In the warm summer months, when I manage to get a day or two off work, there’s nothing better than relaxing in the garden and enjoying the sunshine. I’ve got a pretty good set-up in my garden: my unwieldy parasol (sans parasol holder), my phone and portable speaker, my e-reader, a cool drink and, of course, Tyson: my cat.
Tyson isn’t necessarily the friendliest cat you’ll ever meet, but when you’re in the garden he’s very likely join you as you bask in the sun. Luckily for him, he can come and go as he pleases to enjoy the hot weather or retreat back inside if it gets too warm while the rest of us are at work. We’ve got a pretty big garden, so Tyson’s got a lot of room – but that doesn’t stop him leaping the fence and wandering off to hunt rabbits in the fields at the front of the house.
At Primrose, we’re often telling you how to keep cats out of your garden. For us cat-lovers, we’re a lot more interested in how to make your garden more appealing to cats so we can keep our feline friends happy and healthy outside. I’d quite like to encourage my cat to spend more time with me in my garden and less time decimating the local rabbit population. So short of buying my cat his own log cabin, how can I make my garden a Kitty Kingdom?
Plant your cat their own garden
A fragrant garden is often a well-loved garden: from the relaxing scent of lavender which tempts you to drift off to sleep to the sweet smell of honeysuckle, we love planting flowers and plants which come with their own unique scent. So why not treat your cat to their very own bed of aromatic plants in your garden?
When it comes to cat-friendly gardening, there’s three famous plants that every cat lover needs: catnip, catmint and cat grass.
You don’t even need a lot of room to plant your cat his or her very own garden. You can easily plant catnip, grass or mint in several small planters to be placed on a patio or deck. If you’re worried about your cat knocking your planters over, you can use shallow troughs or even cut an old PVC pipe in half and turn that into an upcycled planter. For indoor cats, a pot of catgrass is a great way to help aid their digestion
Catnip is the most potent plant on this list and is famous thanks to the intoxicating effect it has on housecats. Catnip is incredibly appealing to our feline friends who will often be found nibbling the leaves, rolling in the foliage and having a grand old time. If you’ve got a cat, the chances are you’ve given him or her catnip in the past and have enjoyed watching the effect it can have on even the most stoic moggy.
Catnip plants are fairly easy to grow and particularly thrive in sunny or dry areas and spreads quite quickly. If you’re planting catnip for your cat, make sure you plant it alongside other flowers you don’t mind being ruined – or all on its own – as an over-enthusiastic cat can quickly ruin perfectly pruned flowerbeds when feeling the effects of catnip. Catnip can happily grow in a bed or border as well as in pots and planters, so you can even grow it inside if you’ve got an indoor cat. Once grown to about a foot tall, you can begin to harvest and dry your catnip till it’s nice and crumbly, perfect for stuffing in toys or rubbing on posts and cat beds.
Be careful, though: the smell of catnip can be particularly strong and you may find your garden overrun with your neighbours’ cats, eager to find the source of the scent.
While still attractive to cats, catmint tends not to be as potent as catnip and is far more aesthetically pleasing, so is a common site in gardens around the world. Catmint closely resembles lavender, with green stems covered in miniature pastel purple flowers. Not only is catmint popular with cats, it’s also a great way to attract more bumblebees to your garden.
Catmint needs to be planted in spring with plenty of space in between seeds or plants, especially in warmer climates. Catmint can grow quickly and spread far so you may need to trim it regularly to prevent it taking over your garden! Like catnip, catmint can be grown indoors in pots, perfect for indoor cats or for people who don’t have gardens.
If you’ve got a cat, there’s probably a good chance you’ve seen them in your garden chewing on grass. Cats actually eat grass to induce vomiting as a way to remove fur, feathers or small bones from their stomachs – they’re not treating themselves to a tasty salad. Specially grown cat grass is usually grown from barley, wheat or oat seeds which has not been treated with pesticides or other garden chemicals, so is safer for cats to chew on.
What to avoid
When planting a cat friendly garden, there’s several plants you want to avoid which can be toxic or fatal to cats who ingest them. The top culprit is lilies, and if you’ve got a cat in your home you should avoid having lilies in your garden or even cut ones in a vase. There’s several kinds of bulbs which are toxic to cats, including alliums, tulips, hyacinths and daffodils, so it’s important to keep your cat away from these before you plant them. In general, cats are very picky about what they eat (as many cat owners can attest to), so poisoning is fairly rare. Young kittens who are curiously exploring or indoor cats are more at risk as adult outdoor cats are often too preoccupied to think about eating unknown flowers. A full list of plants and flowers that are toxic to cats can be found on the International Cat Care website.
You should also avoid using chemical-based weed or pest killers, especially on grass (which is a popular snack for cats). Make sure that if you are using chemical based pesticides that they’re locked away out of reach when not in use. There’s several organic pest repellants on the market, but it’s also easy to make your own using garlic or hot chilli peppers to keep pests off of your plants, flowers and vegetables.
Cat-friendly garden architecture
If there’s one thing cats love most of all, it’s running around the house at 3am with the intent of waking everyone up. But their second most favourite thing is hiding in the smallest, darkest space they can find – be it a cupboard, a drawer, a discarded box or an old shopping bag, cats love to hide. By planting an area of your garden with tall grasses or shrubs you can provide your cat a private place in your garden away from the comings and goings of the house where your cat can feel safe and relaxed. This is especially useful in summer when your cat is looking for a shady spot to cool off. Bamboo is great for this, as it grows quickly and easily with minimal effort. But be warned: bamboo can grow out of control if you don’t keep an eye on it!
As well as hiding in dark, low spaces cats also love getting up high so they can observe their territory. If you’ve not got a spare twenty years to grow a tree, you can provide your cat with in-built “shelves” on your walls or fences that they can climb and perch, or even use staging so they can reach the top of a shed or garage. Cats will also enjoy sitting on tables and benches, if you don’t want to start building an obstacle course in your garden.
You can also give your cat a sheltered area in which they can relax and sleep. Cats love sleeping outside, even when the weather might seem poor, so they really appreciate an area outside with a roof or shelter where they can enjoy sleeping outside without having to worry about the rain. An old wooden box will do, or you can make your own cat house using wood and roofing felt. You can also provide old cushions or blankets for your cat so he or she has something soft, warm and comfortable to lie on – perfect for placing in sunny spots around your garden.
If you’ve got a lot of room in your garden, you can make your cat their very own adventure playground in a secluded spot on the edge of your lawn. Old logs, planks of wood and ladders provide your cat a fun and safe place to play and climb. You can even hang cat toys around this area so they have something to chase and catch.
Keeping your cat happy & healthy
A cat doesn’t just need somewhere to play and sunbathe (however much they may like us to think that): you also need to make sure that they’re keeping fit and healthy while chasing the butterflies around your flower beds.
The first thing a garden needs is a source of fresh drinking water. Cats can be picky drinkers and many cats prefer a natural source of water, especially running water. Providing collected rainwater alongside tap water is a great idea so your cat has more choice about what sort of water they drink, and having reliable water sources in different places around the garden is a good way to help reduce potential conflicts if you’ve got more than one cat.
To keep cat’s claws in good shape (and to stop them ruining your new sofa), you can also provide something that they can scratch on. An old log, tree stump or branch can help your cat keep their claws in check, as well as being a way for them to leave their scent around your garden. Logs and stumps also provide another place for your cat to sit and rest, perfect for smaller gardens.
Lots of cats can benefit from low-impact, low-intensity interactions with their human housemates. Even cats who don’t enjoy being picked up, petted or cuddled can benefit from simply sharing a space with their humans as you both do your own thing. You can also bring cat toys into your garden so you can really encourage your cat to stretch their legs outside. All of this can help your cat develop a better relationship with you, as well as giving them a chance to let our their inner jungle-cat.
Lotti works with the Primrose Product Loading team, creating product descriptions and newsletter headers.
When not writing, Lotti enjoys watching (and over-analyzing) indie movies with a pint from the local craft brewery or cosplaying at London Comic Con.
Lotti is learning to roller skate, with limited success.