It was meant to be an April Fool’s joke of sorts, but it quickly grew into something I didn’t expect.
Twenty-one years ago, back when American Nurseryman was published on the first and the 15th of each month, I wrote – that is, my dog wrote – an editorial titled, “Dogscaping for fun and profit.” It was slightly tongue-in-cheek, but I – that is, she – meant every word.
She pointed out how many households in the U.S. were estimated to have dogs: At the time, the American Veterinary Medical Association claimed 34.6 million. And the total number of dogs? More than 52.5 million. The Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council topped those figures with an estimate of 54.2 million dogs in the U.S. As Miss Dakota Star (Koti) stated, “That’s a lot of puppy toes scrambling around the back yard; that’s a lot of family members spending time in the landscape you’re designing and installing.”
In her bid to call attention to the four-footed members of the family, to encourage the design of pet-friendly backyards, she went on to discuss dollars. In 1996, it was estimated that $13 billion (with a b) was spent annually on gardening, including DIY projects and professional installations. In its 1995 report, however, the American Animal Hospital Association stated that more than $20 billion was spent annually on “companion animals.”
Today’s figures, of course, are higher. The Small Business Development Center claims that in 2016, 94,000 small landscape companies in the U.S. made a combined annual revenue of about $60 billion. (That doesn’t account for garden center sales, sales of plants – just landscape services.)
Last year, Fortune magazine reported that the American Pet Products Association’s estimate of spending on pets reached $62.75 billion. The first year that the association reported such sales was 1994, when the figure was $17 billion.
So, the figures in Koti’s 1996 editorial have been eclipsed – spending on both gardens and pets has skyrocketed. Which is a good thing.
Has the green industry kept pace?
Since Koti’s column, several things have happened. I don’t claim to be the very first person to use the word, “dogscaping,” but I can sincerely claim that I’d never seen it before Koti suggested it. Now there are dozens of gardening books that address dogscaping and petscaping. So it’s evident that the public is eager for dog-friendly gardens. If you’re not asking the pet-related questions when you meet with clients, you may be missing an opportunity.
I’m thrilled to see the growth of this approach, but I’d really like to see more.
Once her column hit the pages, Koti received scores of photos of nursery dogs, several offers to establish pen-pal relationships and a few marriage proposals. Like Koti, I’m sure that Baxter and Oliver, two particularly handsome suitors, have since passed on. But I picture them having a wonderful time together in a beautifully designed yard, one in which both her human grandparents and her canine and feline siblings have joined her and her beaux.
Shortly after her column, and in response to Take Your Daughter to Work Day, I lobbied The Big Boss to establish Take Your Dog to Work Day. To my surprise, he immediately agreed. No one participated, however, because we all took the train to a high-rise office in downtown Chicago. Not friendly dog territory.
Following Koti’s departure, my life as a dog parent changed considerably, and I fell deep into the throes of ragdoll cat motherhood. These are most decidedly not outdoor animals, and so we’ve adapted. There are plenty of plants in the backyard in which birds, squirrels, rabbits, chipmunks and other critters play, and The Benson Boys have a front row seat. Other days, though, we spend time on screen. Too much time on screen.
In the next house, where I’m able to have a dog, you can bet the backyard will be welcoming to both human and canine friends (but not the cats). Will you be ready to design it for me?