One More Reason I'm a Dog Person

There's a little gardening rhyme about catnip that goes like this: “If you set it, the cats will eat it. If you sow it, the cats don't know it.” So when I recently planted a couple of particularly robust catnip specimens I knew I was taking a little risk. I dug two small holes, and, trying not to bruise a single fragrant leaf, I gently eased each out of their respective pots and seated them in my perennial herb garden. Despite my care, though, their magical scent wafted out. My plants lasted just three days; I discovered their leaves shredded, their square stems incontrovertibly stripped and trampled.

I wasn't entirely surprised. After all, Nepeta cataria is irresistible to many cats,
and, unfortunately, there are a blue million “outdoor cats” roaming my neighborhood. To be more precise, the American Bird Conservancy reports there are more than 90 million pet cats in the U.S. and many of them are allowed to wander the great outdoors where they can prey on small birds and mammals. Even a few domestic cats left outside can decimate songbird populations -- and drive remaining wild birds away from what precious habitat they have left. And fewer birds around my gardens means fewer predators to rid me of myriad mosquitoes, Japanese beetles, and other insect pests.

For a while at least it will also mean no catnip tea for me -- unless I splurge for it at the co-op. See, while the mint family member has psychoactive properties for kitties, it affects people quite differently. In my case, drinking a cup of strong catnip tea makes me drowsy and relaxed, and catnip has historically had lots of other uses, too. But that's not the only reason I grow it -- or at least tried to grow it this time around.

Because catnip isn't too picky, once it's established, it is extremely drought-tolerant and will flourish year after year in even the poorest soils. And honeybees and butterflies love to make frequent stops by catnip's lavender blooms. So it really is worth fighting the neighborhood cats for it. Technically, it's not too late for me to head back to the nursery for a few more plants to set out, but I'm not taking chances. This time it'll be seed for me, and, with any luck, the local felines will be getting their fix indoors from now on.