every morning from the end of August through the first hard frost, I wake to some degree of grape mayhem. Even though I go outside with them, the first thing the dogs do is start snarfing up grapes, skins, seeds and all-accompanied to my futile shouting: “Drop those! Grapes make you sick!” (Both dogs are deaf.) Not only do I have to deal with sick dogs for six weeks in late summer, but every morning I must sweep up grape residue — before having a single drop of coffee.
You might wonder why I don’t just yank out the grapevines. I built the arbor as a cover over our hot southwest-facing patio. Grapevines provide the shade. It took a long time for them to get big enough to cover the 14-by-20- foot surface and, except for those six weeks in late summer, they do the job admirably.
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Few vines are as low maintenance and drought-tolerant as grapes. I really can’t think of a better alternative. So this summer I plan to cut off all the grapes the minute they start to ripen and throw them over the fence and into the field where the wildlife can still enjoy the bounty. Not a perfect solution, but what compromise is?
Despite the grapes’ effect on dog’s digestive systems, I have never had a dog that didn’t consider them canine ambrosia. Had I known this I would have found another way to shade the patio. To save needless grief and bother, savvy dog lovers may want to leave grapes out of their gardens and landscapes.
Marcia Tatroe is a garden writer and lecturer. Her most recent book is “Cutting Edge Gardening in the Intermountain West” ($29.95, Johnson Books). E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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