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GARDENING : Yards With Animal Magnetism


Some people garden for the love of plants and others garden for the love of their animals. Marjorie Puckett of Santa Ana, for instance. When she added a pot-bellied piglet to her household three years ago, she converted her back yard into a garden specially dedicated to Cornelius, now tipping the scales at 132 pounds.

Or Laura Shortall of Costa Mesa. She has bunny-proofed a small back yard so her Angora rabbit, Willow, can play outdoors.

Or Bill and Darlene Oster of Irvine. They share their back yard with Seeme, a desert tortoise that has lived with the family for 15 years.

These Orange County pet owners are among those looking at their gardens and yards from a pet's point of view. Are the plants safe to eat? Are there chemicals that can cause illness? Is the climate right? Is it OK to relax and feel at home here?

For some, pets and gardens are permanently at odds; much effort is spent figuring out how to safeguard plants from frolicking dogs or cats who regard the great outdoors as one big litter box.

But mixing gardening with pets on purpose--particularly if the pet is a vegetarian that considers the garden a giant salad bowl--requires a different approach.

"I call him my black bulldozer since he's constantly working the soil," said pig owner Puckett. "Pigs are naturally rooters and diggers. I've had to make considerable adjustments to my garden to keep us all happy."

Cornelius might think he's in hog heaven since he spends his days digging, rooting and eating outdoors, and then at night has the run of the Puckett house. But he's only permitted indoors after Puckett has cleaned the soil from his snout and his feet. She's trained him to shake hands, so cleaning his feet is simple.

Puckett is a dedicated gardener. She joined the Orange County Organic Gardening Club to learn how to grow her plants pest- and poison-free for the sake of her pig. She's also a member of the Orange County Horticultural Society.

She learned quickly which plants Cornelius found the tastiest. Roses are on the top of the list. Since she loves roses, too, she installed wire fencing to secure them from the pig. She also pig-proofed flower beds by inserting wooden or metal spikes that deter the rooting pig snout and also prevent Cornelius from creating a snoozing spot among the camellias, ferns and pansies.

Pigs are naturally curious, and when Cornelius spots Puckett digging or planting, he comes right along to help by uprooting things on the spot. Puckett deters this unwanted attention by placing pig manure at the base of her newly planted ornamental as well as on top of the flower beds.

"Pigs are very clean and don't want to dig where their manure is, so in addition to fertilizing the plants, it's also a great pig detractor," she explained.

Pigs like to lie in mud for its coolness, so a puddle is a natural pig-attractant. Puckett provides a child's wading pool for Cornelius and also has created a designated mud spot for his comfort.

Rabbits are gaining in popularity as pets since they're quiet, docile, affectionate and cute. Many owners share their homes with rabbits, which can be trained to use a litter box. Others keep their rabbits in outdoor hutches. Both benefit from some outdoor time and space for exercise.

Laura Shortall is a member of the House Rabbit Society and houses several foster rabbits in addition to her own pets, including Willow the Angora.

She first bunny-proofed the yard by installing wire three feet beneath the perimeter fence so Willow couldn't dig an escape route. She then planted a special garden for Willow's munching enjoyment.

"She loves herbs, especially mint, and I've added pansies and violets for her," Shortall said. "She also nibbles the grass lawn."

Cheryl Leonard of Irvine is allergic to her three cherished rabbits so they live outdoors full time. At night, they're confined to hutches, but during the days they have free run of the secured back yard.

Harvey, Darth and Dutch coexist with the garden flowers and shrubs, although Leonard gave up trying to grow bedding annuals since the rabbits ate them faster than they could grow. Leonard tried to grow a vegetable garden for them, but again they nibbled the seedlings before they could mature. Now, Leonard provides their favorite treats of alfalfa hay, a variety of fruits and dark green vegetables, and the rabbits show their appreciation by ignoring the blue hibiscus, ferns, azaleas, gardenias, geraniums and other flowering plants in the garden.

Although rabbits are notorious for digging and burrowing, Leonard says hers haven't dug out any of her garden. That's not the case with Jean Sleeper of Westminster.

Sleeper, a professional botanist and teacher, has 25 years of experience with rabbits as a breeder and educator. She's founded Kinship With All Life to educate people on rabbit care and behavior.

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