How to Design and Plant a Garden for You and Your Cat

After a long hard winter, I'm thinking about getting seeds in the ground -- for me and my cat.


Editor’s note: For those of you planning a garden this spring we’re republishing this post from April 2014 so you can read the information and comment on it further.

Spring is here. After a long hard winter, I am really ready to start thinking about getting seeds in the ground or in starting containers, planning new flower and vegetable gardens, and seeing what perennials I have in my yard. And, for the first time, I’m thinking about planning a small garden for my cats. I do have gardening experience (mostly with veggies and some flowers) but I have never thought of planting a garden exclusively for my cats. I’d like to, though. 

Here are some tips for creating a garden for a cat:

1. Rethink the definition of “garden”

A garden doesn’t have to be a square plot in the middle of a piece of lawn. It could be a circle, a swaying path, or a small garden in a re-purposed animal stock tank, for example. If you have no lawn, your “garden” might consist of cat-friendly plants in containers, close together in a special area in your living space.

If your garden is going to be outside on a lawn, you might think about how close you want it to be to your living space. If you’re able to decide where the garden will be, factor in whether you’ll be transporting cats to and from the garden, whether it will be secure (more below on that), and whether you’ll take better care of the garden if it is closer to where you carrying out most of your life in your living space.

Norwegian Forest Cat sitting in a flower field by’>

Norwegian Forest Cat sitting in a flower field by

2. Consider the type of cats the garden will serve

Your garden design will vary depending upon the types of cats it will serve. If you’re caring for ferals, the garden might be open and unbordered by fencing. The same applies for your indoor/outdoor cats, if you don’t want to confine the cat in the garden. If you have indoor cats that you’ve always protected from predators, you might want to completely enclose the cat garden, so that the cats are protected from overhead or surrounding predators. This could be tricky, and even unattractive or dangerous. To me, it’s hard to find fencing that looks nice. And the flimsier fencing (such as bird netting, for example) could potentially injure a curious cat.

In my case, my cats are indoors, and we live in an area where we can regularly hear close, active packs of coyotes. I do have a four-season porch with amazing lighting and windows. I am considering making this my cat garden.

Cat, red tabby, on chair with garden flowers by’>

Cat, red tabby, on chair with garden flowers by

3. Play with color and texture

Design is difficult for me — I was not born with the design gene! But an avid gardener friend of mine (who also has a lot of trouble with design) grows beautiful and interesting gardens. She explained that color and texture need to be considered in design. Here is one resource on the topic.

Of course, plant only those selections that are non-toxic for your cats (many plants that are poisonous to cats don’t have warning labels), and that your cats will love. There’s a lot of information out there about what’s toxic and nontoxic to cats, so read carefully and choose your cat garden plants well. Check out our story about toxic plants, (and also what to do if your catnip plant produces a surplus).

Also, in choosing the plants for your cat garden, consider the following:

  • Your available light source/strength, and which plants are suited for that light
  • Your gardening zone/hardiness, if your garden is outside
  • Your soil, if the garden is outside, and which plants will thrive in your type of soil
  • Whether you want to use annuals or perennials, or both

Red cat eating green grass isolated by’>

Red cat eating green grass isolated by

4. Make the garden work for you as well as your cat

I have certainly made the gardening mistake of going way overboard and getting too many gardens going. I love to garden so much that it’s easy to lose perspective. I want to grow everything, and pretty soon I end up having no time to grow or maintain anything. So, keep perspective. If you love gardening and you know you can commit the time to a cat garden, then go for it.

If you want to make a garden for your cat, but you know you’re not going to have much time to weed or maintain it, then choose plants that require little maintenance, or plant things close enough together so that weeds have less of a chance of encroaching. If you’re really dedicated and you have an outside garden space, you can use landscape cloth underneath the soil to attempt to slow the weeds … but I haven’t had luck with that product. If you know your time is limited, stick to a simple indoor or outdoor container garden, whether you have lawn space or not. Your cat will still get the same enjoyment from spending time in such a garden.

So, have you ever designed a garden for your cat? I would love to hear about it. What did or did not work well? Please share any insights in comments!

More about cats and plants:

About Catherine Holm: Told that she is funny but doesn’t know it, accused of being an unintentional con artist by her husband, quiet, with frequent unannounced bursts into dancing liveliness, Cat Holm loves writing about, working for, and living with cats. She is the author of the cat-themed memoir Driving with Cats: Ours for a Short Time, the creator of Ann Catanzaro cat fantasy story gift books, and the author of two short story collections. She loves to dance, be outside whenever possible, read, play with cats, make music, do and teach yoga, and write. Cat lives in the woods, which she loves as much as really dark chocolate, and gets regular inspiration shots along with her double espresso shots from the city.

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