Carefully manicured lawns, neat flowerbeds and tastefully trimmed shrubs might be your idea of garden heaven, but it’s likely that your cat has other ideas. If you’d like to create an outdoor haven that will encourage your feline friend to stay closer to home, you need to think less Chelsea Flower Show and more a walk on the wild side…
When planning a cat -friendly garden that’s full of feline-focused features, it’s a great idea to start by thinking about what cats like to do and what they need. For example:
- A safe, sunny spot to snooze in
- Places to hide
- Shelter from hot sun, wind and rain
- Opportunities to climb
- A high-up look out post
- Something to scratch on
- A source of fresh drinking water
- A secluded toileting area
- Sensory experiences with cat-safe plants
While your cat may well have bagged a regular sun-drenched spot for daily naps, you can start implementing your cat garden design ideas by making this space even cosier – simply put out an old comfy cushion for them to rest their little paws on. Now, on to the rest of the garden…
Places to hide
Cats like to be able to slink out of sight in the blink of an eye, so providing a range of hiding places is essential to ensure they feel safe when exploring their territory. Tall ornamental grasses such as Maiden grass (Miscanthus) make a perfect stalking ground, along with dense shrubs (make sure there are cat-sized gaps in between), large plant pots and old wooden boxes for your cat to peep out from.
Shelter from hot sun, wind and rain
Some cats enjoy being outside whatever the weather. And, as well as protecting them from the elements, a cosy shelter will encourage nervous cats into the garden once they know they have somewhere safe to relax. Planting evergreen shrubs will create fun, sheltered hiding spaces throughout the year, or you could even add a cat house. (Cat Tree UK has a fab range). You could even create your own outdoor cat den from old wooden fruit crates lined with soft blankets.
Opportunities to climb
Cats love to climb so if you’re lucky enough to have a tree with accessible branches in your garden, they’ll have a ready-made climbing frame. There are also various outdoor cat trees available (try Kitty Klimbers, which has a wide range or can even make to order).
A high-up look out post
Cats like to perch up high to survey the world from a safe vantage point, so provide a high spot that’s easily accessible. This could be a bench or garden table, shelves or ledges that are securely fitted to a wall, or even a tree-house platform.
Something to scratch on
Scratching is an essential activity for cats – not only does it keep their claws in good condition, it also helps them feel more secure by marking their territory. As well as leaving a visual sign (scratch marks), cats deposit scent from the glands located in between the pads on their paws, clearly stating to other cats that ‘this is mine’. Cats may like to scratch on both vertical and horizontal surfaces so providing both options is a good idea. An old tree stump or large branch is ideal and this will double up as a handy perching post too.
A source of fresh drinking water
It’s important to make sure your cat is drinking enough, especially if they are fed a dry diet. Many cats prefer more ‘natural’ sources to tap water, so leave out a large dish to collect rainwater – during a dry spell, top up from your water butt if you have one. For particularly fussy felines, it could be worth investing in a strategically-placed cat waterfall fountain (The November Spring is a popular choice).
A secluded toileting area
A cleared area containing woodchips, sand or loose earth surrounded by a few plants and shrubs to act as a screen, provides a suitable, safe place for your cat to toilet. Ensure the area has some shelter so that your cat will still use it even if it’s raining.
Sensory experiences with cat-safe plants
There are certain plants that your cat will really enjoy. Feline garden must-haves include:
- Cat Grass (Avena sativa) – Cats often eat grass as it is thought to help with digestion and this is the perfect type of grass for felines to munch on.
- Catnip (Nepeta cataria) – Many cats (rehoming charity Battersea estimates around 50-70%) may find the chemicals the leaves of this plant produces has a stimulating or hallucinogenic effect!
- Honeysuckle (Lonicera ciliosa) – Thought to have a similar effect on cats to catnip (although only about 30% of cats are responsive to it).
- Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) – Depending on the amount of exposure, this plant is thought to have either positively stimulating or calming effects on cats and can be another very welcome addition to your cat-friendly garden
- Scented geraniums (Pelargoniums) – Available in many types with enticing, citrusy aromas, your cat will enjoy rubbing all over these charming foliage plants
- Blue mist shrub (Caryopteris)– this towering shrub provides plenty of privacy and shelter for cats
- Sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) – These large plants will provide plenty of cover while the blooms offer something to play with when added near climbing structures
- Garden cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus) – Another fun plant for felines, this one offers wispy growth, wonderful colour and great screening, which your cat will appreciate
Always think garden safety first
Along with avoiding hazardous chemicals in the form of fertiliser, weedkiller and slug pellets, it’s essential to be aware of those plants which are toxic to cats – most notably lilies, which are potentially fatal if ingested. Bulbs including alliums, amaryllis, crocuses, daffodils, hyacinths and tulips can be dangerous to cats, as can cyclamen, poinsettias and rhododendrons. You can find a full list of poisonous plants on the International Cat Care website.
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