Cats in the garden

Steve Kawaratani

"If man could be crossed with the cat it would improve man, but it

would deteriorate the cat."

-- MARK TWAIN

'

"Happy birthday to us!"

-- TRADITIONAL SONG

What do cats and gardening have in common? Well, there are

catmint, cat-thyme and catnip that are grown to attract cats.

Cat's-claw, cat's-ear, cat's foot, and cattail are common names of

plants, which resemble certain anatomical parts of our feline

friends. As welcome members of our family, they share in the pleasure

of our garden. If curiosity ever sparked the thought of adventure for

cats, the garden certainly can be their Pandora's Box.

The garden provides a plethora of tasty treats and temptations for

a gourmand like the cat. With an abundant herb garden cultivated by

Catharine, our cats never have a shortage of catnip and catmint.

Native ferns and grasses sway with the wind, providing constant

interest and hiding spots. The random snail becomes an excellent

soccer ball if handled carefully and a steady influx of insects and

lizards from a nearby field provide a constant challenge during the

hunt. After a busy day, our bedroom deck is a great spot for sunning

and awaiting our return.

Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is but a novelty herb for us, sometimes

used to flavor tea. A shrubby perennial reaching a few feet in

height, it has gray green leaves and white or purple flowers.

Although cats are attracted while it's growing, its dried leaves are

truly serious stuff, rivaling human interest in certain herbs. It's

cousin is catmint (Nepeta faassenii) a mounding groundcover which

grows to two feet. Cats love rolling in its abundant foliage. Both

plants require full sun and well draining soil.

Lesser know is the silver vine (Actinidia polygama). Cats are

attracted to it much like catnip. A relative to Kiwi fruit, it will

climb to 15 feet.

The female plants provide an edible fruit that is oval and about 6

inches long. The male plants are propagated for their attractive

foliage and grown in warm and protected gardens as specimens.

Many grasses are both beneficial and amusing to cats. The

chlorophyll in grass blades help to freshen their breath and aid in

their digestive process (Dr. G. might add, two grasses in one!)

fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum "Cupreum") is a clumping, drought

resistant grass much admired by our cats. The swaying of the grass or

their flower parts provides endless fascination, powered either by

the wind or one's hand. It will grow in any type of soil and has

attractive reddish foliage and dark plumes.

Cats will gladly use a litter box indoors, but once outdoors, the

warm, moist soil of a well cultivated garden is nearly impossible for

them to resist. If a certain area of the garden is taboo, a covering

of gravel or decomposed granite can be effective. Both hard ground

covers prevent the cat from scratching out a toilet. Smaller garden

plots and containers can be covered by ornamental pebbles, keeping

the cat from making a deposit into your garden.

I envy my cats. When we enter our shared garden together, I am in

nature but not part of nature as they are. They can hear, and smell,

and relate to the garden in a sylvan-like manner I can only imagine.

Catharine and I tend our garden for our enjoyment and relaxation, but

also as a sanctuary for our cats to play. Happy Birthday to my

beautiful wife and happy birthday to me!

See you next time.

* STEVE KAWARATANI is the owner of Landscapes by Laguna Nursery,

1278 Glenneyre in Laguna Beach. He is married to local artist,

Catharine Cooper, and has two cats. He can be reached at (949)

497-2438, or e-mail to landscapes@ln.coxatwork.com.

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