Monday, March 17, 2008

Cat Quandary

That Cats are much like you and me
And other people whom we find
Possessed of various types of minds.
For some are sane and some are mad
And some are good and some are bad
And some are better, and some are worse...

---T.S. Eliot

I have always been a cat fancier. Growing up on a farm, I played with the "barn cats" whose job it was to control the mouse population. I can remember my grandfather and my father milking the cows each evening, then pouring off some of the fresh, warm milk into a pan for these workers. And every spring there was a new litter of kittens for me to tame and give strange names to. I would often sneak one or two of them into the house, trying to convince my parents they would make wonderful house pets, but unfortunately, they were always relegated to living in the barn or various sheds around our farm.

Charlie the cat was a willing substitute for one of my dolls.

Today our family has just one housecat named Toby. He is the quintessential cat: he does what he pleases, when and where he pleases. All he demands in return is a clean litterbox, a full food dish, and an occasional petting. Toby can usually be found sleeping on one of our beds, but he does enjoy finding the unusual nook or cranny for a nesting spot, particularly the highest bookshelf or the top shelf in my husband's closet. Recently, while I was babysitting my 8-month- old grandson, Toby decided that the porta-crib was the ideal napping spot and wasn't too happy when I banished him from the bedroom for the day.

"You mean you didn't set up this bed just for me?"

But living on a farm, we do have our outdoor cats as well, five to be exact. They don't dine on warm milk and mice like my childhood cats (well, I've never seen any mice, anyway; perhaps the mere presence of these five is enough to frighten the mice away), but prefer a steady diet of "Meow Mix." However, outdoor cats can present some challenges to the gardener. A freshly dug hole for a plant is an open invitation for any cat to take care of "business." And my nepeta is flattened every summer as the cats seem to find it the perfect spot to sun. (I guess there's a reason it's called catmint.) But two summers ago they added two more challenges: one, using my flowerpots as a resting place and two, using the planter on my front porch as their litterbox.

Tarzan finds a flowerpot the perfect place for sunning.

I surfed the internet for solutions to my problems and found a variety of suggestions. Many of them, though, like setting out mothballs or spraying the plants with a solution of hot pepper sauce sounded harmful, if not toxic. I decided to try the easiest and most innovative method, which was to place plastic forks, tine side up, all around the bare soil. Amazingly, it worked! The cats found my pots very uncomfortable and avoided them. Of course, my grandchildren looked at my planters in confusion until one of them asked, "Grandma, why are you growing forks in your flowerpots?"

The porch planter, however, is another story...

The cats have found the planter again this winter.

I planted geraniums, wave petunia, and different accent plants the first year we lived here, and they flourished. The summer of the cat invasion, the plants were not as hardy, needless to say.

So last spring, after arming myself with a few bags of plastic forks, I dug out about half the soil (and the "gifts" from my cats--ugh) and replaced it with new soil. Even though the forks deterred the cats from disturbing the plantings, my flowers were downright puny, and some even died. I wondered if I had over-fertilized them, but I am more likely to be guilty of neglect than overfeeding! My husband said perhaps there was excess nitrogen left from the cats and the fertilizer was, in a way, overkill. The planter is made from Indiana limestone, as is the rest of our house, and I am wondering if perhaps chemicals from the cats' deposits leached into the stone. I don't know whether to remove all the soil and start over (it takes a lot of soil to fill it) or whether I can try something else.

I really want to have the lovely planter I had a few years ago, so dear gardeners, if any of you have any suggestions, I would love to hear them. Just don't tell me to give away my cats!


  1. I love the picture of you! I don't remember seeing that one before. As to your question, I'll have to defer to more experienced gardeners.

  2. I don't really like cats that much. My daughter has about 11 or 12 and all are fixed and most of them live outside in a nice house etc.

    I like your photos and also enjoyed reading your post. Nice work.

    You might like to travel to Ohio to see me wearing a blog wig. A kind of fun time we had on my granddaughter's birthday.

    Brookville Daily Photo.

  3. Rest assured, Mr. Lincoln, that after several trips to the vet, we have a "fixed" cat population.
    I can understand why you might not like cats; I am not really a bird person myself, but your photographs are amazing. I am hoping to catch a photo of my hummingbird friends this summer, but the quality won't compare to yours.
    The wig photo is pretty funny; no offense, but you are right, it is much more flattering on your wife.

  4. Rose, I can't imagine that the cats ruined the planter. If I were you I might dig out the soil. Instead of filling the pot completely with soil put some empty aluminum cans about a third of the way up for drainage, then fill the rest with good potting soil. Then plant your flowers and forks and take good care of the plants. All should be well and good luck.

    I love that picture of you. Such a sweet moment. I didn't ever dress up an animal. I think it is so funny.


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