Warning: Posting frequency has dramatically increased (this is my second post in two days and my third post in a week). I apologize for any shock and suggest you breathe into a paper bag or have a glass of water to settle your nerves before continuing. —The Management
Nan at Gardening Gone Wild asked us to discuss any design changes we'd made to our gardens to accommodate pets in her post Garden Bloggers' Design Workshop - Pets in the Garden. Well, back in 2003 I created a garden specifically for cats at a no-kill cat shelter in Lodi Township, Michigan. The organization is called for The Love of Cats (TLC) and still exists, though the property with the garden was sold in late 2005. Clio is already comfortable in the Valerian above (it is very calming), so let's all settle in for a trip down memory lane.
Before I started, there was a fenced-in section available.
And four cat-shaped stepping stones the owner wanted to incorporate.
I had to figure out what kinds of plants to plant, and in what design. As an avid gardener and cat companion, I had some ideas about the former, based on plants my own cats had liked over the years. I figured it would be a simple matter of Googling "cats and plants" to find more, but I was surprised that most information is about plants poisonous to cats, not attractive to cats. (And, as it turns out, a lot of plants listed as poisonous are not in fact poisonous to cats unless ingested in impracticably huge quantities. Others may be harmful to other creatures, but not to cats, and/or toxins are only present in part of the plant, which cats don't usually touch, like roots.) So I instead queried my friends who have cats and gardens and also got a lot of input from cat lovers on garden forums online. I narrowed plants down further based on the conditions of the garden (zone 5, full sun, and fairly dry as I couldn't rely on the daily cat-care volunteers, who already had their hands full with other tasks, to remember to water the plants, nor was I able or willing to stop by every few days to water). Fortiantely, as it turns out, cats tend to like plants we consider herbs, so those are a good fit to the conditions.
Some practical considerations led to the design. For example, I knew they needed a litter area and I knew how much my cats enjoy rolling on stepping stones, so those were included. Because the area was full sun and quite hot, with very little natural shade, I added a few plastic structures for shade. There were also water bowls out on the deck at all times; most of the cats were older and moved kind of slowly, so I wanted to make sure they had water on-hand. They could go in and out at will through two cat flaps year-round.
The first day's work: stepping stones laid, and many things planted. The pots indicate where the two heathers, which were still on order, would go.
The cat grass grew in quickly after planted. I got it as organic oat and wheat seeds from the local feed store. Here Onyx, Sebastian, and Simon take a nibble while Niko makes her away along the path. I didn't fill mulch all the way in the first year, figuring cats like the earth, but due to weeds, I mulched everywhere the second season. And, look! The two heathers arrived and were planted.
The catnip bloomed just fine the first year, being an annual and all. And cats weren't the only ones who got their jollies on it!
Although, of course, the cats did get their jollies as well! Nom nom.
Onyx and Simon find that soft alyssum smells and feels nice but rough wood and stones are good, too!
Sebastian says, "Uh huh, yeah. Sleeping in the sun on two kinds of rough surfaces so near the tantalizing scent of catmint is heaven. Ahhhh." And, yes, Sebby looked a lot like James. And not just because they are both orange tabbies, but their facial structure was similar as was their manner and how they walked, etc. Sebby passed away a few years ago, unfortunately.
By the second spring, plants had matured quite a bit and were filling in (excuse this washed out photo!).
The same day, looking the opposite direction.
I love this shot of Valerian just shy of its full glory. Can you see Robin in the photo?
Here's Robin in another part of the garden, in case you didn't find him in the previous photo. He gives the catnip, which grew a lot in a few weeks, a high-five!
Here's what it looked like in February, 2005, under a nice cover of snow. You can see the top mesh extending over the fence here, which prevented any escapees (they couldn't climb it or jump over it, though as far as I know, no cat ever tried to escape).
Onyx was not put off by snow, but other non-barn cats were. He thinks catmint is just as good dried as growing (I cut it back in spring). Ah, refreshing!
In late May of the third year, things are looking perkier still. Um, ignore the invasive dame's rocket in the background. I did not have control over that area!
I like how the catnip looks in buds, right before it explodes.
A view looking west towards the deck. Oat and wheat grass lines the sidewalk. Cats liked to tuck themselves next to the huge lamb's ears. The creeping thyme is HUGE because it's near the rain spout.
A gratuitous shot of the lovely lamb's ear 'Helen Von Stein.' I've never grown lamb's ears as lush or large as those at TLC.
Even with all those plants, sometimes it's nice to nap on the rough sidewalk! If you're wondering about Onyx being in so many photos, it's because he was the cat most frequently outside and least likely to mind the bumbling Hoomin in the garden. In fact, he was with me during much of the initial planting and always continued to help me when I came to do some upkeep. He even came to live with me for a time after the property was sold, but Fiona never took to him. He now lives, as the rest of the cats at TLC, with its owner Kitty in a nice home. Purrs!
Emmy plays with alyssum and Onyx is busy in the catmint. And, look, the heather is doing fairly well. Frances, it's Calluna vulgaris 'Kerstin'!
Wait, what? Emmy's not just playing with alyssum! She can paw the life out of a blue fescue grass (look closely for the clump) and chew on mulch at the same time. She used to be a feral and is very outdoorsy!
The two huge mounds of baby's breath 'Pink' bloomed their hearts out in early June, 2005, white the white baby's breath ('Bristol fairy') in the background hasn't yet bloomed...
By early July, the 'Bristol fairy' baby's breath got pretty big, and Onyx liked it, much as my cat Penelope used to. It's not poisonous to cats, despite appearing on many lists to the contrary.
If you're wondering about a litter area, we created one using peat and compost, lined with fragrant creeping thyme.
Not every cat liked every plant, but every plant was liked by at least one cat! For example, some cats preferred catnip to catmint, and vice versa, and others liked both. Some liked cushy and/or fragrant plants, like the lamb's ears, creeping thyme, and alyssum, and, surprisingly, one cat just loved the prickly yucca, which I left in its original position in a corner. (The only other plant in the original site was a rose, which no cat took an interest in, but which the owner wanted me to leave.) Since planting the garden, I've discovered many cats also like lavender.