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Making your garden as cat-friendly as possible

Cat in the garden

Garden expert Graham Strong shares some ideas for turning your outdoor space into a feline haven.

Most cat owners will recognize that feeling of mild panic when they realize their best friend has gone walkabout. It's made worse if like me, you live near a busy road. My philosophy has always been to make the garden as attractive as I can for my two rescue cats, Tippy and Twinky, then they'll have no excuse to wander.

Just how lucky they are was brought home to me recently when I spotted a black and white moggy having 40 winks in a garden with his head against a brick, next to a smelly drain surrounded by bare gravel. There were no plants on the house wall to offer shelter and security, and all that gravel would surely attract intruder cats in to do their business. If you are looking for ideas to turn your plot into a haven for cats, here are my top tips to get you started. Of course, it also helps if you garden yourself for they love to have you out there with them, though don't expect a lot of help! 

cat plant potPerfect Pots

Containers provide me with some of the high spots in my garden. They can create an injection of colour and interest on bare patios and a focal point for the eye to rest on at the end of a path. However, this is all well and good for us plant lovers, but what's in it for our feline friends? Well quite a lot actually if you get your skates on. Here are three ideas that can all be assembled right now and have all been road tested by Tippy and Twinky. 

Out to Grass

Seeds of cat grass can be bought by mail order from several of the main seed companies. It is a real favourite as chewing a few tender grass stems is an aid to feline digestion and helps them to expel furballs. I sowed seed in this funky cat planter and within ten days it was ready for the first nibble.

Toileting Areas 

If there is one issue that sets neighbour against neighbour, it is inappropriate cat toileting. They just can't resist that patch of recently tilled soil. One solution is to provide the same conditions in your own garden. Choose a secluded spot, provide privacy with tough evergreens like Lonicera 'Baggesen's Gold' or Viburnum tinus 'Eve Price' and raise up a bed using timber gravel board nailed together at the corners, then fill it with bags of topsoil available from most garden centres. It can be cleaned out every few days.

Plant parasolcat basket

Shade is a vital element in a garden designed for cats. You may not have the ideal spot for a large shrub or small tree, but don't worry. A roomy container planted up with the sort of 'jungley' plants that provide a natural parasol will give shade to sheltered corners or paved areas. Twinky is enjoying a nap under the horse chestnut-like leaves of Rodgersia podophylla. For even more drama try giant 'rhubarb', Gunnera. Water every day in hot weather.

Salad bar

I lined this pensioned-off picnic basket with hessian and filled it with all my cats' favourite plants to make a summer salad bar. There was cat grass, catmint and catnip (legal highs!), thyme and French lavender to draw in bees and butterflies. Apart from cat grass, they are all available for sale now at garden centres and nurseries, just coming into flower.

Options for enclosing your garden 

Disguising the boundaries of your plot is a key element of good garden design. By thickening up the planting, your vegetation may merge with the neighbours' border and the garden will look much bigger and more mysterious. Best of all though, it will help to keep your cat in and intruder cats out. Here are four ideas to make your garden more secure:

Plant a country-style hedge hedge cutting

Even city dwellers can bring a breath of country air to their gardens by planting a selection of classic hedgerow plants like hawthorn, holly, beech and dog rose. Once they have thickened up they will provide a safe haven for wildlife and a dense barrier.

Add mesh to your fence

A sloping wire or plastic mesh barrier fixed to brackets on the fence posts will go a long way to secure your garden as cats don't like stepping out on a surface that wobbles. There are other systems on the market that do the same job and companies to install them if you're not happy doing DIY.

Plant a thorny hedge 

Fire thorn or Pyracantha is like living barbed wire and quite capable of deterring intruders, whether they be the local tom cat or cat burglar. Plant a mixture of berry colours for a feast of fruit like this. Birds should also be able to nest safely in its dense, prickly interior.

cat runErect a cat run 

For total security, an enclosed cat run is the only solution. It can be accessed from inside the house via a dedicated cat flap. Make sure there are plenty of shelves inside for perching and elements to provide shade too.

The high life

My mini wooden chalet can be fence mounted or free-standing and has proven to be just about the most popular of all the treats I've built for our fussy felines. Rescue cat number two, Tippy, has found it the perfect spot to take a nap each day and watch the comings and goings in the garden from a snug, elevated and secure viewpoint.

Vital statistics:

Apart from the length of moulded timber at the front edge of the cat chalet, the rest is made from cheap, tanalised (pressure-treated) fencing timber and exterior plywood. While this rough timber may not look very promising at the outset, the transformation is amazing when you apply a thick coat of timber stain. The dimensions of the chalet sides are 30cm high x 30cm deep x 60cm wide (12 x 12 x 24in). The height to the apex of the roof is also 60cm (24in). Here's how it's made:

Step by step: making a cat chalet

1. Butt together two pieces of 15 x 2.54cm (6 x 1in) timber and using a saw, bend the blade to form a pleasing curve and mark it with a pencil. Carefully cut out the gable with a jigsaw using the waste off cuts from one side to mark out a mirror image on the opposite side.

2. Cut the gravel board to form the rectangular carcass of the 'herb hotel' and screw the base and the sides together. Lay out the two pieces that form the front gable. Nail the two pieces together and nail the gable to the loft sides. The back is formed from exterior plywood.

3. Nail in place the two lengths of beading that tie the carcass together, mark, cut and pin the plywood back panel then space out and pin on the feather board so that it overlaps evenly up the roof slope using a spacer block.

4. Add a length of timber to the front edge of the chalet (mine is a piece of architrave sold as dado rail) to enhance the look and stop pots falling out. A fence post cap can be nailed to the gable as a backing for an eye catcher like a cat brooch.

cat chalet step by step

Garden plants:

Many plants are toxic to cats and some, like lilies, may even be fatal. This list is part of a more comprehensive list put together by International Cat Care (visit www.icatcare.org):

>Aconitium
>Alstroemeria
>Brugmansia
>Arum
>Colchicum
>Daffodil
>Daphne
>Digitalis
>Euphorbia
>Galanthus
>Laburnum Larkspur
>Lilium
>Lily of the Valley
>Morning Glory
>Narcissus Nerium
>Oleander Nicotania
>Papaver
>Physalis
>Phytolacca
>Ricinus
>Rue
>Solanum
>Taxus
>Tomato
>Tulipa
>Yew

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