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Creating a Green, Dog-Friendly Retreat


Gardens of Babylon offers tips on how to create an outdoor space that is safe and beautiful for your family and the earth.

April is finally here (so long, icepocalypse!) and if you’re anything like me, you have a serious case of spring fever. This time of year, many of us yearn to transform our yard into a beautiful and inviting space, but there are so many things to consider. What kind of grass will hold up to three Mastiffs? Are these plants safe for dogs? How do I avoid chemicals but get results?

While the options can seem overwhelming, our Green Issue sponsor, Gardens of Babylon, makes the process a lot easier. Celebrating their 12th year in business, the award-winning landscaping and design center has made “earth-friendly” a priority since day one.

Launched in 2003 by the Kerske family, the business stands out among others by carrying only organic products for home landscape and vegetable gardening. Says Mark Kerske, “It doesn’t make any sense to me to put toxic pesticides on the food you feed your family and expose them to cancer-causing herbicides just to have a weed-free lawn.”

In fact, in March 2013, the CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians (a peer-reviewed medical journal published by the American Cancer Society) published an article which stated, in part, that “a growing number of well-designed epidemiological and molecular studies provide substantial evidence that the pesticides used in agricultural, commercial and home and garden applications are associated with excess cancer risk.”

With that in mind, Mark says it’s no wonder we’ve seen an increase in canine lymphoma. Pesticides, he says, create a “toxic environment around your home. Kids and pets love to run around in the grass… we need to start paying attention.”

That’s why Gardens of Babylon offers a variety of services and products to help you not only have the beautiful outdoor space you desire, but to also ensure that your family is safe in your home environment. Mark offers the following tips for thought as you begin your spring planning:

- Because our native Middle Tennessee soil is comprised of mainly clay, amendments are necessary for sustainable plant health. Mark likes to use worm castings, liquid humates, fish/seaweed and poultry manure for fertilization, and clove, pyrethrum, neem and garlic based products as pest deterrents. In particular, clove based products in granular form can be applied to lawns and liquid garlic oil fogged onto trees, shrubs and lawns in order to deter many insects, such as mosquitoes and ticks.

- Gardens of Babylon refers to the ASPCA’s list of toxic and non-toxic plants when planning landscapes for families with pets, who may chew or digest flowers and leaves. (To review the list, search “toxic plants” at

- Maintaining grass with dogs and shade can be a tricky balance. “Shade and large breed dogs don’t mix,” says Mark. That’s because shade tolerant grasses don’t hold up well to dog traffic, and more durable grasses need lots of sun. “Ground covers such as creeping raspberry or vinca can be used, but they take time to establish, which can spell disaster for heavy dog traffic,” he adds. “Mulch can be used (successfully in many cases) but some dogs insist on eating it. In some cases, creative stone hardscaping is the best alternative.” If you do attempt shade tolerant sod, it’s vital to keep pets off of it for the first several weeks, give it heavy watering, and aerate and over-seed each fall for the best chance of survival—although it will likely never be as plush or full as you’d like it to be.

Want more information on how to make your outdoor living space a beautiful and safe retreat for your whole family? Give Gardens of Babylon a call and they’ll set up an appointment with one of their staff members to discuss your needs and unique home environment. Suggestions and an estimate will then be made for the next steps, whether it is a new landscape design or other maintenance services. And if you choose to try it on your own, you’ll find everything you need at their 26,000-square-foot consumer garden center, located at the downtown Nashville Farmer’s Market. Stocked full of eco-conscious yard and garden merchandise, you’ll find everything from organic fertilizers and seeds to native plants, rain barrels, pottery and fair trade products.

For more information, visit, and be sure to follow them on Facebook.

Gardens of Babylon
(615) 244-8949
900 Rosa L. Parks Boulevard
Nashville, TN 37208
Monday – Saturday: 9am-5pm
Sunday: 10am-5pm

Pictured below, left to right, are Babylon's Buddies - all of whom were rescued from various situations: Rascall comes to work in the garden center; Edgar and Millie work in the landscaping office; and Ember is now retired and prefers to relax at home. Photos courtesy Gardens of Babylon.


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