03 February 2009

Gardening with Cats

Our friends at Gardening Gone Wild have put up a new topic for this month's Garden Bloggers' Design Workshop: Pets in the Garden. Now THAT is a topic near and dear to my heart, although most of my feline gardening companions are gone from the garden now.

These are funny looking cats, I know. They're sort of gardening companions, as their pasture and paddocks are all around the edges of the garden, and they tend to come down to the fence and socialize with us as we go about the day to day routine outdoors. Mysteriously, my horse can read my mind--if I'm thinking about riding him, he goes down to the back of the pasture and becomes deaf to whistles, calls, apples in buckets...

Leggo and JennyManyLumps (our donkey-from-Mars) are the reasons I don't grow yew around our property; yew is toxic to horses and donkeys, as are many other plants. I don't worry really about them eating something they shouldn't; they have good pasture and are wellfed in winter, but I do have an aversion to yew.

Of our seven cats, only two of them go outside whenever they want to; they're the senior cats of the house and are quite savvy. They leave the birds alone but do go after assorted rodents: shrews, moles, voles, etc. Some of the others in the house go out with us, either on a harness (Mungus) or just hanging around the back garden. Two of them don't go out at all.

This is Niblets, who used to go outside and zip around the yard, go up trees, 'talk' to us, climb around in the barn...and then one day he tried to cross the road when a vehicle was coming. He survived but lost his back leg, so he lives life as a tripod kitty--very, very well. He roars around the house, zips up and down stairs, onto the table, onto the cat gym...but he doesn't have any lives or legs left to spare, so he stays inside.

And this is Spunky Boomerang. Spunky was one of two kittens we rescued from the roadside a few miles away, and he has never, EVER expressed any desire to go outside again, in the five years since we rescued him. Nope. Not a chance. He's my personal babycat, follows me all around the house, sleeps against me in chairs, at the desk, in bed, lays on towels in the bathroom while I shower...but go outside? No thank you, Mumsie. One day the patio door was open, some of the badnesses escaped, and Spunky went out onto the deck. He was scared and I had to rescue him from under the picnic table. I swear all the doors in the house could be open now and he wouldn't try to go outside. He figures he has it good, now.

Thistle goes outside regularly, and loves to follow me around when I'm digging in the garden. The cats who go outdoors probably dig in the beds to do their business sometimes, but it's not been a concern or an issue with us. Likewise if any feral cats are around; we live on seven acres, and are surrounded by fields and woodlands, and cat droppings bother me far, far less than dog droppings. 

Those who don't get to go outdoors without us tend to have a bit of outdoor envy; while those who go outside do perhaps tease the others just a little bit. What I'd like to do is create an area where we could let them out to romp around without harnesses or worry; that would require some creative designing, with some page-wire and posts, a shrub to lay under and lots of catnip to chew on. It hasn't been a huge priority though, and we have some work to do around the property that takes precedence. 

As for designing the garden with the cats in mind, I haven't worried about toxic plants. Cats don't seem to be as inclined towards eating plants that are toxic to them as dogs do. I've never had a cat poisoned by a plant outside or indoors, although inside to be on the safe side there are a few that I won't have around, like dieffenbachia and Jerusalem cherry. I tend to have planned more of the garden with birds in mind; creating safe places for them to feed and nest. When we had more cats who went outdoors, I made sure the feeders were far from trees or shrubs or other spots where fierce primal felines might try to stalk birds, but now, with Thistle 12 and Rowdy going on 11, I don't worry. They are too well fed and laid back to worry about chasing birds. Or maybe when we had chickens, they learned not to challenge winged creatures. 
Of course if they can't go outside, they can always watch bird television. Sometimes, there's an added pay-per-view Squirrel Channel, but that doesn't happen very often. 

And then there's Mungus, truly the smartest and baddest cat in the family. He's adorable. And mischievous. And somewhat spoiled by his 'daddy', my longsuffering spouse. (well, okay, maybe a little bit by me, too). They're totally bonded. In the years we've lived here, we've had as many as 12 cats at a time, and while we've lost a few over the years to old age or illness, we've lost three to the road. Including two of my hubby's favourites. We don't want to take any chances with Mungus, so we taught him to go on a harness in a matter of about fifteen minutes. He's quite content to go out on the harness and 'help' me in the garden. Occasionally, his nosiness gets the better of him, as in the day he went to say hello to our Donkey-from-Mars. She thought he was a coyote. He thought it was a good idea to retreat. 

My best gardening companion for years was Tigger, our sweet ginger marmalade bobtail. He LOVED to help me in the garden, which normally meant just following me around, sitting beside me, bumping and purring. So it was kind of fitting that he died out in the garden last spring, probably of a heart attack. He'd had a long good life, but it was still very sad. Like the others we've lost over the years, we buried him in the garden and planted a shrub in his memory. As my grandmother said, "I was always good to cats, and they were always good to me." I want that to be my epitaph. 


  1. I enjoyed reading about your gardening companions. My kitty has briefly slipped outside twice. The first time the dog was literally nudging the cat with her nose pushing her back toward the door. It was a sight to see. She would probably love it outside but I have such fear that I'll lose her. I'm taking no chances on that!

  2. I loved read about your garden kitties! Our cat would drive us all crazy if she couldn't go outside, so we're lucky that she has really good car-sense.

  3. I think you've done a great job capturing all the animals personalities on camera. I especially love the intent gaze of the kitties watching the squirrel.

  4. Loved the kitty stories. I can see that they adore you too. So they aggravate each other with the indoor then outdoor attitude huh? Looks like the ones who are inside are going to let their sibling have it when he gets inside. They are very jealous.

    Do they go nuts with all the snow outside?

  5. I loved to read about your animals that you have. And all the kittens. They all must have a wounderful life with you tanks for sharing the story.



  6. Toby Soprano, hee, hee. What a bucolic life. I live in a rural area in the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains. We must be diligent about small pets around here, as there are many predators. I do not have cats for that very reason. My three small terriers are only allowed in a fenced area, or out on leashes. I love your blog. My mother and father were Canadian. I used to live in British Columbia, my sister still lives in Victoria, a beautiful city.

  7. I love the cats watching the squirrels - and Mungo having a "chat" with the donkey. Wise to retreat indeed...

  8. Always a delight to read about your garden companions. I'd have more if I could but the spousal unit draws the line at four (2 dogs 2 cats). I live through you!

  9. I love the cat (and other animals) photos and the stories that go with them.

  10. I just love seeing the Cat Children and Jenny and Leggo. We haven't seen them in some time. Beautiful portrait shots. You have captured their personalities. That must be your LSS in the one picture. I don't remember seeing him before. I just remember seeing his lap full of cat.

  11. What sweet kitty children you have and each with their own personality. I miss having a pet sometimes. May later down the road we'll get another one.

  12. I love all my pets in the garden. My little orange 'pest control' kitty is the best. She is not as well trained as yours and still catches birds, but is still sweet. Yours look like a lot of fun. Those dangerous roads sure can hurt a pet.

  13. I am adding you to one of my favorite blogs after my visit today. I think you may have more garden kittens then I do ( 8 ) and I love how you share your love of gardening.

    Warm Wishes from my Midwest garden.

  14. The expression on the squirrel-watchers is priceless! :) You've a wonderful brood, jodi, and they appear to be very garden savvy.

  15. What a great story, Jodi, and the pictures were wonderful - especially Thistle in the birdbath, the "Squirrel Channel," and the faceoff between Mungus and Jenny. I'm glad you told us that it worked out ok, because it didn't look too good for Mungus!

  16. Jodi ! How are you girl : )
    I love seeing those pictures of your "kids" and hearing about their very individual characters.
    My two princesses ? are completely indoor babies .. Emma used to challenge us, trying to shoot out the deck door .. but she has changed her opinion now about "what the heck is so interesting out there !!" ..
    I do know they will appreciate finer weather and the screen door, with me in the garden .. I provide a lot of entertainment especially if I run into something that makes me scream and jump .. almost as good as Squirrel TV ? haha
    Great story of your little furry souls and the other four legged kids ! : )

  17. Oh Jodi! I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post! It was such a treat. We've got a kitty that's like your Spunky... she wouldn't go out for anything. And then we have our others who cry and cry if they get a whiff of the outdoors. And I love the photo of your Mungus and "meeting" the donkey!


  18. Jodi,

    I loved this post! Loved learning about your cats and getting a peak into the Bloomingwriter household! What a houseful of wonderful personalities! People who don't know cats don't know how individual and interesting they can be...how they become our companions and family. Thank you for sharing your wonderful creatures with us! gail

  19. I'm a member of the crew that really enjoyed this blog, plus, I was impressed: you got a cat to wear a harness? You have a cat that understands the distinction between killing birds and killing rodents? I've been trying to teach that to my various cats for for decades.

  20. Great posting about your pets Jodi. Quite a wonderful collection you have. What a power house chest on Leggo there! Bet he's great to ride. And such a sweet face on your Jenny. Love to hear about your 7 cats too. Thought we were over the top with 6. Will have to share this with my husband :-)

  21. Jody, you know how much I loved reading about your furry feline friends :) We have 2 in the house and 12 in the barn, and yes, each one has his/her own personality.
    I love to have my 'helpers' keeping me company in the garden. There are those that like to stick really close, and the talkers, and others that love to chase each other through the 'jungle'...not always a good thing!
    All wonderful companions. What would we do without them?

  22. Every garden needs a cat, doesn't it? I honestly can't imagine not having one (or two, or three, or...) keeping me company as I play in the garden. It's usually Max or Jack, but I imagine this year Lola will be right there, too. She's such a lover kitty.

    Once in awhile I will encounter cat scat and while it's not particularly pleasant, it doesn't really bother me either. I've learned to wear gloves most of the time and especially when I know the possibility of encountering such things exists. I never liked changing a dirty diaper either, but I loved my babies just the same. Poop happens. LOL

  23. Great post Jodi! I was surprised to learn some of your cats don't venture outside, but understand now you've shared a little of their history with us.

    Our 2 are indoors today - they're on central heating duty due to the snow! I know we're still laughably short of snow by your standards, but the poor babies aren't used to it ;)

    Of course Skimble and Jess will be appearing in GGW's theme this month too.

  24. You must have a special way with cats to train them so well. I still can't believe you got a cat to tolerate a harness. They are all very cute and I'm sure they make life interesting for you and your husband.

  25. I must say that I myself am very much the animal lover! When I was younger, I used to live on a farm. Now, it wasn't your traditional farm with cows and all rather a farm with peacocks, doves, parrots, bunnies, puppies, chickens, ducks, and a dog named Bonnie that made sure every thing was okay! :) Basically a farm that consisted of only the cutest animals on the planet! I loved them all, they were part of the family and even up until today I speak about them because they are, what can I say, a real part of my history :)

  26. Jodi, as a cat lover since birth, it seems, I loved this post! We have two outdoor cats, since we live on a farm, besides the the two indoor cats, and they love to follow me around the garden, too. As you say, I don't mind their occasional messes in the garden as much as other creatures' disturbances. I've learned some tricks to deter them from doing too much damage to the garden as well.

    In case anyone reads this in horror that two cats stay outside, be assured that during this very cold winter they have spent nights--and much of the day--in the garage or in the house.

    I like the idea for the epitaph!

  27. I love the stories of all your kitty friends, Jodi! Cats are the best kinds of garden companions, I think. Mine certainly love to hang out and are great company outside.

    My Kernal loves it when I trim off a large grass stalk and trail it around the garden for him to chase! So long as his brother and the chickens stay out of his way!

  28. Love your beautiful, beautiful animals!


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