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Gardening for you and your cats

There is lots of talk about what plants are toxic or nontoxic to cats whether you are talking about indoor plants or outdoor plants. You can find a complete list on the ASPCA website,(American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals).   There is also a lot of talk about how to discourage cats in your garden and stopping them from wanting to play with your houseplants.  I have found articles about what plants cats love to eat like cat grass and of course the famous catnip. What I haven’t found a lot of is how to design your garden with cats in mind. Not just planting plants that they love to eat but plants they enjoy to hide in or climb on. You have to remember cats have instincts from their ancestors. They like to hunt, climb, chase and take a nap. You need to accommodate all that in the landscape.  Nothing is more fun than working in the garden and have a 4 year yellow tabby jump out of a clump of ornamental grass and run passed you.

cat picture

So where do you start?  First you need to look at your current landscape and ask yourself some simple questions:

  • Do you have any trees they can climb on?
  • Any grasses they can hide in?
  • Stones or a gravel path they can take a nap in the sun on?
  • How about adding an arbor they can sit on and watch over their territory.
  • A water source at their level to take a drink.
  • Plants they can sleep under?
  • Any plants that flower?

Make small changes or add a few plants to start. Don’t get overwhelmed.  Not every plant in your garden needs to be a plant for the cat. You have to enjoy your garden too. You will find cats will like plants you pick for you as well. Adding a water feature is also beneficial. Having a low water feature where they can get a drink is helpful or a way they can sip out of a larger one.

cat picturesCreate a perch or high area where they can watch over their territory. Cats love to be in high places. They can survey the garden for anything moving at that vantage point. So create a space. For example, in our backyard we created an area that you walk down to seat in. We covered it with a wooden structure so I could grow clematis over the seating area for shade. Our cats would climb the Lilac bush that was very old and next to the structure to get on top. From there they could see the whole yard and the street. Great place to watch anyone go by. Now since our trees have grown, the seating area doesn’t need to be protected from the sun. So we find our cats taking an afternoon nap under the trees on top of this structure.

Adding plants that flower at different times of the year will bring lots of fun things to watch, chase and sniff. Butterflies, bees and other bugs bring life to the garden and entertainment for your cats. They may not be successful a lot of the time in catching any of these beneficial creatures to your yard but it is fun to watch them try.  We have a group of finches that fly amongst our trees in the spring. I think they fly in on purpose to taunt our cats and then fly away chuckling with each other as the cats try to figure out how to get to them. Good exercise for our cats and great stories for the birds to take back home.

Here is a list of plants that we have used in our yard:


  • Katsura (Cercidiphyllum japonicum)
  • Gingko (Ginkgo biloba)
  • Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii)


  • Drooping Leucothoe (Leucothoe walteri)
  • Box Honeysuckle (Lonicera nitida)
  •  Flowering Currant (Ribes sanguineum)
  • SweetBox (Saraccoca ruscifolia)
  • Heavenly Bamboo (Nandina domestica varieties)


  • Sedges (Carex evergold )
  • Fountain  Grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’)
  • Blue Oatgrass (Helicototrichon sempervirens)

Perennials and Annuals:

  •  Alyssum
  •  Begonias
  •  Creeping jenny
  •  impatiens
  •  Pansies
  • Catmint (Nepeta mussinii)
  • Brunnera
  • Epimedium
  • Helleborus
  • Ferns: sword, tassel, maiden
  •  Valerian, lavender, rosemary, lamb’s ear
  • Cat thyme – teucrium marum
  • Bush Germander (Teucrium fruticans)
  • Salvia varieties

We have created a haven for us as well as our cats. Our yard is fully fenced in and very private due to our trees and other landscape plants. We have found that neighbor cats will want to come over but only if our cats allow it. Cats love to have a territory. We have found that even though our cats will wonder to a favorite neighbor to say “Hi”, they rather stay in their own safe haven.  Their favorite time is if we are out there with them.  Our newest member, Buddy a 4 year old orange and white tabby loves to run the on top of the fence completely around the yard to try to get to where I am going before I get there.

gardening with catsThere are pros and cons for having indoor and outdoor cats. We live in an area where there is low traffic, old established neighborhood and some great tolerant neighbors. So our cats have lived into their 15 to 17 years. If you create a habitat inside and outside where the cats are a part of the household by having time with you and can have an environment where they can be just cats, you are going to end up having cats that will behave like very happy cats! So add some plants to your landscape that creates a great habitat for you and your furry friends.

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