Gardening for your cats is about choosing plants they may like to nibble;
herbs that are good for cats’ health;
tall plants to hide under and stalk through the undergrowth like a tiger.
A cat needs a garden with sunny corners for snoozing and shady spaces for when the sun is really shining.
Cat friendly gardens should be about a garden for your cats that is also a garden that you, the subservient human, can enjoy too.
Cat Friendly Gardens – herbs to eat
Catnip – Nepeta cataria
Nepeta cataria is the ‘true’ catnip which is the one where the leaves are dried and put in those cat toys that your cute kitty goes crazy for. Nepetalactone is the relevant chemical in the catnip that sends cats into a highly relaxed state. It is thought that the plant originates from Nepete in Italy, and it was used in ancient Rome as a tranquilliser.
Catnip, also known as catmint, is easy to grow in your garden, from seed, or by purchasing a plant. It has to be the number one plant for cat friendly gardens.
It’s a good idea to keep the small plants well out of your cats reach as otherwise they may get eaten before they’ve had chance to grow!
Once grown and flowering, Nepeta cataria catnip has flowers that are loved by bees as much as the leaves are loved by cats.
Nepeta cataria is also an insect repellent and as such may help keep fleas away from your cat, but more importantly in the garden, does well as a companion plant, to improve the health of other plants, roses for example.
Other types of Nepeta are also favoured by cats, Nepeta x faasenii ‘six hills giant’ is an herbaceous perennial, with aromatic grey/ green foliage and lavender blue flower spikes. A favourite cottage garden plant, when mature it’s large enough to tolerate a bit of nibbling by your cats; they may also like to sleep in the middle of it…
To make your own catnip toys with the Nepeta from your garden, you’ll need to harvest and dry the leaves. Firstly harvest the leaves and place them in a brown paper bag somewhere warm and dry, such as an airing cupboard. Once the leaves are fully dried out, simply crumble them up. You could make your own cat toys out of fabric remnants stuffed with the catnip, or simply sprinkle a little on the floor next to your kitty.
And in case you were wondering, Nepeta has the same effect on the domestic cat’s big cousins, the lions and tigers.
In addition to catnip, cats also love Teucrium marum or cat thyme. Native to Spain, this is a mound forming tender perennial that many cats love. The aroma for humans is not the pungent thyme scent but a slightly mustier one. Cat thyme is actually not related to thyme at all but to germander, which as a point of historical interest was a common hedging plant for Medieval and Tudor knot gardens.
Cat grass, Dactylis glomerata, is quick and easy to grow, and is suggested as being particularly beneficial for indoor cats, and for cats who eat a lot of lawn grass. The oil and fibre content in cat grass aid digestion and can reduce fur balls.
If your garden is small, then a tray of cat grass would be much appreciated by your cats. Seeds are readily available from online and local garden centres.
Lavender has a soothing and relaxing effect on humans and cats alike. A low hedge of English Lavender, Lavendula angustifolia, along a sunny brick path will offer your cat a pleasant place to lie, tucked under the scented flower stems. The bricks will act as hot water bottles, storing the heat and radiating it back out, so don’t be surprised if your cat lingers there in the evening.
Of course, we have to hope the path is wide enough for you to walk down even if a cat has taken it over! Alternatively, a few bricks placed on the flower border side of the lavender hedge to make a cat sized resting place may be acceptable to your feline friend.
Cat Friendly Gardens – jungle plants
Jungle plants for your domestic cat (Felis catus) do not need to be the tall plants that would be needed to hide a tiger (Panthera tigris).
Many ornamental grasses fill the role quite nicely as well as being decorative plants for the human garden. The best ones are those that arch over to sweep the ground, such as Stipa tenuissima and some of the Carex.
Many of the smaller flowering shrubs also work as jungle plants in the garden; for example, Teuchrium fruticans and Fuchsia. Also herbaceous perennials with large leaves, such as Acanthus mollis and even Giant Scabious (Cephalaria gigantea).
Honeysuckle (Lonicera) also seems to be popular; allow some of the twining stems to hang down, creating a cat den between the fence and the plant. In the vegetable patch a tepee of runner beans is popular for the same reason.
Cats are very fond of hiding places, so they can leap out at unsuspecting prey…or just snooze in the dappled light.
You should check your cat’s eyes and ears if they regularly pretend to be jungle tigers, as seeds from many plants can get into their ears and cause problems if left.
Cat Friendly Gardens – scratching posts
Old branches make excellent scratching posts in the garden, set a few at different places round the garden, to give your cat a choice. You may need to play around with the combination of both the place and the type of tree before the arms of your new sofa are safe. I’ve found that hazel, beech and fruit trees are the most popular, although old Christmas trees are acceptable, as are the edges of decking.
Cat Friendly Gardens – the outdoor litter tray
Not as crazy as it sounds. We’re not talking about an actual litter tray, more about designating an area of your garden for your cats to use as their toilet.
“If you’re a gardener and a cat owner, you’ll be well aware of the fondness of cats for a nicely tilled section of earth. Winter is time when you have the chance to review your garden, so why not look for a small area that you could safely and easily turn into a cat toilet? Sharp sand over free draining gravel is going to be the best choice, as it won’t get wet and muddy to dirty your cats paws and is unlikely to freeze so works in winter too. Sift the sand occasionally and remove the waste. You could even surround the patch with some tall planting to give your cat some privacy. It’s so much easier than finding ‘presents’ when you’re working in the flower border.”
Extract from “In Your Winter Garden with Plews Garden Design”
Cat Friendly Gardens – greenhouses and garden sheds
No greenhouse or shed is complete without a box for your cat to sleep in. This is essential, as they will otherwise sleep on your emerging seedlings.
Greenhouses, due to their warmth are particular favourite sleeping places, so do remember to check for snoozing felines before watering the tomatoes, or you could have a very angry cat!
Small tucked away corners where there may be mice make the garden shed a tempting place to explore. It’s not for nothing that cats frequently get shut in sheds…
But a cat keeping you company with a background purr whilst you pot up cuttings is what cat friendly gardens are about; the friendly co-existence of human and feline.