Gardening for Cats: Lessons I learned from my Four Frisky Felines
We called her Miss Kitty, because I did not want to give her a real name in case we couldn’t keep her. I am actually terribly allergic to cats, and we were afraid to make the emotional commitment to keeping our “foster” cat. However, within days it was clear that there was no way we could part with her. She relied on us for everything – and after being abandoned, feared to be left alone even for a moment. We eventually learned this was more fear of being separated from her food source. No cat loves her food more than Miss Kitty!
As I toted Miss Kitty around in her bucket in the garden, I would giver her bits and pieces of plants to sniff and branches to play with. Most of the garden comprised of herbs, and it was interesting to see her reaction to them. She would screw her nose up at grey leafed santolina, but go crazy for the green leafed variety. Catnip and all nepetas did not entice her like older cats we knew. Any dried leaf or crinkly leafed branch would become and instant toy.
Soon after Miss Kitty moved in, we realized that her suspected father had another new “family” – a single kitten of an older abandoned sweet neighborhood cat. We began feeding those cats, trying to bring them into the house to get them medical care. Then one day the mother did not show up, just her three-month-old kitten, and my husband began the daily rituals of trying to get this shy feral kitty to come inside. We called her Baby – again unsure if she would ever become part of our family and not wanting to commit to a formal name. Baby would play for hours with Miss Kitty through the screens on our porch. Then one day, my husband was able to get close enough to Baby, scoop her up and bring her in. After a few days of terrified indoor life, this shy kitten became a princess. She would prop herself up on sofa pillows to view her bird and squirrel friends, chirping along in that half purr to entice them to come closer.
That was when I realized that other furry friends where as much parts of the garden as were my cats. Falling pecans fed the squirrels, and the pecan trees provided nesting areas. Birdhouses, bird baths, feeders, nectar plants and fall seed heads attracted birds to the garden.
Lastly, a few years later came Monkee and Boo Boo Kitty (we did eventually become more inventive with cat names!!). Boo Boo was two years old, and had a litter of 8, all of whom were lost to the busy road except for little Monkee. She came to us of her free will, looking desperately for food to keep them alive. Monkee has always remained an indoor cat, however for many years, Boo Boo’s feisty will had her in and out as she pleased. Boo Boo quickly fell in love with her new caregiver and gardens. She spent hours with me pruning, raking and planting. As I worked she would turn her back to me, in my defense. She walked the perimeter of our property constantly and joyously clambered up the dogwood onto the neighbors’ roof to peek at me in the kitchen window and have a good laugh. We became inseparable.
Then about 9 months later, Boo had a horrible medical emergency, which we eventually found out, was cat heartworm. In cats, the heartworm is only a problem as it is dying. I learned that I had to be more careful in keeping mosquitoes and ticks from our property. She survived (as she is apt to do), and was back out gardening in no time. Boo Boo Kitty destroyed my santolina, writhing in it – she couldn’t help herself. It was the only plant she ever touched.
She would NEVER go to the toilet in the garden, never dig or scratch, never even both the catnip unless it was overhanging into a walkway (then it was HERS!!). In winter she sat for hours amongst the wintersown containers – defending them against the squirrels. Eventually Boo Boo Kitty became an indoor only cat too after a bout with Lymphoma which she has so far survived. The chemotherapy was very harsh but we laced the porch with chicken wire (because she is an escape artist) – and she was able to get as far into the garden as possible without being outside. There we brought her temptations of fresh catnip, bowls of delectable cat grass, and made sure she could get an eagle eye view into her latest delight, the little pot pond.
My cats are excellent gardeners, it’s been amazing to see what I’ve learned from them. Their delight and inquisitiveness keeps my interest in gardening alive and keen, 12 months of the year.
This story is dedicated to Lucy, Tigger and mqiq77.
(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on March 3, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)
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